Why Should the UK have All the Fun?

North Rhine-Wesphalia had state elections yesterday and returned a local parliament that shows no clear majority coalition. NRW, as it is often known in Germany, is the country’s most populous state, with roughly 18 million inhabitants (about 10 percent more than the Netherlands).

Initial returns showed dramatic losses for the Christian Democrats (CDU), less dramatic losses for the Social Democrats (SPD), comparatively big gains for the Greens and the Left, along with losses for the FDP that were minor compared with the last state elections but major compared with 2009’s national elections. These same returns projected a one-seat majority for an SPD-Green coalition. Difficult, but workable.

And then the counting continued.
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a centre-left nation needs what kind of government?

One outcome of all the MySociety work for this election was the survey administered by DemocracyClub volunteers to all candidates. The results by party are graphed here, with standard deviations and error bars.

Some immediate conclusions: Surprising egalitarianism. Look at question 1, which asks if the budget deficit should be reduced by taxing the rich. Only the very edge of the error bar for the Conservatives touches the 50% mark; the only parties who have any candidates who don’t agree are the BNP and UKIP. Also, question 4 (“It would be a big problem if Britain became more economically unequal over the next 5 years” – agree/disagree) shows that there is a remarkable degree of consensus here. The three main parties of the Left – the Greens, Lib Dems, and Labour – overlap perfectly, and even the lower bound on the Tory percentage is over 50%. Only the ‘kippers and the fash even skim the 50% mark at the bottom end of their distributions. This may actually not be a statement about far-right thinking, because of…

Extremist internal chaos. On every question except the one about immigration for the BNP and the one about the EU for UKIP, these two parties have huge error bars for every question. As soon as they get off that particular topic, the error bars gap out like the bid-offer spread in a crashing market. Clearly, they agree about very little other than their own particular hate-kink. So the result in my first point could just be because they always have the widest standard error and deviation.

Immigration, or a field guide to identifying British politics. If you’re a Liberal, Labour, or a Green, you’ve got no problem with immigrants. Even the upper bounds only just stroke the 50% line. All the parties of the Right, however, overlap around the 80% line. Need to identify someone’s partisan affiliation quickly? Wave an immigrant at them. The other culture-wars question about marriage is similar, although the gap is smaller and the error bars bigger.

The consensus on civil liberties. Everyone, but everyone, thinks there are far too many CCTV cameras about. All parties overlap at between 68-78%…except for Labour. Labour is the only party that supports CCTV and it supports it strongly. There is just the faintest touch of overlap between the top (i.e. least supportive) end of the Labour error range and the bottom (i.e. most supportive) of the Tories’.

Trust and honesty. Liberals, Labour, and Conservatives all think politicians are honest. No doubt this is because the respondents are themselves politicians. Interestingly, the exceptions are the BNP and UKIP. Very interestingly, the BNP is united in cynicism, whereas the UKIP error range gaps-out dramatically on this question. The Greens’ error range converges dramatically on exactly 46% agreement – they are almost perfectly in agreement that they don’t agree.

Art and culture; only ‘kippers, BNPers, and a very few extreme Tories don’t support state funding of the arts.

Britain is a European country and is committed to the European Union. You can’t argue with the data; the Tories and Greens average between 20-30% support for withdrawal, zero for the Liberals and Labour, and even the upper bound for the Tories is well under the 50% line. Obviously, the BNP and UKIP want out, which is obvious and after the election result, arguably trivial.

Pacifist fascists; bellicose conservatives; divided lefties and ‘kippers. OK, so which parties are least keen on military action against Iran, even if they are caught red-handed building a nuke? The Greens are unsurprisingly 86% against with minimal error – perhaps the only occasion they would turn up a chance to oppose nuclear power! The other is the BNP – 82% against. Who knew we would find a scenario in which the BNP would turn up a chance to kill brown people? Labour, the Liberals, and UKIP would split down the middle – they overlap perfectly around the 50% mark. The Tories, however, are the war party – 39% against, with the lower bound well clear of the other parties. The UKIP result is strange – you’d expect them to be basically like Tories or like the BNP, but they are most like Labour on this issue, although they have a tail of happy warriors. The BNP is also the party most opposed to continuing British involvement in Afghanistan – even more than the Greens. Labour, the Liberals, the Tories, and UKIP overlap heavily around being narrowly in favour, although UKIP as usual gaps out when it’s not discussing how much it hates the EU.

Even the Toriest Tories say they support UK Aid. This one’s fairly clear – even the upper bound for the Tories is well below 50% and everyone else serious is much lower. UKIP and the BNP are strongly against, but their error bars are quite wide – clearly, they’re not sure whether they hate foreigners enough that paying them not to be immigrants is a good idea.

Summary: We’re a broadly social democratic European nation, with a few nutters for comic relief. And Chris Lightfoot’s Political Survey results (the primary axis in British politics is liberty-vs-authority, strongly correlated with internationalism-vs-isolationism, and the secondary axis is egalitarianism-vs-libertarianism, but there is surprisingly little variance along it) from 2005 appear to be confirmed.

Spain Emerges From Recession?

Well it is now official – or at least as official as it is going to get: the Spanish economy sneaked back into growth by a short head during the first three months of this year. According to data published in the Bank of Spain’s quarterly report on the Spanish economy, Spain’s GDP grew by 0.1% in the first quarter. Interannually output was still down by 1.3%, but this is evidently a considerable improvement on the 4.2% annual drop registered in the second quarter of last year, and much better than the 3.1% fall seen in the last three months of 2009.

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Like A Dog Guarding His Bone

Presidents and Prime Ministers have to be careful with their choice of words. Especially in times of crisis and difficulty for their country. Former Mexican President José López Portillo will be remembered by history, not for his turbulent relations with his beautiful mistress Sasha Montenegro, but for the fact that one day after he appeared on national television stating “I will defend the Peso like a dog after its bone” the Peso was massively devalued. In similar fashion, when the Greek Prime Minister declares “Our national red line is to avoid bankruptcy,” the markets do not know how to interpret him. Does this mean, they ask, the some form of debt restructuring is imminent? So the intervention this week of Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in a rather clumsy attempt to calm financial markets, could not have been more unfortunate. It is “absolute madness.” he told journalists in Brussels, to think Spain will need the kind of aid package debt-laden Greece is receiving from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Continue reading

Instant speculation, instantly out of date

What will happen after the election? If there’s a Lib-Lab majority, which seems likely, though not certain, Nick Clegg, among others, have a few unpleasant decisions ahead of him.

One unusual factor is that any coalition agreement or pact has to be voted on through several levels of the party. Exactly what qualifies as an agreement is a bit vague, however.

If the Tories would agree to PR, Clegg would most likely support them. They almost certainly won’t though. They’re an uncompromising lot and FPTP has served them very well.

Clegg will probably let Cameron through without a good deal on PR. I don’t actually think it’s sensible. (CF) I think Clegg may be savvy about election campaigns, but not about these sort of things. He’s not bloody minded enough. Tories getting a shot has become what’s expected, what’s supposed to happen. From a not-losing the-three day news cycle perspective it would make sense, and because people sort of expect a Tory minority, because the immediate reaction to a Labour-liberal deal would be negative. Never underestimate the feeble mindedness of anyone who isn’t actively evil.

If Clegg makes a less attractive deal, he risks getting overruled, so I reckon he’ll tolerate Cameron without any preconditions, to bypass the grassroots.

If there’s a Lib-Lab pact or actual coalition, the Tories will almost certainly get much high poll numbers fairly soon – the Lib Dems won’t be in opposition anymore, and the economy will still be crap. So if the Lib Dems lets them through with only a vague promise of PR, they’ll soon be in the position to say: “we dare you to vote us down”. And there’s a good chance the grass roots will nix it. The Lib Dems will do very badly in the next election then, whether it’s early or in 2015.

But will Labour offer a good deal? Even if a majority of them wants to, will the leadership be unified enough to offer something some figures are strongly against, with no one in charge and election campaigns starting (for both leader and deputy)?

If both larger parties are uncompromising, Clegg will have no less than six, maybe seven shit sandwiches to choose from. A pact with Labour, or with the Tories. Letting either of them in without ANY deal, to bypass the grassroots. Immediate early elections, which doesn’t only risk a Tory majority, but global economic meltdown (or so people will say). Or outside chance, a national unity gov’t. I think he may then choose what may be the shittiest shit sandwich.

Having said all that, I think the combined odds of a Lib-Lab pact or toleration, either now or somewhat later after some unpleasant twists and turns, is slightly higher than a long term Tory gov’t.
Of course, in thinking about the future we should also consider the risk of the economy imploding because of political uncertainty, even if we get the in my opinion lesser evil in the cabinet.

Update: If Clegg lets Cameron through and then the next Labour leader and Clegg wants to do a deal, could they avoid a new election? My understanding is now that Clegg and the next Labour leader could avoid a new election. This would make letting Cameron in more likely and a bit less irrational. If Cameron goes down to no confidence and doesn’t see it coming soon enough to call a new election, the leader of the opposition gets a shot at forming a government.

Thanks to Ajay, Alex and Keir for their input.

In the polling booth

So there I was, all ready to convert my well formed pro-Liberal Democrat voting intention into a mark on the ballot paper, when this strange mist descended, and all I could think was: is there any way – any way at all – to stop this place going Tory? So I went for the Labour guy instead. Good luck, Martin.

As it happens, there’s also some local elections on around here and the single Green candidate picked up my vote, along with two randomly selected Lib Dems.

Polling continues until ten tonight. It was busy down there. Anyone else had any booth moments so far?

Election sidelight

The gutter press (well, the Daily Telegraph: so the gutter in question is presumably attached firmly to the eaves of a rather nice vicarage somewhere in Buckinghamshire) has made much of the fact that Gordon Brown is an “unelected prime minister” – i.e. he hasn’t yet fought and won a general election as party leader. The fact that he’s attempting to do so now should have answered that point – it hasn’t – but it’s interesting to note that this isn’t exactly a rarity in British politics. Continue reading

controlled demolition

Niall Ferguson, not surprisingly, argues in the Speccie, also not surprisingly, that the Tories should deliberately crash the economy for ideological reasons – 1979-80 style – and then call in the IMF.

This idea has apparently already “been doing the rounds in Tory circles.” But I guess that’s not surprising either. 

It kind of fits in with Cameron’s plan to storm the gates if he doesn’t get a majority. The general feel of the Tory campaign over the last few days has been of people nerving themselves up to do something drastic. 

On a local note, there’s a car cruising the streets of Crumpsall right now – quite a snazzy late model VW Passat – telling the broad masses to “Vote Respect – for cleaner streets and brighter parks”. We seem to have come a long way since Gorgeous George went to America to beard the Senators in their lair.

Hungarian passports; or, dumbest Stratfor article ever

This sort of thing is why I have trouble taking Stratfor seriously.

Short version: the new, center-right Hungarian government is reviving the plan to offer Hungarian citizenship and passports to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. (There are a couple of million of them. Most live in Hungary’s neighbors Romania, Slovakia and Serbia, with smaller numbers in Croatia and Ukraine.) Stratfor sees this as “an insurance policy — a way of broadening [Hungary’s] power and securing itself should its protectors, the European Union and NATO, weaken.”

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