1. When Good Proxies Turn Bad

    Posted February 25, 2020 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Proxies are important in our society.

    By “proxy” I mean a situation where something small and quantifiable happens, and we observe it, and then infer things from it about how to handle a much larger and unpredictable process.

    A classic example of this is a job interview. It’s a linear process with a definite end-point. The phases are defined in advance and rarely change along the way. Each candidate moves along their own track in isolation from the others, until they either hit a brick wall or get hired.

    Most actual jobs are very different from job interviews – they’re open-ended, there’s a degree of dynamism or unpredictability, different organisational forces are interacting all the time – yet, in general, performance in a job interview is seen as a good proxy for performance in a job.

    There are, of course, very valid criticisms of this view, but that’s not really the point of this post so I’ll leave that alone for now.

    A driving test is another example of this kind of proxy. If someone can adhere to a checklist of rules and procedures while driving around under observation for 40 minutes, we let them hurtle around for decades in huge steel boxes, entrusting them not only with their own lives but those of everybody around them.

    And again, of course, there’s a discussion to be had about the validity of this proxy, but this has to be left alone too.

    At the societal rather than individual level, there’s a proxy relationship that inescapably affects us all: elections.

    In a typical democracy like the UK, the central idea is that the party that does the better job of fighting an election campaign will also do a better job of what comes after the election, namely running the country (or local council, or city hall, or whatever the election is for). Electoral performance is a proxy for performance once in administration.

    This proxy has always been a bit shonky too, like the job interview or the driving test, but recently I’ve been wondering if the gap between electoral and administrative aptitude is actually widening. If so, it’s not good news.

    Electioneering involves skills or traits that will come in useful once in power. Coalition-building, making and winning arguments, putting forward plans that can be turned into reality, promises that can be kept; these sorts of things do still play a part in elections, but they feel increasingly ancillary to the main job of fighting an election, which is, of course, waging meme warfare on Facebook through an army of automated sock-puppet accounts.

    Maybe we’ve yet to learn that the ability to run disinformation and psy-ops campaigns on Facebook is indeed a reasonable proxy for the ability to administer a council, city or country. But maybe it isn’t? Governments still have a lot of things to do which are not really amenable to deepfaked propaganda, Pepe shitposts and behavioural microtargeting. Hospitals need to be run, tax needs to be collected, roads need to be maintained and so on. These things seem deeply boring compared to the use of deep learning networks to convert placid baby boomers into red-faced white nationalists, but they are and will continue to be part of government for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

    Maybe someone deserves a government job because they had a successful run as a far-right misogynist troll on Reddit a few years ago, but maybe they don’t? Maybe the kinds of traits that work in the world of far-right online propaganda won’t work in the field of actual government? My hunch is that they won’t, and the usefulness of election campaigns as a proxy for administrative competence is in a state of decline. At least I don’t have to wait long, or go to any other countries, to find out if my hunch is correct or not.

  2. A not-so-sly dig?

    Posted December 26, 2017 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but isn’t the German foreign minister throwing some serious shade on to the UK here? The idea that post-Brexit Britain will be on a par with Turkey and Ukraine in terms of its relationship with the EU certainly seems like a bit of dis…

    Brexit: German minister sees model for Turkey and Ukraine (BBC News)

  3. Brexit update, 5th July: Brexit for grown-ups

    Posted July 6, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    It’s been a few days since my last Brexit post.

    Things seemed to calm down a bit on Friday, the day after the Gove power move. The weather was nice. A double rainbow appeared here in London. We think.

    Brexit was beginning to feel like a lived-in reality rather than the energy source for an ongoing panic attack. Friday was probably the first day since the referendum result that didn’t feel like this for me:

    I struggled to find something to write about among the news stories. The best I could come up with was this article about Liam Fox saying Britain needs “Brexit for grown-ups”

    Conservative leadership contender Liam Fox today demanded “Brexit for grown-ups” as he blasted colleagues Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for their “Oxford Union politics”.

    For a while this made me imagine Brexit as a modular kids’ toy system like Lego or Sticklebrix or Mega Blox. Up until now we had only been mucking around with the clunky Duplo version of Brexit, trying in vain to use its bulky, garish bricks to build a functioning economy and political system. In Liam Fox’s mind the problem wasn’t that we had Brexit at all: it was that we had the wrong type of Brexit and had to swap it for Brexit Technics or, even better, Brexit Mindstorms.

    "Let's get the economy moving again"

    “Let’s get the economy moving again”

    No-one cares what Liam Fox thinks now, though. He’s since withdrawn from the Tory leadership race after coming last in the vote among Conservative MPs. I guess we didn’t need Brexit for grown-ups after all—we’re having more than enough trouble with the baby version.

    For example, Stephen Coltrane wrote a numbered series of tweets (a now-notorious trait of Brexit Britain) that outlined what might happen if Britain has to trade with the EU under WTO rules. Click the date below to read the whole thing.

    Another thing that happened on Friday was that the era of austerity came to an end. If that had happened two weeks or a year ago it would have dominated the news cycle for weeks, but in the context of Brexit hardly anyone noticed.

    On Saturday I went to the anti-Brexit march although I wasn’t there for long. My son, who’s four, feigned interest in the whole thing but was impatient to move on to the London Aquarium, the next item on our itinerary. It’s obligatory whenever you go on some march or demonstration in the UK to speak about it cynically – “well I doubt it’ll change anything” – but the value of the whole thing for me wasn’t based on the vain hope that Nigel Farage was going to walk by, experience a Damascene conversion upon seeing the assembled crowds, take to the podium, renounce his Euroscepticism and begin the reversal of Brexit.  Instead, it was the visceral experience of seeing and being among such a large group of people who reject the insane logic and increasingly overt racism of Brexit Britain.

    Speaking of Nigel Farage, on Monday he resigned as leader of UKIP.

    Loads of people were angry at him about that—“you made this mess, you help clear it up” was the consensus view—but it struck me as a little disingenuous coming from anyone other than a UKIP member. Would I have been happier to hear he’d taken a peerage and was going to be representing the UK in trade negotiations with Europe? Of course not. The further away from public life he gets, the better.

    Not everyone was minded to celebrate Farage’s resignation:

    Douglas Carswell, the only UKIP representative in the House of Commons, provided us with perhaps the most succinct tweet ever to be posted by a politician.

    I wonder if Hansard has emoji support?

    There was a lot of scepticism about whether Farage’s resignation could be taken at face value.

    The key quote from this passage is “you cannot undo globalisation and multiculturalism – not peacefully anyway.”

    The world of economics continued to act in accordance with the projections set out by much-derided experts ahead of the referendum. If only more people had listened to those experts.

    The pound plunged to 31-year lows against the dollar.

    Incidentally, it did take out $1.3055. In the small hours of July 6th it went below $1.30 and is now as low as it has been since The Crowd topped the charts with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

    (Liverpool voted Remain btw)

  4. Brexit daily update, 30th June: At least Cheddar Bob has friends

    Posted July 1, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    What’s your favourite analogy for Brexit? Mine is based on the Eminem movie 8 Mile.

    There’s a scene where Eminem’s mates get into a fist fight with some rivals. It’s all kicking off when suddenly Cheddar Bob, the most ramshackle and haphazard of Eminem’s friends, surprises everyone by pulling out a gun and waving it round. The fighting immediately stops and everyone’s terrified, even Cheddar Bob’s friends are terrified, because the way he’s holding it makes it absolutely clear that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

    I know, it’s already sounding a lot like Brexit isn’t it? At this point in the story it’s probably like Brexit around six months ago, where the squabbling Detroiters are European countries, Cheddar Bob is Cameron, and the gun is the plan to hold the Brexit referendum.

    "I'm gong to hold a referendum!"

    “Stand back, I’m gong to hold a referendum”

    Wait, though, it gets even more like Brexit. Cheddar Bob is shouted at by his own terrified friends and ordered to put the gun away. “OK, OK,” he says and, with everyone staring at him, puts the gun back into his trousers. But he’s forgotten to put the safety on, so the gun goes off and he shoots himself in the groin.

    Oops... I lost the referendum


    Panic descends as Bob passes out from shock. The other gang runs away while Cheddar Bob’s friends bundle him into a car and off to hospital.

    This is where the Brexit analogy breaks down, of course—because, unlike Cheddar Bob, we have no friends.


    B R E X I T



    This morning, on the way into work, I was wondering about doing these every other day. The pace of events is surely going to slow down, I thought. Yesterday evening I met a neighbour on the street and we were talking about all of this: “it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint”, I’d said. “It has to slow down sooner or later.”

    I hadn’t been in the office for long when this happened.

    This tweet actually looks quite innocuous in retrospect. But it set in train the events of the rest of the day, a backstabby Game of Thrones-esque saga of treachery and betrayal in which the Conservatives put the recent Labour infighting in the shade.

    It was interesting at this point because Gove and Boris Johnson had been allies during the “successful” Leave campaign (I put “successful” in scare quotes because it’s turned out to be a pyrrhic victory) and Gove had been putting it about that he was going to support Johnson. So this announcement that he was actually standing and that Boris Johnson, what’s more, “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”, was tantamount to sliding a knife into your best friend’s back. The leaked email from yesterday now made sense.

    A couple of hours later Johnson gave a press conference at which he was expected to launch his own campaign for the Tory leadership. That isn’t what happened.

    All this had happened so quickly that much of the Tory press had already been mobilised in support of Boris Johnson. These newspapers had hit the shops only hours before and were now completely out of date.

    The reaction was almost universally hostile. Michael Heseltine was particularly brutal:

    He has ripped the Tory party apart, he has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life. He has knocked billions off the value of the savings of the British people.
    [He’s like] “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it… The pain of it will be felt by all of us and, if it doesn’t get resolved shortly, by a generation to come yet.

    For a while Johnson’s withdrawal seemed to cheer the financial markets, but not for long:

    You might remember that yesterday I tried to debunk the “FTSE is doing well” talking point. Today I was going to debunk the “pound is rallying!” talking point, but reality ended up doing that for me when the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, did a live TV broadcast at 4pm. I was watching it at work with some currency charts on screen at the same time and saw this happen as he literally walked up to the podium:


    This doesn’t mean that Carney messed up, of course. Pushing the exchange rate downwards can be a sensible thing to do as it helps exporters and reduces the risk of calamitous plunges later on. But it is still a sign that the economy is headed for recession.

    Some final points from the day. It’s becoming depressingly clear that racism is indeed on the rise in Brexit Britain:

    Incidents of racism in the wake of the EU referendum result have increased dramatically, according to the latest figures.
    Complaints filed to police online hate-crime reporting site True Vision have increased fivefold since last Thursday, the National Police Chiefs Council said, with 331 hate crime incidents reported to the site compared with a weekly average of 63.

    And, again, London isn’t immune:

    Theresa May, another candidate for the Tory leadership, has indicated that expelling EU nationals from the country is going to be a point for discussion in the forthcoming negotiations. Just think for a moment of what that would entail, how that would work logistically.

    So yes, it’s still fun here in the land of Brexit. See you tomorrow!

  5. Brexit daily update, 29th June: I bet there are already dogs called Brexit

    Posted June 29, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Day 6 in the Big Brexit House.

    Today I was thinking about how deeply the word “Brexit” might embed itself in our culture. If I’m right and the era we’re about to live through will see a fundamental reshaping of the political and economic structure of the British isles, the word “Brexit” could insinuate itself into the structure of our future society, a linguistic fossil to be preserved for centuries or more.


    There will certainly be history and politics textbooks—hefty ones—called “Brexit”. Economists in the future will build their careers on Brexit studies. Maybe there will be Brexit Street, Brexit Avenue, the Brexit Centre. Maybe Brexit will begin to crop up in the names of babies. You can imagine it being abbreviated to Brex, Brexie, the Brexler. Actually those sound like better names for a dog than for a child. I bet there are already dogs called Brexit.

    Today there were two fairly long “threads” on Twitter which got a lot of attention. (I put “threads” in quote marks here because they’re actually people replying to themselves, not conversations between multiple people. It sounds narcissistic but it’s the only practical way of making lengthy statements on that platform which can later be read in a linear fashion.)

    The first was from Ben Judah, a journalist at Politico. Click on the date in the tweet below to view the full thing.

    The gist of it is that the EU, led by France and Germany, would be prepared to let the UK have its cherished controls on immigration if in return it gives up the City, causing an exodus of the financial sector from London to Paris. The deal would go down well with Brexit as it would look like one in the eye for bankers while also reducing the number of immigrants; in fact it would go down so well that the government would have little choice but to take it. The downside? A massive loss of tax revenue. So all in all it would be a huge win for France and Germany and not so much for the UK.

    The second Twitter thread came later in the day and was from Alex White at the Economist Intelligence Unit who summarised the EIU’s current thinking on the implications of Brexit. Again, click on the date to read the whole thing.

    It’s a very gloomy prognosis for the next 4 or 5 years. I’ve taken a screenshot of the whole thing so we can check back in 2019 or so and see how accurate it all was. This was being shared pretty widely but not with a great deal of enthusiasm. Read it and you’ll see why.

    If you do look at that thread you might see people replying to it saying “Well the FTSE 100 is up! So you’re wrong!”.

    everything is awesome

    I’m sorry to be boring but I want to rebut that whole argument now as I’m tired of seeing economic illiteracy exploited for political ends. The companies that make up the FTSE 100 are all global corporations whose businesses are spread across the world. Some of them will be hit somewhat by a recession in Britain as it’s a big economy, but the effect on them isn’t as big as you think it might be. In the jargon, you could say their “exposure” to the British economy is quite low even for the ones that are headquartered in Britain. So to see the FTSE 100 as an indicator of the UK economy’s future health is to misunderstand what it actually represents.

    So what about companies that do have a high exposure to Britain, or—in other words—companies whose fortunes are more closely tied to those of the UK economy? Well, take a look:

    This particular index only tracks companies whose sales come predominantly from within the UK, and the picture is pretty clear. That is the chart you should be looking at if you want to see what the markets think about the future of the British economy. Ignore Louise Mensch and her Yahoo! Finance screenshots.

    Enough financial stuff for the day. Here’s a Pokémon GIF!

    It’s funny, right? You know what else is funny? Inadvertently leaked emails. Remember, these are the people who will soon be running the country as it faces its gravest challenges since the Second World War.

    That email in full:

    At least with the Tories you know it’s Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch who choose the leader. With Labour things aren’t quite as clear-cut. Today Jeremy Corbyn is sticking to his guns despite having lost the support of the vast majority of Labour MPs.

    He has the backing of a large number of members so can only be unseated by something akin to a party coup, which is what is being attempted. But remember, this is the age of Brexit, and so the coup attempt itself is—like everything else—a cavalcade of ineptitude. And this is despite it having been in the planning stage for quite some time.

    Some final things before we say goodbye to another Brexit day. First, some great positive campaigning is already emerging from within the Tory leadership contest:

    JG Ballard foresaw Brexit back in 2000:

    People are still being racist:

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn't be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country's decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    In this photo made available by Diamond Geezer, a man wearing an anti immigration T-shirt walks during Armed Forces Day Parade in Romford, England, Saturday 25 June 2016. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Monday June 27, 2016 that abuse directed at immigrants wouldn’t be tolerated, after a series of incidents were reported following the country’s decision to leave the European Union. ( Diamond Geezer via AP)

    And is this going to be what I write about tomorrow?


  6. Brexit daily update, 28th June: “Do not let Scotland down now”

    Posted in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Before getting into the day’s events I’d like to draw your attention to a column of Boris Johnson’s that was published on May 23rd, exactly a month before the vote.

    Thanks to an unexpected wormhole in the space-time continuum, I have come across the following passage from a historical textbook a few decades hence. It is a chapter called ’Brexit’…

    And was the word “Brexit” set in Comic Sans?

    He goes on to narrate what he found in this textbook:

    Given the choice between taking back control or being sucked ever deeper into a federal superstate, the British voted for independence on June 23. To no one’s very great surprise, Project Fear turned out to be a giant hoax. The markets were calm. The pound did not collapse. The British government immediately launched a highly effective and popular campaign across the Continent to explain that this was not a rejection of “Europe”, only of…

    …etc etc.

    Despite the superficial similarities, Boris is clearly no Biff Tannen and the time-travelling textbook he discovered isn’t proving a very useful guide to the future so far.

    The markets did have a comparatively good day today, though, which has given rise to a few Brexit talking points which I want to list here in the interest of balance. These are the claims, offered in support of the position that the economic shock is receding:

    • The pound rallied against the dollar
    • The FTSE 100 index is doing well
    • Yields on British government bonds are low.

    Each of these—and therefore the broader claim, that everything is awesome—can be rebutted but it would be too boring to go into here. Maybe another day. I’ll just leave this here for now.

    In the morning, an event of historical import took place in which British dignity and gravitas was demonstrated to the full. Yes, it was Nigel Farage’s address to the European Parliament.

    The person facepalming in the background is a cardiac surgeon who was raised in a gulag, so it’s safe to say that he was never going to be an ally of Farage.

    Other European MEPs were equally unimpressed:

    Although our national hero did have one fan: Marine Le Pen, of France’s neo-Nazi National Front. Good look, Britain.

    Shortly afterwards a very different side of Britain was on display, when Alyn Smith of the SNP gave a genuinely historic speech for which he received a standing ovation.

    Remember this: Scotland, did not let you down. Please, I beg you, chers collègues, do not let Scotland down now.

    Have I mentioned that I’m Scottish?

    OK, enough nice things: on to the racism. I’ve been at pains to mention in these updates that the rise in racist abuse has only been anecdotal so far, but the first official confirmations have started to come in now with the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealing that hate crimes rose by 57% week-on-week in the period immediately following the referendum.

    I also quoted the BBC’s Sima Kotecha’s tweet yesterday in which she said she was called a P**i in her home town for the first time since the 1980s. I found out today that that home town is Basingstoke, where I used to live. Well done Basingstoke.

    But London isn’t immune:

    And a big story yesterday involved a video of a racist incident on a tram in Manchester. The video’s been taken down now because the culprits have been arrested and it’s presumably going to trial.

    Don’t chat s**t when you’re not even from England, you little f**king immigrant. Get off the f**king tram now. Get back to Africa.

    Was this in Boris Johnson’s future textbook?

    For me, Brexit is a bit like going through the breakup of a relationship or a bereavement in the specific sense that, when I wake up in the morning, there’s a brief period—a couple of seconds maybe—when I’ve yet to remember that all this has happened. Then the memories come in and there we go: I’m back in the room, back in the Brexit room where the chintzy carpets stink of stale beer while Farage grins at me over a Hamlet cigar. Not a nice feeling.

    The last thing I’m going to talk about today is what’s going on in the main political parties. They are both in meltdown but Labour is doing a much more spectacular job of it. A no confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn yesterday delivered a gobsmacking result, with 172 MPs voting against him and only 40 in favour. He isn’t resigning though and is marshalling his supporters among the party membership. The Labour party in its current form will not survive this.

    On the Conservative side, it’s hard to know what’s going on really. Boris Johnson’s column on Monday (which I said at the time sounded “too good to be true”) turned out to be, essentially, a load of nonsense.

    Are you looking forward to this man being Prime Minister?


  7. Brexit daily update, 27th June

    Posted June 28, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Welcome to my second dispatch from the land of Brexit.

    Today we saw an attempt to get back to politics as usual with senior Conservative politicians emerging from the bunkers they’d been in over the weekend. Following on from Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article (which I mentioned last night) George Osborne gave a statement at 7am with the intention of calming the markets—“Britain is open for business”—but nevertheless the pound dropped sharply against the dollar soon afterwards, possibly prompted by Boris Johnson’s comments that it was “stable”.

    Around the same time, the share prices of two large British banks, Barclays and RBS, lurched downwards so sharply that trading was temporarily suspended. Perhaps Osborne’s speech hadn’t had the desired effect after all.

    The Vote Leave campaign switched its own website into victory mode, unveiling a picture of a bus which claimed that Britain gave the EU £50m per day.


    Some people initially mistook this bus for its more famous sibling which had spent the campaign advancing the claim that the EU cost the UK £350m per week. And then, noticing that the number was different, some suspected that yet another Leave lie had been uncovered.

    Just as Twitter began to convulse with rage, someone remembered that days and weeks are different units of time.

    Still, it doesn’t matter as the whole thing is nonsense anyway.

    People who’d failed to fully understand the economic arguments of shiny red buses weren’t the only apologetic ones today. Kelvin McKenzie, the former editor of the Sun, expressed “buyer’s remorse” for having voted Leave.

    There was a lot of outrage about that but fair enough, I thought, at least he’s admitted it. More people should. It doesn’t help that so many are refusing to acknowledge that we face serious difficulties. To wit:

    Those looking for a non-gloomy spin on things would be best advised to avoid any conversations about race relations, which continued to add an undercurrent of genuine horror.

    This person is a BBC newsreader and reporter for the Radio 4 Today programme. And if you don’t trust people who work for the BBC then what about people who work for Murdoch-owned Sky? Presumably they’ll tell it like it is and assure us that there’s no problem with racism here.

    Again, it’s too early to know for sure if there has been a surge in racist abuse post-referendum, but the anecdotal evidence does not look good.

    One of my big worries is what’s going to happen as it dawns on the far right that the Leave campaign blew the dogwhistle in vain and that immigration isn’t really going to be curtailed by Brexit. The politicians who made those claims won’t be the ones on the sharp end of the backlash; it’ll be immigrants on the streets, who asked for none of this. Leading Leavers are of course denying that their campaign had anything to do with immigration whatsoever:

    And it’s worth watching this clip from Dan Hannan’s appearance on Newsnight last Friday for another example of this.

    But there was one organisation that wasn’t about to U-turn so shamelessly and has instead stuck firmly to the notion that Brexit is all about expelling foreigners and reclaiming Englishness: the Sun. Here’s a screenshot of a piece of execrable journalism which in a sane world would be career-ending:


    In the minds of these people this is an Agincourt moment, with England ascendant once more and the world cowering before its mighty flag. And then this happened:

    Yet another national humiliation as England lost 2-1 to Iceland. At least this one was pure comedy though.

    I know I haven’t really touched on what’s happening in the Labour party today but as you can imagine it’s a complete mess. Stay tuned, because it’s a fair bet that more things will be happening tomorrow.

  8. Brexit daily update, 26th June

    Posted June 27, 2016 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Last Friday morning—a couple of days ago now—the UK voted to leave the EU. As you can imagine, it’s a time of turmoil. Things are moving so quickly that events from 24 hours ago can seem like musty memories from a bygone era. And most of the conversation is taking place on Twitter and Facebook, those ever-burning fires of our memories, so it’s essentially lost from history.

    For this reason I’m going to try to keep a log of what’s going on here, in this blog, on which the pathetic paucity of new content ensures that old material will be perpetually discoverable.

    Today has been Sunday. The main news story has been the self-immolation of the Labour shadow front bench which began after Hilary Benn was sacked at 3.30am after telling his boss that he had no faith in him. The resulting torrent of resignations has dominated the news cycle, giving rise to a fleeting meme.

    Earlier today there was a flurry of interest in a piece that Nick Clegg had written a couple of days before “Independence Day” or “Black Friday” or whatever you want to call it (I call it “the fash crash”) which has come to seem eerily prescient:

    As politicians bicker, you become increasingly unnerved by what’s happening in the economy, too: overseas investors take fright; money flows out of the country; our credit rating is slashed; the interest on our borrowing goes up; unemployment rises; sterling tanks; prices in the shops go up.
    Nicola Sturgeon soon announces that preparations have started for a second independence referendum, claiming it is the only way to keep Scotland in the EU. And this time most commentators think that she will win.
    Still, at least they will finally sort out our borders, right? After all, ending mass immigration was the Brexiteers biggest claim of all.
    So imagine how you’ll feel when you discover that they don’t have a plan for that either?

    Nick Clegg’s name hasn’t come up much in conversation since his party was annihilated in 2015 but this article was very much on the money. It works well because it’s very dry: the predictions are delivered without a side dressing of campaign rhetoric so the signal-to-noise ratio is high. It’s basically a list of future events with so close a resemblance to current reality that they almost seem mundane.

    There has been a little sideshow too involving a Winnie the Pooh related meme that was doing the rounds. I can’t find the original tweet but here’s the image:




    I hate how it combines a twee message (“why can’t we all just get along?”) with a lame attempt at ribaldry in the final sentence. Plus…

    Someone came along later and fixed it.

    There also seems to have been an upsurge in racist and xenophobic incidents since the referendum, as some Leave voters—unsurprisingly given the tenor of the campaign—begin to act on their perceived mandate to expel all foreigners. Reading about these incidents and then reading the below-the-line comments they attract provides you with an insight into an odious English racism which many thought consigned to history but is now slithering back into full daylight, no longer apologetic or subtextual but proud and emboldened. I’m not going to link to any of those commenters as they’re truly toxic but here are some of the incidents:

    (this person is a professional journalist but of course he’s lying about it)

    It’s too early for official statistics to confirm if it’s true but it makes sense given how the Leave campaign was constructed. And on that note, here’s some polling from Lord Ashcroft on how the attitudes of Remain voters compare to those of Leave voters:


    But it’s all OK though because Boris Johnson has written a column in the Telegraph (he gets about £5,000 a pop for these) in which he tells us we’ll have all the benefits of being in the EU with none of the costs. Sounds too good to be true if you ask me. Here’s a more constructive proposal for getting out of this mess:

  9. The multi-party continental fantasyland that was never to be

    Posted May 12, 2015 in politics  |  1 Comment so far

    Lots of people have written about the election last Thursday and the decisive Conservative victory, which came as a surprise to everyone.

    I was going to write something too but decided against it. Instead here are some other things that might be worth reading.

    First, at Public Policy And The Past, the enigmatic “historian” has a good piece titled “So What Did Happen Last Thursday?” which offers five reasons for the surprisingly easy Tory victory and the mistaken assumption so many of us had that two-party politics was a thing of the past. Labour and Conservative actually both increased their share of the vote, so it’s very much politics as usual:

    All of this has come as some shock to your average cafe-dwelling leftist. They thought that a new world was coming into being: a multi-party continental fantasyland, in which parties would have to work together, in which voters would choose based on a buffet of different policy options, in which a ‘left alliance’ of all anti-Conservative parties could seize power, enact voting reform and generally make the world a softer, greener, more pluralistic place.

    It wasn’t.

    As a café-dwelling leftist myself I should admit to being quite excited about Borgen-style coalition politics. Not so much because I thought it would deliver the sorts of policies that I lean towards, though: more because it would liven things up a bit.

    Here’s another piece by Chris Cook on BBC News. It quotes extensively from Labour strategist James Morris, who I think I might have met once in real life. It’s an insightful look at what was going on behind the scenes during the campaign within a Labour party whose private polling was far less favourable to them than the (as it turned out, shockingly inaccurate) polls that appeared in the press.

    “The campaign strongly toughened our stance on the SNP before the final Question Time [TV appearance for Mr Miliband], but it was not enough. The Tories successfully used the fear of Scottish influence as a way of catalyzing pre-existing doubts about Labour in a way that had not been possible earlier in the campaign. Labour’s unexpected post-referendum collapse in Scotland transformed the election across the whole of Great Britain.”

    At some point in the future I’d like to learn more about this election campaign. Behind the tabloid mud-slinging and one-note anti-Scottish fearmongering there was obviously some brutal yet intricate thinking going on. Lynton Crosby is clearly someone to be reckoned with.

  10. Meanwhile, North of the Wall, the Sun says…

    Posted April 30, 2015 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Today’s Sun says you should vote Conservative. Not a huge surprise there.

    Oh, hang on: it’s also saying you should vote SNP.


    That’s odd. How can the Sun say two different things on either side of the border?

    To a lot of people, these front pages show the low regard the Sun has for its readers’ intelligence. That it thinks it can say one thing to one group of people and another thing to another group of people, and get away with it, because the two groups of people don’t overlap or talk to each other. That Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have the guts to say in Scotland what he says in England, because the Scottish Sun’s circulation would collapse if it supported a party that’s so unpopular there.

    While these people have a point, it’s worth remembering that these are two different newspapers here, published in two different nations, so it isn’t unreasonable that their editorial lines might diverge.

    What I find bizarre isn’t that the newspapers have offered different views but that the contrast between their coverage is so striking. The “English” Sun has, along with the rest of the right-wing press here, spent the last month engaged in increasingly hysterical attempts to demonise and smear Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP. In today’s endorsement of the Conservatives it lists, as the second most notable argument in their favour, that they would “stop the SNP running the country”.

    It’s the extreme negativity of the English SNP coverage that makes it seem odd and deeply cynical that the Scottish Sun has come out in their support.