The Greek Tragedy Continues

The future of the Eurozone is decidedly hanging in the balance at the moment. As I said earlier in the week, the problem isn’t a simple question economics anymore: everything now is all about credibility, about who does what, and when, and how everyone else reacts. As the crisis trundles on and on, news that Greek bond spreads have hit ever higher post European Monetary Union records has become such a regular event that the process now seems almost a monotonous one. However, what happened on what we could now call this week’s Greek “Black Thursday” certainly marked a new, and more worrying milestone in the ever evolving crisis. The news this morning that Greece has demanded the activation of the EU-IMF loan – news which apparently took even the EU Commission itself by surprise it seems – only adds to the general sense of confusion that abounds. Continue reading

Kosovo snips another cord

So Kosovo just turned off the remaining Serbian mobile phone towers:

The Kosovo Albanian authorities in PriÅ¡tina removed the equipment of all Belgrade-based mobile and landline operators this morning…

Eyewitnesses, who secured the premises, said that “special police” broke into Telekom, Telenor and VIP structures to help cut off cables and take down equipment, at around 05:00 CET.

Eyewitnesses said that workers of a “telecommunications regulatory body” from PriÅ¡tina removed transmitters and randomly severed cables.

As a consequence, 40,000 Serbs are either left without mobile service in that part of the province, or have very poor reception.

A little background. Before 1999, Kosovo was covered by Serbian mobile phone networks. Since 1999, it’s developed its own — three of them. But the Serbian networks have continued to operate towers and provide mobile telephony. Unsurprisingly, most of the users have been Kosovar Serbs in the enclaves. Meanwhile the Kosovar Albanians have been buying chips and service contracts from the three Kosovar networks.

If this sort of thing interests you, there’s more. Continue reading

the endless halls

Clegg spent many years in the endless halls of Brussels and Strasbourg, working for the European Commission and then as an MEP. A privileged environment that may have been, but above all a bourgeois one, and one whose elites were meritocratic and technocratic, not aristocratic. (Also deeply dull-sounding. The recollection that Geoff Hoon was an MEP before he entered parliament somehow makes that role seem almost devoid of any joy or life.) 

I used to work part time for an MEP and got to Brussels now and again. It was more fun than that. 

Thing is, they stack MEPs offices by party in Brussels, or used to. All the conservative parties were based on the first two floors. The European socialists were above them, and above them was where the fun started. 

My MEP’s office was directly beneath the Abode of the Liberals, and sometimes you couldn’t hear yourself think. There’d be shouting and odd cries and people running up and down corridors and the sound of heavy things being dragged to and fro. This would go on all day. I poked my head round the door once when I got the wrong floor on the lift and there were three men standing in a corridor staring intently into an open briefcase. One of them turned round, bared his teeth and hissed at me. The fascists used to complain about them. 

 But then the Euro-Liberals were an odd crew, libertarians in the continental style, with all the not quite coherence that implies: Dutch sex shop entrepreneurs sharing a caucus with really angry dentists from Stuttgart. And the Italian Radicals had to be seen to be believed. I suppose Clegg or someone like him spent a lot of his time going from place to place telling everyone to calm down and be reasonable. Or maybe he went native. Was it him being dragged down a corridor, or doing the dragging? I’m sure the Mail will get round to telling us.

Why Lib Dems don’t do as well as other parties

My post on election campaigns not mattering now seems rather quaint, with the Lib Dems surging in the polls. Of course this is not completely novel, the idea of a 3rd party ‘surge’ was enough ingrained in popular conciousness for Spitting Image to joke about David Steel ‘feeling’ it.

Anyway what is perhaps becoming more clear is that even if the Lib Dems have the same percent of votes as Labour and the Conservatives, they do much worse in terms of numbers of seats. Most of the calculators put a 30% each election as something like Labour on 300 seats, Tories on 200 seats and Lib Dems on 100 seats.

I explained this on Tim Worstall’s site by:

It’s not so much the disposition of the seats but the FPTP system itself, which simply favours geographically concentrated votes. So say the Tories take 60 percent in all southern seats, Libs 30 percent and Lab 10 percent, and the reverse is true in the north. Nationally if equal no. of seats in north and south then vote share is Con 35, Lab 35, Libs 30. But Libs have no seats.

I wasn’t entirely sure if this was right, but I think it is essentially correct – the Lib Dems’ support is too widely spread, and they do reasonably well in most seats, not especially well in enough. Here is a chart of each party’s % share of the vote in the 2005 election, starting with each’s seat where they got the highest share of the vote in % terms, and ending with their lowest. So the 1st point on the chart is not a particular seat, but for each party the share of the vote they receivedin the seat where they received their highest share of the vote.

The box shows the share of the vote – 40% and higher – that typically wins you a seat. Of the 614 seats won by one of the three main parties, only 45 were won with less than 40% of the vote. Similarly in only 32 seats did a party get more than 40% and NOT win.

So taking the 40% line, one can see the Lib Dims get about 60 seats, the Tories 200 and Labour 350 or so – about what happened.

Now let’s assume the vote share – 35.3 Labour, 32.3 Tory and 22.1 Lib Dem in 2005 – becomes 29.9 Labour, 29.9 Tory and 29.9 Lib Dem – not wildly dissimilar to some recent polls.

Now the first thing to note is that the % share of the vote when a candidate will typically win will fall, to something like 37%. This is simply because the Labour and Conservative share has fallen, and we are in a three-way tussle.

But again we can see a good estimate of how many seats each party will get from where their line crosses that 37% line – the Lib Dems about 150, the Conservatives about 210 and Labour about 280. Now this isn’t quite what the uniform polls predict, that is because of a variety factors such as boundary changes since 2005, the particular makeup of some seats whereby Labour can win with a slightly smaller share than the Libs and so on. But it does show us why the Lib Dems fail to match Labour. And basically it’s because their vote is spread reasonably evenly, with still high % shares of the vote in the last 200 constituencies, whereas the Tory and Labour vote has collapsed.

This assumes a uniform national swing (UNS), so the Lib Dems have gained 8% of the vote nationally since 2005 and will gain 8% in every constituency. What they need to form a government is for that extra 8% nationally to be concentrated in seats 200-400, where it would win them the election.

little boats

In re: the Volcano Flight Chaos, as all the TV stations seem to be calling it. I just heard the Tory transport spokesman say that what we needed was a “Dunkirk type flotilla of little boats” to rescue our fellow citizens stranded in, oh I don’t know, Frankfurt and Milan and places like that I suppose. In fact she said that she knew for sure that there was one raring to go right now, but it was being held back by the Border Agency, the same one the Tories say is helpless to prevent anyone coming or going from the UK. 

I also know of lots of people who want to solve the whole volcanic ash problem by blowing upwards through a really big straw. I have informed the authorities of my fine plan in many, many e-mails. But instead of rewarding this act of individual initiative and mutual aid, they simply fail to respond.

The volcano crisis and the financial crisis

Are the two crises alike?  Consider the similarities.  In each, an unexpected event in a forgotten part of the system ends up having global ramifications.  The unexpected event occurs in a system that needs constant motion for its effective operation: as long as the securities/passengers can be moved on to the next stage, the system keeps functioning.  When one part of it stops working, the rest quickly breaks down.  But there’s more.

Continue reading

Tory phone box posters

I found these when googling for information about the “strong families, strong society” poster of which there is an instance in our neighbourhood, which itself is part of an ultra-marginal. I have no idea what the Tories intend with this stuff. It looks as though Dave / George tossed around some ideas for slogans at a power breakfast and some budget got allocated in a strategy conference call. Then a Saatchi exec briefed a creative team before popping out for a lunch lasting the rest of the week. Finally, a graphic designer got to implement some favourites from a book of classic mid-20th century political two colour lithographs. There wasn’t any review prior to final sign-off. Just look at that schedule, man. I’ve got literally less than three minutes. Two minutes. Thirty seconds.

The ‘strong families’ one is accidentally ironic, since the sampler design recalls the pre-suffrage era: women teaching their daughters how to sew, etc. This cannot possibly be what the Tories consciously mean. Whatever, I can’t see how it’s going to get traction; not in in this part of Wandsworth at any rate. On one side of the road you’ve got your Montevetro building (£2,500 pw) and the heliport; on the other, you’ve got a council estate. The concept of ‘home-maker’ just has no targets in range.

And why phone boxes? I see a phone box and I think: there’s a functionally superseded structure with an enclosing plane removed. A Battersea power station in miniature, even. Or I think: there’s a potential / actual tramp toilet, depending on whether or not stool is visible. Is it meant to be street, or guerrilla, or something like that?

Update: Phil Edwards sees a common ideological source for some of the Tory phone box posters: the Chestertonian distributivism of Philip Blond. Maybe so. But take “big government=big problems”. It’s pretty empty; you can imagine many sources for it. It could be straight up Randian, for instance. I’d still put this lot down to some sort of ‘brain-dump’ session; the total product of which will have included a fair few aborted and abandoned word strings. These are the good ones.

China’s Recent Trade Deficit: Is What You Yuan What You’re Gonna Get?

China is self-evidently both a minefield and a potential graveyard for would-be global economists, the sort of place where reputations are made and lost in the twinkle of a dragon’s eye, so I think had better tread rather carefully here. However, having duly noted that only fools rush in, here I go… Continue reading