Monday, June 30, 2003

Seats for votes

As I plan my career in political spread betting I've been looking up some electoral facts and figures. This site is a fascinating mine of data, and also has a useful table (see 'Battlemap') for calculating how many seats each party gets from various votes. If (say) each party gets 35% then Labour get 362 seats, the Tories 210. This is very similar to IG Index's spread, which suggests punters are basically following the opinion polls, which is another reason to be bullish Labour.

The usual caveats to this analysis apply. A relatively unimportant one (in my view) is that it is based on a uniform swing. For this analysis to be wrong the Tories want a bigger swing in Labour/Tory marginals than elsewhere, which will mean they get more seats for their votes. Is this likely? Obviously there are things the Tories can do to help this, such as effective and well targeted campaigning. Furthermore if Labour have lost popularity because Blair is no longer as popular then that might mean former Tories who were attracted to him might switch over -- and these types should be more prevalent in Lab/Tory marginals.

A more important one is it keeps the Lib Dem's share of the vote at a constant 15%. I would expect them to do much better than that.


Strom Thurmond died last week aged 200. Let us remember the patriot and gentleman by the things he said,

"I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches."

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Leading them into oblivion

The Economist pointed out a couple of weeks' ago that Tony Blair (his election victories an obvious exception) tends to have bad Mays and Junes, but then come the summer months the Tory party implodes, thus by party conference time he is usually back on top.

This time the Tory party seems to be kickin off the shooting-itself-in-the-foot earlier. Only a few days after their first poll lead since 2000, Bruce Anderson says IDS must go.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

105 pounds well spent

All this hoo-ha about the BBC's spat with Alastair (Ok...Alistair...but it annoys him so! (see Guardian Clarifications and Corrections weekly)) Campbell rather distracts from the fact that BBC 3 has found a purpose -- minute-by-minute coverage of Glastonbury. Having brought a tonne of mud in from the garden, put a tent up, blocked by toilets up and stolen my own CDs, I'm no longer jealous of my friends who are there in person. Honest.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Spreading the load

Nick B links to today's British Blogosphere news, which is that the Tories are for the first time since 1992 (or something) ahead in the polls (except the petrol crisis, which seems not to count).

Some people are questioning YouGov's polling methods, though I don't really see why -- every other polling firm has shown a rapidly closing gap between Labour and the Conservatives, so it's only really a matter of degree. I'd imagine, without any technical knowledge, that YouGov's polls will be more volatile than others because they conduct more and they use the same people. I would expect to be asked by a normal polling firm something like once every 10 years, and would be likely to give an accurate answer. YouGov ask me once a week and I tend to give whatever answer comes into my head at that moment. This time I went Tory. Nevertheless I expect YouGov adjust for such people.

Nick also points to the interesting response on the question of taxing those over 100k a year at 50%,with 67% supporting it. Now if IDS said he would do that, and I really see no reason why it is against any Conservative principle, then I would vote Conservative. Self-interest yes, but as D-squared noted over the Iraq war, it is not through the benevolence of the butcher or baker that we get our daily bread...

Sp what does this mean for Tony Blair? The boys in the City think not much, the betting at NewsFuture's barely moved on the news, rating Blair's chance of losing his job this year (or resigning) still around the 20% mark. I'd have to agree, though he needs to get a grip fast or we'll start thinking of that nice Mr Major.

Talking of which, why do people always expect government's to recover from mid-term blues? I know they try to rig the economy, but history is not particularly supportive. Major just got worse and worse second time around, and was new in his first term, while Thatcher -- which I suppose is where this view comes from -- wasn't showing much sign of recovery in October 1990, and in 1983 had the Falklands war factor. The 1983-87 election is I suppose the only unarguable case -- otherwise Callaghan lost, Heath lost, Wilson lost, etc.

So are the Tories going to win the next election? It remains unlikely. The electoral system is heavily stacked against them -- on a uniform swing they need a 12% lead to gain a majority. Over at IG Index the latest betting is that Labour will lose 61 seats to get 352 seats, the Tories gain 37 to 203 and the Lib Dems gain 21 to 73, for a Labour a majority of just 47. I think that's probably about right, so I won't be betting.

Ps Talkin of the electoral system's biases I'm not sure whether your average IG punter realises how skewed the electoral systemis. The IG Index figures (which I think I will now link to weekly) are basically guessing it will be something like 38% Lab, 36% Tories, 20% Libs. Unless you really believe in the Tory revival, I suggest you go long Labour.

pps Bravely I have opened an account and am considering doing just that on a 1 stake. Then again, even a-very-unlikely 1997 result would only see me gaining about 60. A 1992 result would see me down something like 120.

pps This is not one of the most dangerous spread bets. Unlike some your losses are limited -- the parties cannot get more than 659 (?) seats or less than 0, so your maxium loss is your stake * 659 - IG Index's spread, or 0 + IG Index's spread. So for the Tories, your maximum loss is 460 * your stake (in the event that you sell them and they take all the seats).

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

An interesting take on AIDS from Peter Cuthbertson,

"As for the suggestion that AIDS is not caused by an attitude of celebrating instant gratification, this is just untrue".

So presumably Peter believes AIDS is is caused by an attitude of celebrating instant gratification. Amazing. And they say this country doesn't need better sex education!

Kevin Drum has a good post showing that since the 1970s not only have the rich got much richer than the poor (and indeed the middle class) but that income mobility -- defined as the chance of moving from one income 5th to another -- has declined.

Of course one of the great myths of America is its income mobility. Many studies show that European countries, and whisper it softly, the social democratic ones, have more income mobility than the US. Of course being British I can't crow too much -- I posted recently showing that of all the developed countries the UK comes very near the bottom for median income, i.e. our desperately poor income distribution is not offset by a high total income.

Over half of court fines go unpaid, the BBC reports.

It's quite old now, but this essay by Ross McKibben on Neil Kinnock's era as Labour leader is very revealing.

Noticeable, with people talking about Labour splits, party realignment and all that kind of thing (things that are always about to happen but rarely do) it was helpful to be reminded that party politics -- particularly Labour party politics -- and different politicians place within it is never has straightfoward as you think.

"in 1988 when a statement in a party document on Aims and Values (largely drawn up by Hattersley but issued in both names), arguing that, other than in certain areas such as health, education and social services, 'the operation of demand and supply and the price mechanism is a generally satisfactory means of determining provision and consumption,' had to be modified to meet the objections of people like John Smith. A pillar of the old Right of the Party, a man still rooted in its traditions, Smith didn't feel that Labour had to start all over again. Kinnock became increasingly irritated with people who resisted the Party's modernisation, whether they came from the Right or the Left".

Mckibben also notes that New Labour was formed, in large part, from the soft-left of the party, not from its traditional right, who remained outside the project.

I'd also forgotten that Peter Mandelson was Kinnock's man before he was Blair's;

"Kinnock was very dependent on Peter Mandelson: when Mandelson resigned as director of communications in order to stand for Hartlepool Kinnock 'almost literally' hopped with rage. He thought Mandelson 'irreplaceable'; without him Walworth Road would 'collapse'"

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Natalie Solent criticises George Monbiot and says, as if it's uncontestable,

'I can quote off the top of my head many examples of countries that have got much richer in my lifetime through trade. Just think "East Asia." I can quote off the top of the head many countries that have been "building up" their industries through protection for forty or fifty years now and are scarcely further along than the day they started. Think India, East Africa.'

There is much truth to this. But there's not as much as she thinks. As D-Squared (t's a blogspot archive link so probably won't work, but it's in the first week archives, 'Global as you wanna be') noted, the most successful of the NICs (not counting Singapore, but Singapore's a special case), South Korea, built itself up by massive government subsidy and intervention. Malaysia used capital controls, as abhorrent to libertarians as they are to free-traders, I'd imagine.

The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail are -- as is suprisingly often the case -- attacking the police today, this time for their handling on Prince William's 21st birthday. Although clearly a major security breach, it's not hard to see how it happened. The police had to deal with lots of rather stupid and arrogant public schoolboys used to getting their own way, who had probably been unhelpful in showing their tickets (think of William -- if you think you had a divine right to rule you probably think you have a right to go to a party without a policeman stopping you) and then another similarly clad fool comes along and hey presto -- you let him in.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

The Observer is claiming that Saddam Hussein has been killed by a US rocket attack on a convey.

Excellent news in today's Sunday Telegraph. Lady Thatcher is considering intervening in the debate over the new European Constitution.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Iain Murray links to this story about President Bush exerting pressure on the UK to be nice to Spain over Gibraltar. Iain thinks there's not much too it, but he has a much more favourable view of President Bush than I do, and of US foreign policy. It would seem to me pretty par for the course, though I can't say I'm too bothered -- unlike many bloggers I've never believed that England is only England if it owns useless bits of rock. Still if true it is quite a corrective to those who see British and American interests as identical.

Just a quick recommendation -- Proxomitron is a brilliant programme for stopping pop-ups of all types, and just about every other internet annoyance. Doesn't seem to interfere with any programmes you want either, though I would increase the amount of time it allows a web page to load from the default 10secs to 30 or so. You can get it here and it's free.

Interestingly the Christian Science Monitor's 'Galloway papers' were probably fake, according to the magazine itself. The Telegraph's are probably real, but there's now some confusion over what the Telegraph's actually say, rather than the spin Charles 'Hang 'em' Moore put on it. Now one has to wonder who actually went to the effort of making -- quite good -- fakes? And why?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

US troops 'shoot civilians' is the astonishing headline on The Evening Standard today. This hard-to-believe article goes on to say, 'US soldiers in Iraq have made the astonishing admission that they regularly kill civilians'.

Oh look, the football seasons is almost on us again. I'm sure Nick must be very excited!

Opening day fixtures
Saturday, 16 August 2003

Arsenal v Everton
Birmingham v Tottenham
Blackburn v Wolves
Charlton v Manchester City
Fulham v Middlesbrough
Leeds v Newcastle
Leicester v Southampton
Liverpool v Chelsea
Manchester United v Bolton
Portsmouth v Aston Villa

Despite it's stunning success in the opinion polls there are signs that all does not remain well with the Conservative Party. Yesterday's FTreported that IDS has promoted an official who he tried to sack six months ago,while the party's treasurer Stanley Kalms is said to have resigned over differences with The Quiet Man.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Mori's latest opinion poll puts (of those 'certain' to vote) Labour on 39% and the Tories on 31%, with the Lib Dems on 22%. Of all those responding it is 43, 28 and 22. IDS remains the most unpopular of leaders with a negative rating of 21%, Blair negative 16% and Charles Kennedy positive 12%. The Labour lead, which had been boosted by the successful war in Iraq, was down 6% on the month. Conservatives, go home to your constituencies and prepare for government!

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

An organization that isn't the EU today didn't pass legislation that in any case wouldn't have made it illegal not to allow a right-to-reply on blogs.

That's just about the biggest story on the froth-blogs today. I did try to point out some of the facts in various comment boxes, but a bit like mating rabbits once you let them loose there's nothing you can really do to stop them until they get tired and move onto an even loonier story.

If you want more background information (you probably don't) I'll let
Nick Barlow and Harry explain the background.

ps There are rumours -- as yet unconfirmed-- that neither the BBC nor the Guardian are involved.

Whilst we wait for Saddam's stockpiles of WMD to turn up, various war-bloggers have decided that they aren't that important, and the war was justified on humanitarian grounds alone. Of course one of the major problems with this view is that it does rather push you towards supporting war in every continent.

Now obviously there are various ways to overthrow nasty governments that don't involve war. However it's a much more difficult call when our governments are actually friendly with nasty regimes. A classic example is Uzbekistan where aside from all the usual humanitarian outrages, an official British study suggests that two prisoners were even boiled to death, and yet senior US government officials (and I am sure other nations) regularly take time off to meet, greet and generally laud the ruling dictator.

I don't know anyone who reads the Times newspaper unless they have to -- in almost every field (except perhaps sport on Monday) it is nowhere near the best British newspaper. Most of its readers seem to be people who think that it is still the newspaper of record, and that by reading it they are somehow propelled into the upper middle classes and the world of Ascot and Henley.

It's political coverage is especially poor. One manifestation of this is that it doesn't seem to have any consistent line -- in March it was angling for IDS's resignation and today it is going after Tony Blair. This feeds into its coverage of itsown opinion polls, where the interpretation is always made to fit their current view. Hence there was an opinion poll around the time of the Conservative Central Office shenanigans which showed the Conservatives 1% or thereabouts behind Labour, and the Times had a headline something like 'Disaster for Tories' or 'Conservatives ailing'. Today there is an opinion poll showing that despite the government's current difficulties they remain 4% ahead,. yet the Times wants to spin a story that Blair is in trouble, so it headlines it 'Tory revival puts heat on Blair'. Surely the real story of today's opinion poll is that the 'Baghdad Bounce' has come back to earth?


The American-hating Daily Telegraph is at it again with today's headline. Iraq rebuiliding in chaos. The Telegraph alleges that British military officials have pained 'a grim picture of American incompetence and mismanagement' and that 'the growing dissatisfaction among oridinary Iraqis is easily discernible on the streets of the capital'.

This is typical of the know-nothing British media. Did they not read Mark Steyn's article from Iraq in the same newspaper just 8 days' ago, in which he said everything was fine and dandy? Do they want Saddam back? Are they apologists for murder and terror? have they not seen the mass graves?

I suppose you can't expect much better from a newspaper run by a Canadian wimp and edited by an English aristocrat, but it's still disappointing.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Anyone a fondness for Unicum, the great national drink of Hungary? A friend has just bought me a bottle and after a few glasses of Hungary's 'national accelerator' even the Sunday Telegraph -- complete with Anne Applelbaum's sadness that people on the 'net aren't arrested for criticizing President Bush and one letter writer's wish that the security services would try to bring down the government -- seems palatable.

I spent the day at the East of England show, which if you know it is probably one of only a few places in Britain where you could overhear a couple walking past a demonstration of the art of horseshoeing saying 'Take their number down George, we'll get our lot done in the morning'.


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Found an old copy of The Sun whilst clearing up. It's from June 13th 1984, headlined 'Willie goes talkies'.

The most noticeable thing is the poor design quality, the useless photographs and the small number of pages. The second most noticeable thing is the editorial;

"The SUN has a warning for the Indian people in Britain. You are well liked. You have made a splendid contribution to the life and culture of this country. You renterprise and initiative in the corner shop are much admired."

I suppose we should just be grateful there's no mention of curry, and that the people of 'Indian people' is not in capital letters. That this patronising and offensive language is no longer used, even by the Sun, must be a good thing.

Monday, June 09, 2003

The most noticeable thing about the government's euro assesment is the exchange rate at which it suggest we should join, which is- 0.75 to 0.85 euros to the pound according to this handy summary.

This is markedly lower than the current rate which is 0.7, and in terms of more recognisable measures (to many in Britain) it is 2.3 to 2.6DM, or 7.7 to 8.7 francs, from 2.77 and 9.2 today.

This rather puts lie to the view that Britain has the strongest economy in Europe. For a start an exchange rate so low suggests serious concerns about the health and felxibility of much of our manufacturing industry and exporting service sector. Second, a rate at the lower end (0.85) would make our economy somewhere between around 10 - 25% smaller than France's, and pretty similar to Italy.

ps It appears the City misread the report, or at the least read it so quickly they got the wrong message. The rate of joining thought to be ideal is lower than the current rate, but not by much at 0.73 -- higher than the highest point of the band suggested above. This makes joining somewhat easier, but keeps our economy within spitting distance of France's (not a trivial point given the shareholding of the ECB reflects gdp (and population size).

Friday, June 06, 2003

Have you noticed how among pro-war bloggers UN resolutions, which were irrelevant, a waste of time, socialist, despotic, evil blad de blad de blah, are now, in the absence of WMD, seen as things that justify being invaded if you flout them? I don't know how many sites I've read where it says 'WMD will be found in Iraq...size of France...need time...but anyway the war wasn't about WMD it was about Saddam Hussein's flagrant bleach of UN resolutions back to 1991...and therefore is completely justified...blah....blah...Iran next'.

Now I am all for UN resolutions being obeyed, but it would be nice to see some consistency. Either the UN is irrelevant or its not.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Editor of the New York Times has resigned over the faked journliasm scandal. Is this news in Britain? Well of course not, but I just saw on it the BBC so I thought I'd mention it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

This study of people's attitudes is always interesting.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Reasonably interesting column by Roy Hattersley on PR in today's Guardian. Hattersly says he is coming around to the idea of PR if it will allow left-wing parties more representation in parliament, as this would change the centre of gravity within Labour. I think he's right, but it also may cause Labour to split into a number of parties and certainly the Blair wing would be somewhat more to the right than the party currently is. Also, the impact on the right-wing of British politics is not discussed.

However it did get me thinking about FPTP. Its supporters argue that it retains a close bond between the voter and his/her constituency MP which can be lost in PR. Yet this is basically nonsense, as many voters are represented by someone they didn't want to be elected. In fact since the last election 13,400,850 voters are now represented by a member of parliament they did not want (almost exactly 50% of those who voted). Now I know MPs are there to represent all their constituents, and probably do this job admirably. But that's often besides the point -- the voter does not want to represented by them.

Funnily enough, and what advocates of FPTP rarely tell you, is that his problem is much reduced under a PR system such as mulit-member STV system, or similar.


A very strange story in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph Magazine (which sadly is not available online but here's the BBC's reporting at the time ). It was an extract from a book by a man who through dangerous driving killed three people on a motorway. He was found guility and sentenced to jail. But that wasn't the strange thing. THe strange thing was that a paper that is so firm on law and order allowed him the lead story in their magazine to write one of most self-serving articles I've seen. Bizarrely he tried to make out the Police and CPS were the onerous State against The Little Man, and only in a few paragraphs did you actually get reminded that many people had died due to his stupidty. For much of the article he was obsessed with the very idea of a middle class person gong to jail, and much of it was unintentionally hilarious (his barrister -- actually his third barrister as he rejected his first two as they had told him to plead guilty -- told him he was too arrogant, which he reported in a kind of 'Patronising? How clever of you to notice' way, while any courtroom is described 'a drab 1960s building' as if they should have tried him in the Ritz) . All in all he came out of it sounding an unpleasant man, and now he is writing a book about it.