Tag Archives: Psephology

“No turning back”, Theresa May calls snap UK General Election, 8 June

Theresa May calls snap General Election, 8 June 2017

The lady’s not for turning” became a catchphrase of Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, in her 10 October 1980 speech to the Conservative Party Conference. Theresa May, who said on 30 June 2016 “There should be no General Election until 2020“, and again 3 weeks ago on 20 March, has just called a snap election on 8 June, just 7 weeks away. May is a shrewd political player but clearly not one to be trusted after half-a-dozen times she said “no” to an early election, this is her u-turn, her moment of political triumph or tragedy.

From Remain to Leave, from a 2020 election to a 2017 election, from the Fixed-term Parliament Act to PM’s whim. This Prime Minister is for turning.

Theresa May - "Better off in the European Union"
Theresa May – “Better off in the European Union”

Markets have reacted to uncertainty as usual with the FTSE-100 down nearly 2.5% but the Pound also jumping over 1.5% against the Dollar.

Polls and Psephology

Psephologists and pollsters suggest she is odds-on favourite for an increased majority and mandate. Polls suggest a 15-20% point lead over Labour, a collapsed UKIP campaign as they’ve no longer Brexit to call for and many UKIPpers returning to the Tory fold as May goes for Hard Brexit or broke. 

Be in no doubt this election is to crush Brexit (and any internal Tory) opposition – the very opposition she said at Easter didn’t exist because the country was united behind Brexit:

“a sense that people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead” – Theresa May, Easter message

Hijacking a religious festival for a political message? Will she stop at nothing?

Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech
Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech

Falsely describing the country as united but Parliament, as divided, is disingenuous and erasing of the 48%, of the tens and hundreds of thousands who continue to turn out for pro-EU/anti-Brexit rallies.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

She is referring to the SNP, LibDems, Labour and even the Lords, vowing to fight any bad deal with the EU. Surely, their opposition is in all our interests, even Leave voters, as nobody wants a bad deal. Again, it’s suspect since Article 50 was passed by Parliament, despite the narrow 52% EU Referendum majority and MPs being denied a free vote. Meantime, an election is the one surefire thing to divide the country afresh!

Hard Brexit?

Whilst some may want an end to Leave-Remain bickering, some are opposed to a “hard” Brexit and may also vote against giving Theresa May a carte blanche to withdraw from the EU so drastically. 

“Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

A Second Referendum?

Inadvertently perhaps, Theresa May has just called a second EU Referendum:

“So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government’s vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament – This is your moment to show you mean it.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Single Issue Politics

Despite Audre Lorde saying, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, nevertheless, this may well be a single issue election. 

Remainers will be tempted to vote LibDem, even many students with memories of betrayal over student loans or concerns about Tim Farron’s evangelical Christian faith and opposition to abortion and gay sex – that said, he has been quoted as saying he will follow party policy on the matter. 

For the SNP, too, it will be about Brexit and a Scottish second independence referendum, because of it. 

The LibDems – who gained 1000 new members an hour after May’s announcement, and Tim Farron are trending on Twitter, Labour are not. Labour MP Alan Johnson is trending, but that’s because, along with others, he is standing down.

Strategic Voting

Perhaps it is time for strategic voting as June will be seen as an ironclad Brexit mandate and a 5-year window to negotiate with EU pre- and post-Brexit. Labour are down but also voting for the early election. Greens and LibDems are slowly rising in support and membership since the EU Referendum. LibDem marginals winning back seats from Tories in pro-Remain areas are the likely possible cause of an upset. As a past Labour voter, conceited statements that the choice is between the Tories and Labour ignore the possibility of a third pro-EU force emerging, backing Greens and/or LibDems or independent candidates. Anyone with an EU partner, like myself and many friends, will be thinking this. We’ve had 40 years of integrating EU people, policies and partners into our society, and they remain a headline issue in this forthcoming election campaign.

Betting odds on the next leaders to replace the current batch are Labour: 4-1 Keir Starmer, 6-1 Clive Lewis, LibDems: 4-1 Norman Lamb, Tories: 4-1 Boris Johnson. Odds on the next PM: Theresa May 1-10 and on Corbyn 7-1. Tim Farron was 50-1 now 25-1. 7-4 odds on Labour losing 50 seats and LibDems gaining 10-20. Either way, doesn’t look good. Plan A is still strategic voting for the best opposition party/candidate in each locale. (Ladbrokes | Paddy Power | OddsChecker)

LibDem Remain win 2017 election
LibDem Remain win 2017 election?

An unscientific poll in a Facebook 48% group has 75% of them voting LibDem. If that were translated to the 16 million national Remain vote it would equate to over 12 million votes – more that the Conservative Party at the 2015 election. Who knows what that would look like, perhaps with the Tories 50 seats short of a majority or even the LibDems 50 short?

“So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020
Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020

UK General Election campaign, Labour Immigration Controls Mugs #GE2015

UK General Election 2015, Day One

Today is the first full working day of the UK General Election 2015 campaign, the MPs are now just prospective Parliamentary candidates but some of Labour’s former MPs are keeping their distance from the immigration mugs in their online shop.

But for a moment, let’s celebrate – we have no MPs! Parliament has prorogued and dissolved. Anarchy in the UK! On a more serious note, the psephologists are number crunching, which we all know means the return of the swingometer and ever so accurate and meaningful poll predictions. Basically the Tories and Labour are neck to neck, but on day one it is Labour who are up to their necks in it.

Other issues from the weekend such as:

  • Labour’s “no” more borrowing and “yes” more borrowing
  • Conservative’s no third term for Cameron
  • Tony Blair’s offer of financial support curse

These were all dead and buried as old news after Labour created ‘better’ bad news!

It was barely an hour into day one of the official election campaigns and already immigration was the number one topic, or at least the mugs in Labour’s shop were.

Labour Anti-immigration mug

Labour Party Controls on Immigration pledge mug
Labour Party Controls on Immigration pledge mug

#MugGate, as it will no doubt come to be called, is all about Labour‘s Five Pledges, most of which are fairly non-descript and non-specific, but #4 “Controls on Immigration” was what caught everyone’s attention.

Labour have done nothing but apologise for the two things the polls say they are weak on, namely, the economy and immigration – respectively, the Tories and UKIP’s campaign strengths. Or, if like me – an ardent pro-migration and diversity activist, their weaknesses.

There were 500 mugs available, now around 90 – so over 400 bought! Probably by Tories, journalists and people like me thinking these will be worth a fortune on eBay after Labour tries to recall them as a damage limitation exercise.

Anti-Immigration Rhetoric

The criticisms that Labour were using not just Tory immigration rhetoric but UKIP’s were all over Twitter and the several Labour MPs including Sadiq Khan and Chuka Umunna said they wouldn’t buy one either. Another Labour MP, Diane Abbott, called them “shameful”. and an “embarrassment“, and the “real problem is that immigration controls are one of our 5 pledges at all”:

Paul Bernal in a blog post, somewhat inevitably called “Storm in a Tea Cup“, drew attention to what he thought could have been five better pledges by Labour. I doubt anyone is calling for completely open borders, but to make immigration controls a leading campaign pledge, is neither Old Labour nor New Labour but some kind of aping of the Right and the perception that immigration is one of the biggest public fears. It may well be, but if so why not take the high ground and make the positive economic and cultural case for immigration to the people. Don’t make it a race to the bottom and sink to the level of UKIP.

UKIP Political Party mug 'Keep Calm UKIP are coming'
UKIP Political Party mug ‘Keep Calm UKIP are coming’

Renowned socialist and Guardian journalist, Owen Jones, called them “Farage wannabe mugs”, calling on Labour to give the people “hope”, rather than fuelling immigrant hate:

Last November, Ed Miliband announced plans to ban EU migrant benefits for 2 years, and a week later David Cameron responded by saying he would bar them for 4 years! Of course Nigel Farage would never let them in, in the first place by leaving the EU, although he would no doubt remain married to his German wife.

Election Campaign Merchandise

Another thing that surprised me was seeing how commercial the whole fundraising and marketing angle of the campaigns were. I did not know that each party except George Galloway’s Respect Party had an online shop and election merchandise.

Green Party Standing Up For Migrants mug
Green Party Standing Up For Migrants mug

The Green Party have rushed out a “Standing up for migrants” response to Labour mug within hours:

“Last week Labour released their “controlling immigration” mug. Here at The Green Party we believe in standing up for migrants’ rights. If you share the belief that we must all work together for the common good, join us in drinking from this mug! N.B. Exact design TBC. Coming soon”

The LibDem mug can’t actually be searched for on their website because all searches must contain at least 4 characters, which rules out “mug”! Although if you search for “mugs” you’ll be steered towards the only search result, a customised mug with your favourite LibDem MP, MEP or Lord on it! Browse by category and you’ll find the other 18 mugs on offer. Lesson – don’t let the LibDems build the next Government website!

There’s also an “I’m a counsellor” mug in the Welsh products section. I always thought that counsellors counseled whereas councillors stood for office, even in Wales.

The Tories have an illustration in their kitchen shop of mugs but no mugs for sale, hastily removed, perhaps, after Labour #MugGate? Though, for the price of Labour’s mug £5 you could buy “36 Blue cupcake cases“. By far the largest section of their online shop contains 23 Maggie memorabilia items. Many of the items elsewhere in the shop, including the baby clothing department, are actually green and not blue. Get in quick with your “Future Prime Minister” bib to replace David Cameron in the Parliament after next…

Labour are also selling replica posters from 1945 “Labour for Him/Her” with 70 year old campaign messages.

Future economic policies could perhaps be gleaned from the online shop Party political pricing. Labour and Green mugs are £5, SNP £6, the LibDems, “we won’t cut as much as Labour or Tory”, £7.50, and the Tory mugs were no doubt scrapped during the austerity cuts or vetoed by George Osborne. Plaid Cymru are positively encouraging migration to Wales as they are only charging £3!

The Political is Personal

David Cameron has said that the political is more than just personal, it is “national”, and made the campaign trail a straight choice between the Churchill-Cameron strong man or Ed “two kitchens” Miliband chaos.

So one of the very things that turns people off politics, is back to centre stage – personality politics. The soundbites are more about the Cameron v Miliband, than Conservative v Labour. Whilst Labour are fairly solid, repeated polls suggest that Miliband has the lowest approval rating of all the party leaders. Whether level-pegging or just ahead Labour would win more seats because of our demographic electoral system, however they are likely to fall short of a majority.

Whilst the USA has its Tea Party, here in the UK, in 6 weeks time, it will likely be a case of choosing which coalition set of mugs to form the next Government, and which get sold off on eBay at Poundland prices.

Elections – Psephology, Psephologists, Psephos, Pebbles, Politics and Polls

Psephology is literally the -ology or study of pebbles – Greek ψῆφος psephos, or ‘pebble’, or the more prosaic, study of elections. It is a branch of political science notoriously fraught with failed election predictions via pre-election sample polling that can totally miss the main result. The term was first used in the UK in 1952 by historian R B McCallum to describe “the scientific analysis of past elections”. Elections and ‘scientific’ seem somewhat oxymoronic to me!

Athenian Secret Ballot Discs WikimediaVoting using pebbles or such common items such as mussel shells was certainly in use in 5th century BC Greece and earlier. By the 4th century BC some were using bronze or lead ballots with solid or hollow axles through the middle to distinguish between voting outcomes. The ballot with the pierced axle is inscribedpsephos demosia” or “public ballot”.

We get the word “ballot” from the Italian word ballotta or medieval French ballotte, a “small ball”. The casting of ballots is not to be confused with the throwing of stones such as done by a ‘ballista’, the medieval siege engine that could fire heavy bolts or large round stones. Latin ballista comes from the Greek βαλλίστρα ballistra from the Greek verb βάλλω ballō “to throw”.

Ostraka OstracismBy the 2nd century BC the Romans were beginning to use paper ballots – more practical than the Greek use of ostraka, shells or broken pottery sherds/shards, used to inscribe the names of people to be voted for as election nominees, or for rejection, as persons to be ostracised. Hence why, and from where, we get the word ostracism.

Votes, for or against, guilty or innocent – often a black stone for the former (hence ‘blackballing’ someone) and white for the latter, were deposited in urns or jars and subsequently counted. Initially, votes and voters were not secret or private, but, ever-innovative Greek democracy was beginning to establish the need for secret voting by the 5th century BC.

Ancient Greek Voting Ajax British Museum WikiA Greek wine cup of the period,in the J Paul Getty Museum Collection, depicts an early voting scene with an unhappy outcome. During the Trojan War, after the killing of Achilles, two Greek heroes, Ajax and Odysseus, both claim and compete for Achilles’ possessions – his weapons and armour, Ajax having saved and retrieved Achilles’ body from battle with the Trojans. Rather than argue or duel a vote is held. The terracotta wine cup shows Odysseus getting more pebbles and Ajax’s head-in-hands disappointment leading to him committing suicide by falling on his sword. He’d lost by just one vote and ironically took his life on a pebble beach, as depicted on the inside of the cup.

Well it was civilised up until that point! One can only imagine the losers in modern elections or contests like Eurovision and X-Factor falling on their swords after losing. Although, the psychological pressure to win in these talent competitions is so intense that I don’t doubt many end up depressed, self-harming or worse.

In the Bible, in Acts 26:10, St Paul describes how pre-conversion he’d sent Christians to their deaths by casting his vote (psephon, Strong’s Number #5586) against them.

Psephos is also the eponymous name of Adam Carr’s excellent Election Archive, the world’s largest online archive of election statistics from 182 countries and counting – Eurovision, So-and-so’s Got Talent, and X-Factor shows are not included! It includes excellent coverage of Australian, US, and UK, elections down to regional results.

Paul the psychic Octopus WikimediaPolling and predictions are perilous tasks for the non-psychic, being as relied upon in reality as an aquarium octopus vulgaris divining the World Cup results. Actually, Paul the German ‘common’ (for that is what vulgaris literally means) octopus was fairly accurate in his short 2 year life at predicting German football results! He was 85% right about the 2010 World Cup results and 100% right about the German games.

In order to better illustrate, inform, and “sex-up”, the presentation of political results, the BBC began, as far back as 1955, using the now infamous Swingometer – not an indicator of how polyamorous one is at certain private parties! Initially, the Swingometer was created to show swings between the two main political parties. From 1964 it began to illustrate the likely effect of voting on the composition of the UK Parliament, number of seats, majority or hung parliament outcomes.

SwingometerThe Swingometer was invented by Peter Milne and enhanced by psephologist Robert McKenzie, who, though Canadian, was one of the main BBC’s General Election programme presenters (1955 to 1979). McKenzie had also been, in 1963, a strong interviewer, a.k.a. early Jeremy Paxman-style, of Lord Hailsham during the infamous Profumo scandal.

The ebullient Peter Snow took over, following McKenzie’s death, and became renowned for his excitable gesticulations and reintroduction of the Swingometer from 1992. In 1994, he parodied his election night role by presenting analysis of the Eurovision Song Contest entries.

With the onward march of technology and television, election coverage has become ever more graphic, not in the Game of Thrones violence sense, just a plethora of graphical data, charts, numbers, infographics, visuals – but it seems the predictions are no better and people no more interested in participating.

Referendums (or referenda – see below) have been held recently in Crimea and Donetsk with dubious methodologies and legitimacy. Voter turnout of around 75% and pro-Russian support were surprisingly high for a nation that 22 years ago voted 90% in favour of leaving the Soviet Union. But then, that’s politics for you. Political affiliation and union, these days, needs its own swingometer to measure current dissatisfaction with the incumbent rulership.

The UK will soon have its own referendum on full devolution for Scotland – why not Wales, Northern Ireland, London and Greater Birmingham too? The fabulous 1949 Ealing Studios comedy, Passport to Pimlico, comes to mind with its comedic declaration of independence!

The main political parties are also under pressure to offer a referendum on leaving the European Union, unfortunately it is the European Broadcasting Union we would have to leave to get out of the Eurovision Song Contest!

At least pedants will always be able to argue whether it is referendums or referenda – it doesn’t affect the outcome, but is something to talk about during the vote count!

[Parts of this article were first published by me here]

Image Credits

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Athenian_Secret_Ballot.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AGMA_The_Ostracism_of_Themistocles.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Voting_scene_BM_E69.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oktopus-Orakel_Paul_mit_Schuh.JPG
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Swingometer.jpg low resolution fair use for the purpose of identification and reference