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:

badger-sized Farages considered dangerous

So which is it to be – a Nigel Farage-sized badger, or 10 badger-sized Farages? This is a really great question, far better than the classic horse-sized duck. The problem with the duck is that it won’t scale; anything broadly duck-like that got as big as a horse would be hopelessly immobile on its funny little legs and probably wouldn’t be able to fly, both because it couldn’t sustain the cardiorespiratory effort and because it would need a hell of a lot of wing area. Also, imagine the take-off waddle.

I’d be tempted to opt for the horse-sized duck, in fact, because it probably can’t exist in a world where physics works like it does here, and a walkover is a win, while chasing down the duck-sized horses would be a lot of work even though they aren’t much of a threat. The classic folktale trickster-god way out of this would be to confront you with the horse-sized duck in the water, where its weight wouldn’t be a problem and it could use its wings underwater like a penguin. But I digress.

A Farage-sized badger, however, is much more problematic than either. I can’t see any show-stoppers in scaling the badger up, and there’s a word for a creature a bit like a badger that stands 2 metres tall: it’s a bear. Badgers are pretty robust, powerful creatures that move enormous amounts of earth, and they have big claws. I don’t like the sound of that much.

However, the badger-sized Farages are going to be troublesome, too, because Nigel Farage is human. I was going to say that the decision here comes down to whether you think brute force or intelligence is more dangerous, but then I remembered that people basically eliminated their biological competitors because:

1) We cheat – using weapons, cooperating, re-designing the landscape itself, being best mates with dogs, all that stuff
2) We run – not many other creatures do endurance running at all well. there are plenty that sprint, and plenty that travel very long distances slowly, but running miles at a high pace is a speciality of ours.

Even a scaled-down Farage is going to be intelligent – the lower bound would be as smart as a chimp, say, the upper would be as smart as he is now. This is an important point, because intelligent badger-sized creatures can gang up on you, form plans, adopt tactics, and use weapons. Fighting the badger-sized Farages might be as bad as fighting a group of reasonably-sized monkeys at one end of the scale, not trivial, or as bad as fighting a group of angry dwarves at the other, basically war.

I could ambush the super-badger, trap it, poison it, flood or smoke out its sett, set dogs on it, or snipe at it from a distance. I could adopt persistence predation, the human killer app, and keep it on the run until it tires. Also, I could outrun it over anything more than a very short sprint, so unless it got lucky, I’d probably have the initiative over it and be able to decide how much risk to take.

But assuming the mini-Farages’ physiology is basically human, they will be able to run the persistence predation playbook back against me, with the advantage of being a team, so they would probably control the initiative. In a brawl I would have the advantage over up to three of them, but it only takes one stab wound or unlucky blow to the head, and they’re people – when it matters, we cheat. I’m confident I can run faster and further than a mini-Farage, but then, I’m now thinking about running away from them. They have the initiative.

To put it another way, what if either super-badgers or mini-Farages were historical creatures? I would bet that the super-badger would be long extinct, known from fossils and possibly cave art depicting gangs of people and dogs chasing down the poor sods, but markers of the mini-Farage would probably still be detectable in the human genome. (Now that’s a depressing thought.) I’ll be watching that big hole in the ground, in my trainers.

Open newslist 8

There has been a disturbing lack of content here lately. Let’s have an open newslist to fix that.

Some ideas: That Android vs Symbian post. That #Savileweek post about him as the first postmodern celebrity (will include pictures). A technical look back at the phone-hacking scandal, because I think there is at least one big issue that has submerged.

But this is stuff I’ve had on a back burner for some time. Ideas?

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.

A more sophisticated version of something I made earlier

A nice tweet:

Let’s have a closer look at that right-hand map, because it’s a real beauty.


There are people. Where the people are, that’s the important bit. You usually find them near the water or the oil or the roads they tend to build between them. Like this post from last summer. That had a map in it too. Mmm, maps.

Screenshot from 2014-08-17 15:58:12

Looking ahead to the #defenduss 60-day consultation

So USS. It strikes me that this was, in the end, a total and avoidable mess and the UCU should take a lot of responsibility.

The only way to find out what was going on was to check a friend of a friend’s facebook page. The only campaign resources were, well, whatever you came up with. The tactics were hopeless – the marking boycott never had strong support in the school I’m best informed about and not really anywhere else, and it had a number of real flaws, notably that only a handful of individuals were actually involved at any one time and that the timing meant most students wouldn’t be affected. The negotiating team seems to have been overawed by the issues involved and poorly prepared.

Further, the stand-down over Christmas seems to have been a bad idea, losing whatever momentum the campaign had built up. In part this was just going to be imposed by the Christmas break itself, but the problem is that it wasn’t a credible proposition to call everyone out again, and therefore it didn’t support the negotiators effectively. To be honest we might have done better as an amorphous online mob, but of course a lot of the work here is being done by UCU’s failure.

So now we’re stuck with the mad-headed scheme to hedge poor returns on gilts by buying yet more gilts, the gender and other problems of a CRB scheme, no answers about the AVCs, and a weakened union.

Mike Otsuka points out that the statutory 60-day consultation on USS should open in mid-March, and will work something like this, so it’s not exactly true that it’s all over but the shouting.

This is important, as it seems there is still some give about the length of the recovery period and therefore the annual wedge of money involved, the fate of the AVCs and added years, the management of the defined-contribution element, and the all-crucial valuation.

One thing the UCU did achieve was a commitment, for what it’s worth, that the USS benefits and contribution rates would be revised again if the finances improved significantly. This means it is well worth while keeping the valuation issue alive, and keeping the claim on any future improvement this represents alive.

Your ration of campaign material, therefore, is here, in a rather technical piece of Mike’s. The key issue is that Test 1 must die.

OK, that’s the long-term element. What about the short-term? Well, voting is now open for the UCU national executive committee, until Friday 27th February. (If you’ve not got a ballot, make a fuss, because the organisation sucks!) The UCU Left recommendations are here – I don’t warrant for them in any way (for example, does anyone believe they’ll reopen the dispute?), but the first step is always to chuck the bums out.

Bad picker

What is it with David Cameron and appointments? Back in March 2012 I made the point that he keeps phoning a friend, and getting back the name of a good criminal, bungler, or crank.

We’ve had Steve Hilton and his brilliant ideas, before he failed-up into a better paid gig in California. He recommended Emma Harrison and A4e, before they ended up being prosecuted for fraud. Rohan Silva did some trendy dad stuff and failed-up into a better paying gig with a VC fund. Michael Gove recommended both Andy Coulson, before he was convicted, and that eugenics nutter he made an education SPAD. Cameron made Liam Fox defence secretary, and he brought with him the incredible fraud-cum-security-vortex Adam Werritty as a defence SPAD. His government needed someone of absolutely unimpeachable integrity to lead an inquiry into paedophile networks. They found somebody who was conflicted-out because they were related to the prime suspect, and then they replaced her with somebody who was conflicted-out because she was a personal friend of the prime suspect. If I’ve missed anyone, please add in the comments.

Boris Johnson’s appointments are, if anything, worse. And the wankercade twats on. Now it’s the trade minister. You might say it’s quite possible that the CEO of HSBC wouldn’t have any detailed knowledge of individual client accounts in the Geneva branch, but Stephen Green was actually on the board of the HSBC private bank in Switzerland, HSBC Private Banking Holdings (Suisse) SA, at the relevant time.