Archive for the 'Guest Contribution' Category

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Guest Slot: Social media and shy rightwingers

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Dan Hannan Tweet

Tissue Price on the polling errors across Europe

The inquest into the polling disaster at the UK General Election continues. Matt Singh of NumberCruncherPolitics provided an excellent overview of the pollsters’ initial thoughts last week, ahead of the first meeting of the official BPC/MRS inquiry.

Some pollsters think faulty sampling was the principal cause of error, some blame turnout modelling, and one thinks a genuine late swing was the biggest single factor.

Dan Hodges channels Emile Zola in accusing the pollsters of herding, and Danny Finkelstein (£) thinks we’ll never know the true answer.

However Matt’s bet – and mine – is that Peter Kellner is right and that 2015 was a classic case of shy Tory syndrome. Peter chiefly attributes this to the Tories’ image, but I wonder whether his earlier explanation of “social satisficing” – not wanting to admit your views to a stranger for fear of being thought less of – might be nearer the mark, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of UK polls were online.

The reason for thinking this is that similar polling errors have occurred in other national elections this year. In Israel, Likud were predicted to gain 22 seats (of 120) and ended up with 30, and last week in Denmark the blue block were expected to win by 1 or 2% and actually won by 5% – with the populist DPP notably outperforming their eve-of-election polling by 3% (21% to 18%).

On more limited polling, the same pattern can be seen in Finland – with the Centre Party overestimated by about 3% at the expense of the populist True Finns and centre-right National Coalition Party; in Estonia, where the winning centre-right Reform Party were underestimated; in the Croatian presidential election, where the polls didn’t give the narrow winner Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović much of a chance (though interestingly the exit polls nailed it); and in Poland’s presidential election, where Andrzej Duda’s first round victory came as a total shock.

You could even make a case that Ireland’s marriage referendum fits the pattern, with the 62-38 victory for Yes contrasting with opinion polling expecting a 70-30 result.

The social media explanation

Is there a ready (and no doubt oversimplistic) explanation for why people all over Europe, in a variety of elections, might have been conditioned into suppressing their true intentions – even online? I think that perhaps social media – Twitter, and more importantly Facebook – has the answer.

Twitter has long been described as an echo chamber, and undoubtedly has a leftwing bias in terms of the sheer number of tweets. Dan Hannan’s tongue-in-cheek Venn diagram (at the head of this article) is to the point; the FT provided a more aesthetically pleasing proof of the same effect with some very nice network graphs.

However on Twitter you can choose who you follow and what you are exposed to. On Facebook you have to put up with your friends’ opinions. Now I am a fully paid-up PB Tory, with a social circle to match, but even I have some leftwing friends. And they didn’t shy away from signalling their virtue!

That’s anecdotal, but here is some data from the British Election Study posted by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University which confirms that left-wingers were much more likely to post content online during the election campaign:

Bes1

Bes 2

NB the wider reach of Facebook – it’s by far the more important social network for communicating with the electorate at large. Ofcom estimate that there are about 35m Facebook users in the UK and only 12m Twitter users.

My supposition is that it’s easier – as in, less risk of argument or confrontation – to post left-wing opinion online. Your intentions are assumed to be good and your motives pure, whereas right-wing opinion may often carry a whiff of self-interest in financial matters and might be supposed to be xenophobic or worse in other areas.

So, there’s my overarching theory to explain the multiple failures of polling across Europe this year: an online culture in which leftwing messages get disproportionately liked or retweeted into your timeline might have helped to bring about the emergence of shy Tories. What do you think?

Tissue Price



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Guest slot: The boundaries of reason

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Antifrank looks at The boundaries of reason: the possible shape of the 2020 election

I previously looked back at the impact of demographic changes on party politics from 1992 to 2015.  That’s all well and good, but what changes can we expect for 2020?  To determine that we first need to consider what the new boundaries are likely to look like.

It might be thought that the future musings of the Boundary Commissions are imponderable, but we have quite a lot of clues to go on.  We should use them.

The terms of any boundary review are closely delimited in legislation.  The following will occur unless the law is changed or the proposed boundary changes are defeated in Parliament:

1) The election will be fought on 600 seats.

2) There will be two Isle of Wight constituencies, a constituency for Orkney & Shetlands and a constituency for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

3) The 600 seats will be allocated between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to a strict formula based on the number of registered voters as at the review date in each.

4) Except for the exceptions already noted, the seats will have a population of 95% to 105% of the average constituency size (there are size requirements that are relevant only in Scotland and Northern Ireland has special rules).

These are pretty prescriptive rules. There are already rumblings among Conservative MPs that the seat count should be kept at 650.  As we shall see, this may be in the interests of individual Conservative MPs but it is unlikely to be in the interests of the Conservative party as a whole.

The next thing to realise is that the Boundary Commissions have already started looking at this once (until their work was brought to a juddering halt by the Lib Dems ganging up on their coalition partners: as we shall see, this was absolutely correct from a narrow party interest).  So we already can see the general direction of travel.

For the moment I’m going to work on the basis of a 650 seat Parliament to explore what difference the boundary review might make.  While this is not what the law currently requires, it makes it easier to see what difference the impact of movements in registered voters might have.

Allocation of seats around the component parts of the UK

So, what should we expect?  The first thing to do is to determine the number of registered voters in each part of the UK.  This will be set at the end of this year, so we don’t have the precise figures, but the numbers from the general election should provide a fairly decent guide.  We have the electoral commission’s preliminary results:

This gives a national total of registered voters of 46,425,476.

I’ve separated these out into the component parts of the UK:

From these we can derive the following totals of registered voters:

Northern Ireland:1,236,683, Wales: 2,282,297, Scotland: 4,094,784, England: 38,811,712

When the seat allocation is eventually determined, it is done by a broadly proportionate approach.  Since we don’t have the relevant registered voter numbers yet, it is pointless doing anything more than a pro rata approach.  If the seat allocation stays at 650, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 17 seats, Wales to get roughly 32 seats, Scotland to get roughly 57 seats and England to get roughly 543 seats (with one seat up for grabs).  If the seat reduction to 600 seats takes effect, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 16 seats, Wales to get roughly 30 seats, Scotland to get 52 or 53 seats and England to get 501 or 502 seats.  This is almost exactly what the allocation would have been if the boundary review had gone ahead last time.  So much for all the fuss about the voter registration changes.

Either way, English MPs will become still more dominant in Parliament.  This can only be good news for the Conservatives, whose who dominate much of England and rely on it for almost all of their seats.

Allocation of seats within England

Just as important as how the seats are distributed in the UK is how the seats will be distributed in England.  The Boundary Commission for England is not legally obliged to follow the same approach when allocating seats between English regions, but in practice it intended to do so in the last Parliament and I expect it to do so again this time.

The English regions had registered voter totals at the general election as follows:

Eastern: 4,364,656, East Midlands: 3,350,769, London: 5,401,616, North East: 1,941,841, North West: 5,240,724, South East: 6,419,548, South West:4,076,494, West Midlands: 4,140,587, Yorkshire & the Humber: 3,875,477

This would result in the following seat allocations, based on England having 543 seats in a 650 seat Parliament (I have assumed a 650 seat Parliament for ease of comparability):

AF Table

*Plus two Isle of Wight constituencies

Again, this seems to benefit the Tories.  More seats are being added in their strongest areas while the seat count in the North West and the North East, two of their weaker areas, continues to decline.

Putting numbers on these changes

So, what would these movements mean in real seat numbers?  Unfortunately, we cannot simply apply a formula because much depends on how the boundaries are actually set.  Thinking about the detail of boundary commission reviews will need to be the subject for another post, but some general principles can be laid down now.

1) Boundary reviews are bad for incumbents.  The more extensive the boundary alterations, the less of an advantage incumbency gives.

2) Within an area, a seat reduction will increase the advantage of the party with the most support.  To give an extreme example, if Wales were reduced to one constituency, Labour would expect to take 100% of seats in the area.  Considered on a wider scale, it would obviously be to Labour’s detriment to have only one seat within Wales, but within Wales itself it would accentuate its political dominance.

3) With a seat reduction in an area, regional strength of trailing parties will outweigh general strength in the area.  For example, if Wales were reduced to four constituencies, Labour might reasonably hope to take all four constituencies.  But it would probably be most worried about losing a seat to Plaid Cymru because of its regional strength in north west Wales.  The fact that the Conservatives poll twice Plaid Cymru’s vote share across Wales as a whole would not affect this calculation.

4) An increase of seats in an area will naturally tend to produce more seats for the dominant party in the area, but the increased granularity may help another party gain an odd seat where a pocket of support has previously been swamped by the dominant party’s support in previously-attached areas (this is the inverse of the last two points).  For example, Peterborough is a Conservative-held marginal seat comprising a city with outlying areas attached.  Making the reasonable assumption that the city is more Labour-leaning than the outlying areas, I infer that if the seat count in the area were increased and the boundaries are confined more tightly around the town, Labour might hope to pick up a new seat in an area of Conservative dominance.  Incidentally, this will tend to work better for Labour than for the Conservatives, given the way in which Labour support tends to cluster in towns.

With these principles in mind, and without going through the detail of my thought process (which is more art than science in any case), my guess is that if the votes cast in May were cast on the boundaries of a new 650 seat Parliament that I have outlined above, the seat count would be something like:

Conservative: 335, Labour: 229, SNP: 55, Lib Dem: 8, Plaid Cymru: 3, UKIP: 1, Green: 1, Speaker: 1, Northern Irish parties: 17

So I imagine a hypothetical increase in the Conservative majority by ten or so, but it wouldn’t fundamentally alter the dynamics of the next election.  I feel that I have made midpoint assumptions in coming to these numbers.

The impact of switching to a 600 seat Parliament

But as the law stands, the boundary review will be conducted on the basis that we will get a 600 seat Parliament, and that will intensify some of the effects that I have just noted.  The new 600 seat Parliament would be comprised roughly as follows:

Scotland: 52, Wales: 30, Northern Ireland: 16, England: 502, – Eastern 56 – East Midlands 43 – London 70 – North East 25 – North West 68 – South East 83 (including two Isle of Wight constituencies) – South West 53 – West Midlands 54 – Yorkshire & The Humber 50

The seat reorganisation would be relatively minor in the Eastern, South East and South West regions, given the minor adjustments in seat counts, and these are as it happens all overwhelmingly Conservative areas.  They would, however, be very extensive in Wales, the North West and the North East: all Labour areas (Scotland also would be seriously affected).  Of the Conservative-leaning areas, only the West Midlands would see heavy reorganisation.

The consequence might well be that the bulk of Conservative incumbents could see their incumbency damaged in only minor ways, while Labour incumbents would be much more likely to see their incumbency seriously affected.

It gets worse for Labour.  Many of the constituencies with the lowest number of registered voters are in contiguous Labour-held areas.  On a shrinking seat count determined by numbers of registered voters, that is the worst permutation for a party, because there is much less scope to recoup lost seats in the area by taking seats of a rival party.  Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Liverpool are all stuffed full of constituencies with very low numbers of registered voters, all with large Labour majorities.  If the seat count in those areas is reduced, that will probably come straight off the top of the Labour seat total.

Meanwhile, the smaller parties all get hit still harder because of the consequences of reducing the seat count noted above.

My artist’s impression of how the results of the last election might have translated onto reasonably normal boundaries on the new basis is something like the following:

Conservatives: 316 Labour: 209 SNP: 50 Lib Dems: 5 Plaid Cymru: 2 UKIP: 1 (maybe) Greens: 0 Speaker: 1 Northern Ireland: 16

By this stage, the Conservative majority, now hypothetically 32, is starting to look very solid given the smaller size of the House.  Again, I don’t feel that I have particularly stepped out in one direction or another.

So if you want to see why the Opposition (and the Lib Dems in particular) might seek to block the boundary review, this is why.  Their task is hard enough, without the Conservatives being given a still greater head start.

Antifrank



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Holyrood 2016: who will come second?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Making a tissue on a “Betting Without” market

This is a betting thread without a market as yet. However, the best prices on any political market can usually be found within either the first six hours or the last six. So a little forethought as to what you’d be prepared to back – and at what price – can often be rewarded handsomely. Someone launching a “without the SNP” market on Holyrood is only going to be a matter of time and there’s every reason to think there might be value about. Let’s make our own tissue.

A quick refresher on the voting system: voters get two votes, one for their local constituency, and one for a regional list (regions comprising between 8 and 10 constituencies). The list seats are doled out using a d’Hondt system, but taking the constituency results into account.

Polling at 60% in the constituency section, the SNP are going to win. Indeed, Ladbrokes only offer 5/2 on them winning all 73 constituencies, which might be a touch skinny. But the 2/7 on an overall majority (65+ seats – the parliament has 129 MSPs) looks about right: they will probably be in a position to win one or more top-up seats in a region where they sweep the constituencies – just as they did in North East Scotland last time.

So, in the face of an SNP near-sweep, who will come second in seats is predominately a question of who will come second in list votes. Even if Labour or the Conservatives pick up a constituency or two this will usually be at the expense of a list seat they would have won anyway. An exception might be if one party could do especially well in the constituencies of a specific region: there’s one plausible possibility I’ll highlight below.

The TNS list polling [from 13th-31st May] was as follows (changes from 2011 result):

SNP 50% (+6)

Labour 19% (-7)

Conservatives 14% (+2)

Greens 10% (+6)

Lib Dems 5% (=)

I think we can pretty safely rule out the Lib Dems coming second in seats, so I’ll examine the case for and against the other 3 parties. It looks like around 18% will be enough to win.

Labour

Labour are deservedly the clear second favourites on the main market – 10/1 at Ladbrokes. But this is because they are best placed to benefit in the event of any major scandal or cock-up on the SNP’s part. Absent that, there’s actually little reason to assume that there might not be a further net movement away from Labour.  As John Curtice puts it:

Labour’s figures in [the polling quoted above] are also much worse (and the SNP’s better) than they were in polls conducted by YouGov and Survation just before the May 7th ballot that saw all but one of Labour’s MPs swept away.

In short, it looks as though that disaster may have further dented voters’ confidence in the party’s ability to govern and/or persuaded them the SNP is better able to advocate and promote Scotland’s interests.

For all that, I think Labour should still be well odds-on, representing as they do the default opposition.  I’ll say 70% for now.

Conservative

The Scottish Tory surge has been a long-running meme on PB, and a profitable one for those who’ve opposed it. In the context of the SNP dominance, the Tories are now surging by standing still.

The Tories might also manage to pick up several constituencies in South Scotland. They already hold Ayr, Galloway and West Dumfries, and the triple-barrelled Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire, though the SNP are a potential threat in every one of these. Dumfriesshire is a target gain from Labour for both Con & SNP. If they were to win all four seats this is likely to be a net improvement on their theoretical entitlement based on the list percentages.

However unless the Tories can actually put on votes (from ex-Lib Dems, maybe?) then they’re going to have a hard time getting enough to come second overall.  Let’s give them a 15% chance for now.

Green

The Greens aren’t going to overtake both Labour and the Conservatives on the strength of their message. But they are likely to be the beneficiaries of an attempt to play the voting system by independence supporters voting “SNP constituency : Green list”.

By voting this way their votes will definitely go towards electing two independence-minded MSPs – whereas if they go SNP:SNP they may not see any extra list SNP members elected at all in a region, because the constituency sweep will already have given the SNP their fair share.

So the nub of this market is to assess how widespread this phenomenon will be. The SNP can’t endorse it explicitly and even if they do so tacitly they run the risk of upsetting their own list candidates. But some of the membership will think differently of their own accord and spread the message online, where the SNP have a strong presence.

Perversely, if the SNP continue to poll 50% or above the appeal of this manoeuvre is reduced since that makes the Nats more likely to pick up list seats. 45% is probably the sweet spot.

Overall, I’ll credit the Greens with a real shot at pulling this off and say 25% for now.

Making a tissue

We now need to scale our 70:15:25 estimates back to total 100%, giving us 64:14:23. Converted to the nearest classical bookie prices that gives us a tissue of:

Labour 4/7

Green 7/2

Conservatives 6/1

If, when the market goes up, you see a price bigger than this on any of these I’d tentatively suggest that it might be value.

If we wanted to act as a bookmaker, we would scale back up to e.g. 110%, to give ourselves some margin. But rather than multiplying through back up to 70:25:15 it would be more usual to stick 3% or so onto each realistic runner (which is all three, in this case).

Labour 1/2

Green 11/4

Conservatives 5/1

Finally, when trying to estimate political probabilities, I’ve frequently found the comments on pb threads to be a huge source of wisdom and information.  So no doubt I’ll be re-evaluating these prices in an hour or so!

Tissue Price



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Searching for a parallel to 2015

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Westminster twlight

Parallels from the past can never be as neat as those proposing them might like to hope. For starters, any modern comparison for 2015 could never do justice to the SNP’s triumph, and what happens in Scotland over the next five years could dramatically change the Parliamentary arithmetic in 2020. Regardless, let’s see what we can come up with, focussing on the two main parties.

1992 is a very tempting parallel, and probably the one that offers Labour the most hope. The failure of polling (check!) led Labour to think that victory was within its grasp, yet doubts about their leader combined with an economy on the mend ended up delivering the Tories a thin majority. Within five years a New Labour dawn had broken. But to focus on the Tories’ narrow win as a comparator is to miss the significantly worse scale of Labour’s defeat.

So perhaps 1983 is better? A third party (for UKIP, read the Alliance) took chunks out of both major parties’ vote but the net beneficiary was the Conservatives. Once again, an unelectably left-wing leader meant the middle classes deserted Labour. If this is the right parallel then there are another 3 parliaments of Opposition to look forward to. 1979 is even a contender – a return to Conservative majority government forced the underlying left-right tensions within Labour out into the open with disastrous electoral effects. Neither parallel can be written off but the Tories’ position today is nowhere near as strong as it was then.

Less apocalyptically, there’s 1955. After a term of steady-as-she-goes government the Tories improved their position by 23 seats, though in that case it was enough to convert a slim majority into a comfortable one. Happily for the Tories they were able to survive a foreign policy adventure and a change of leader – both of which are definitely on the cards today – to do even better next time.

But all of these examples have assumed that the best parallel must be a Conservative victory. Yet a reverse of 2001 seems the neatest comparison – a first-term opposition retreating to its own comfort zone after years in government, willing the electorate to come to them rather than putting in the hard yards required to persuade them to return. The pro-Tory swing in their own marginal defences this year echoes that achieved by first-time Blairite incumbents 14 years ago.

Choosing 2001 also allows me to tentatively present these leadership parallels:

Thatcher : Blair
Major : Brown
Hague : Miliband
Duncan Smith : Burnham
Howard : Cooper or Balls
Cameron : Jarvis or Kendall

History is not destiny, and all the more so when it’s another party’s history interpreted with plenty of licence, but it might give those intending to install Andy Burnham as Labour leader some reason to pause for thought. “Ed Miliband with a Scouse accent,” according to one unnamed MP – well what was IDS but Hague with posher pronunciation?

If Burnham does win the leadership and subsequently turns into something akin to The Quiet Man mk II, then Labour will have to rethink their policy on regicide. As Nick Bent, defeated Labour candidate in marginal Warrington South, puts it:

Some in our party think that getting rid of a failing leader is a Tory thing to do, and typical of the ‘nasty party’. This sort of irrational hippy nonsense has no place in the Labour party – if we are serious about the values we represent, if we care about the people we represent and we if really think Britain is better off with a Labour government, then we have a moral duty to be a serious contender for victory at every general election. And that requires a winner as a leader.

There’s been much discussion regarding the possibility of establishing a 3 year “break clause” for Labour’s new leader – i.e. requiring them to submit themselves for revalidation in 2018. I think that this would be a mistake as it would inevitably weaken the new leader from the off and take the focus off the policy work required. But the very fact that it has been suggested indicates that many in Labour are worried that they’re about to elect the wrong person, again.

Tissue Price



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Corporeal suggests that political punters should be rooting against the Pollsters

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

vote counting

Confusion might be best for those wanting a bet

Here at PB we generally like pollsters (especially if they drop by to read and boost traffic numbers). I’m sure many of them are lovely people (a couple have even retweeted me occasionally) but it’s mostly the polls they produce that we like (sometimes with the slight undercurrent of getting a fix supplied). As a site where we mix polling and betting good data on likely outcomes is valuable as well as interesting.

So it seems a little odd (and possibly ungrateful) to suggest that perhaps the outcome we should hope for is that the pollsters should get the independence referendum badly wrong, but at the risk of their tweeted wrath I think it might be worth considering.

Polling has seen a great growth in prominence in recent years, something that’s been particularly noted in the USA, and the advent of cheaper online polls has caused a massive surge in the number commissioned by media outlets over the current electoral cycle.

As any punter knows the key is not just having good information, but having an edge in information (or understanding) over those you’re betting against (whether bookmakers themselves or other punters on an exchange) and the progressing prominence of polling erodes some of the edge we’ve tried to tease out from datasets and weighting changes.

 In the last few days there’s just been a little undercurrent of nervous uncertainty about the possibility that pollsters might face an embarrassing Friday morning.

The task for them is undeniably greater than at a normal election. Pollsters relies on the evidence of past elections and previous voter behaviour to tweak their methodologies towards an accurate snapshot of public opinion, a one-off referendum is not such a different beast that all previous work should be discarded, but it is different enough to make things tricky.

This also means that an innaccurate set of final polls wouldn’t be a reason to downgrade your expectations of the pollsters performance in the upcoming GE2015, but if it did occur then it might create some unjustified decrease in confidence in pollsters and return a little bit of edge.

So perhaps PB punters should raise a glass of Scotch (while it’s still British) and toast to some temporary confusion to our friends?

Corporeal



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Corporeal asks: Will the dog bark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Sex and politics is an explosive mix and one that has driven a lot of scandals in British history, from Parnell’s divorce through the Profumo affair, Jeremy Thorpe, and up to the present day scandals to not even scratch the surface. The most recent rumours (that I happily don’t know enough about to make any troublesome innocent faces) aren’t either as influential or as shocking (the Duchess of Argyll’s divorce case is inexplicably obscure now) as the most infamous historical episodes, but sit comfortably on the lower level of dirty laundry that comes around regularly.

Actually regularly is an understatement, the rumours or stories are constant and familiar to almost anyone with any familiarity with politics, and particularly the world of young activists or staffers. It’s not even an open secret, it’s just open.

It’s tempting to suggest that this is just the revelations of close observation, the only difference with politicians is the microscope applied to them. No doubt if you trained a magnifying lens on any sector of society you’d find plenty of ongoing goings-on, but there is far more to it than that, a confluence of factors that breed a particular type of environment.

Power is its own particular type of aphrodisiac, but political power brings an extra ideological edge to it. If power is sexy then righteousness mixed with power is another level again, and a sense of shared righteousness is beyond even that.

So much for attraction, politics also provides opportunity (or risk, depending on your perspective). Frequent stays away from home at a second address, leaving aside the intense communality of election campaigns or party conferences  (and by-elections are notorious for people being thrown together and then getting together).

So much for the backroom party gossip, there is also a darker more unsavoury side to it.

Politics also places a lot of young and comparatively powerless people close alongside older, more elevated and revered persons and this kind of structure lends itself unpleasant results. Rennard-gate was disheartening (particularly for Lib Dems) not just because of the allegations themselves, or the “investigation”, but that certain older Lords suggested that low level sexual harassment, the not-that-occasional grope is expected and also nothing to worry about.

They are utterly and disgustingly wrong on the second point, and depressingly accurate on the first one. As with expenses, politics is often at the back of the line for modernisation, the culture still hangs over a lot of Westminster and this is especially true of the Lords with its older membership.

Sarah Wollaston MP passed police contact details to people who came to her with allegations, since the acquittal she’s faced everything from apology demands to House of Cards style conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the investigation itself helping someone who wishes to contact the police do so is surely the correct action here. That she has been vilified in some quarters reflects badly on the critics rather than on her.

The unique nature of political parties is itself a contributing factor, not least in its inherent discouragement of reporting. The victims of the harassment have a personal commitment to the party and so a vested interest in avoiding any public relations damage. Equally there aren’t really any alternative parties to shift to, allegiance is largely defined by personal principle so a shift of organisations is both harder than moving companies and comes with a certain stigma.

Alongside that there is the notoriously murky world of party advancement, something so subjective that it defies transparency. Nepotism scratches the back of cronyism behind principle compatibility, personal rapport and political alliance where a good word in the right ear goes a long way, and a reputation for kicking up a fuss can follow you even further. It all adds up to pressure to keep quiet, smile, and get along.

The traditional method of discipline is the party whip, whose role of enforcing party loyalty to maintain a positive public image leaves them in a less than ideal (to say the very least, and not even mentioning their personal working relationship with the MPs) position to act in such cases,

The unusual nature of politics means it is more vulnerable to these kind of incidents, but the protections have traditionally been far laxer than other workplaces.

The Rennard allegations were one of the most disappointing things I’ve heard as a Lib Dem, not least for the comments by some of the Lords excusing them. Nigel Evans was acquitted, but the spotlight on his behaviour has brought an anonymous wave of stories detailing various levels of sexual harrassment.

What depresses me further is my conviction that whatever the truth (or not) of those two sets of high profile allegations, what they have brought is attention into a culture of harassment puttering along below the surface, while the circumstances that allow it to perpetuate are largely still in place. This is not all MPs by any means, but it seems reasonable to call it a significant number.

The question now is whether anyone is actually going to do anything. Will the party hierarchies fear what they might find if they went looking, or rather do they fear what they might have to admit to already knowing about if they stopped looking the other way? Will the Commons authorities feel strongly enough about the ‘integrity and honour of the House’ to get really involved? Many of the tales after all are taking place literally on their turf in the Parliamentary bars.  How hard and for how long will the media investigate and keep the story going?

Westminster was rocked by the expenses scandal, not that it was going on, but that the media informed the public about it (and the public really cared). Will anyone care as much about widespread allegations of sexual harassment?

So far we have a third of young men and women working in parliament reporting suffering sexual harassment, and the party whips have been told to tighten things up, opening of hotlines and independent complaints processes, and a promise to look into reform of procedures.

I hope the commitments are followed through on, proper reforms, pathways, structures, and all the rest of it are put into place, I hope they work. Although the Chairman of the 1922 committee has already pointed out problems in the Conservative plans there are improvements being made, or at least touted. But if I’m honest I’m sceptical, and cynical, and doubting of how much of a cultural change will happen and how long it will take. I doubt in the hope of being proven wrong.

I (and I should mention I’ve never been more than on the very humble outer fringes of politics) have heard for years now that this is a hurricane just waiting to touch down, and when it breaks it’ll be a massive scandal. So far, still up in the air. Isolated cases come and go but the big picture stays under wraps.

Will this be the time everything breaks open? I hope so, but sadly I doubt it. I’d encourage you to read the articles that are written with more anonymous anecdotes but don’t worry if you miss them, I suspect they’ll all get written again next year when he have another isolated incident that happens to make the news.

Corporeal



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And now… our inaugural New Year’s Day Crossword

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

It is with some considerable trepidation that I step into the estimable shoes of stjohn, who has provided us with splendid Christmas Day cruciverbalism for the last six years.  Fear not, stjohn is merely resting, and may well be setting more puzzles in future.  If this offering gets his famous “nod” then we may even collaborate on a jumbo sometime!

Traditionally members have supplied the answers (and explanations of the wordplay) in the comments, so consider this a spoiler alert and a word of warning not to scroll down if you want to have a crack at it on your own first.  If you’d prefer to print off a copy then you can do so here.

A very Happy New Year to lurkers & posters alike, and all good wishes for 2014.

Tissue Price

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Henry G Manson – On the Lobbying Bill

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

 

 

This Big Brother Bill Belongs to Zimbabwe Not Britain

Hasty legislation usually makes for the lousy legislation. But for lousy and cynical legislation, look no further than the government’s ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’. It appears to be the latest sinister stunt from a Conservative Party looking to boost its chances in the run-up to the general election by effectively clamping down on dissenting views.

Under this legislation the staff time, office costs and expenditures of thousands of blogs, think tanks, charities and campaigners are all set to be heavily capped in the year before the May 2015 general election. What’s worse is that the regulation of independent organisations will not only come from the state, but even from the political parties themselves.

The Spectator’s Sebastian Payne explains that political blogs that spend more than is permissible would require the permission of political parties. ‘This new regime, unless clearly defined in the bill, could affect political blogs. Not necessarily due to their funding, but because some bloggers write primarily about the ongoings of a particular party, which could be classed as campaigning. This would give Ed Miliband the power to shut down LabourList, or David Cameron to Conservative Home, if he took a dislike to their coverage.’

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations warns that charities campaigning seeking to change views and attitudes risks being classified as electioneering. ‘This means that a charity that published campaigning material on an issue such as housing or healthcare could be considered to be engaging in political campaigning if it shares a point of view with one party but not another, even if its intention was just to inform the public, and even if it did not even mention the election.’

Respected anti-fascist campaigners Hope Not Hate have highlighted  how they will be legally limited to spending just 2% of what the British National Party is able to spend in the year before the last general election under these new proposals. They describe it as ‘nothing more than a Gagging Bill, limiting democracy, political involvement and criticism. At a time when trust in political parties and politicians is at an all-time low we need to increase involvement and participation in the democratic process rather than limiting it.’

Meanwhile the TUC have calculated that to hold their traditional annual Congress in the year before an election would become a criminal offence due to the expenditure involved. Their General Secretary Frances O’Grady damned the bill as “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship” 

So charities, anti-racist organisations, trade unions and political blogs stand to be hit hard by the bill, while decaying political parties including the BNP will be its beneficiaries.

Presumably such a Bill must well and truly cover lobbyists? Seasoned lobbyist and former head of Public Affairs at Bell Pottinger Peter Bingle says no ‘Only a tiny percentage of the so-called lobbying industry will be covered by the bill, and in-house lobbyists are excluded. This is bizarre, as most lobbying of ministers, special advisers and officials is done by employees of corporations and trade associations and not by public affairs consultants. I will not be covered by the bill as it is drafted and nor will most of the major players in the public affairs consultancy world.’

Guido Fawkes agrees adding that ‘a huge amount of the type of lobbying that needs most scrutiny has been let off entirely’.

Politics simply should not be the sole property of political parties. Thoughtful Conservative MP Douglas Carswell asks, ‘If 38 Degrees or the Taxpayers’ Alliance want to get stuck in during an election campaign, why shouldn’t they? What possible reason can there be to regulate the political engagement of institutions in a free society?’

It is a sad reflection on David Cameron, who once described himself as ‘a liberal Conservative’, that his government seems intent on curtailing the campaigning freedoms of others to buttress support. He refuses to admit how many Conservative members have been lost under his watch yet wants to curtail thriving civic campaigning organisations far bigger than his own. His desperate response through this Bill owes more to Zimbabwe than Britain.

For Liberal Democrat MPs to back such Big Brother measures would surely mark a new chapter in the party’s departure from liberal values. It speaks volumes about Nick Clegg’s leadership that it cannot be ruled out. Chloe Smith is the government minister responsible for this Big Brother bill’s speedy passage. Email her at chloe.smith.mp@parliament.uk to tell her what you think. While you can.

 

Henry G Manson