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1) I actually cooked tonight: seared tuna steak, organic couscous with pesto, baby green cabbage and some kind of outrageously expensive Spanish red peppers that taste heavenly. I feel so accomplished, given that toast is usually as far as my culinary adventures extend.

2) I have just taken my first swig of over-the-counter, laden-with-codeiney-goodness cough syrup and I plan to be cheerfully bombed on it all weekend. I won't be able to drive but I won't be coughing either. Huzzah! I plan to listen to the footie on Radio 5, call people up to wig them out with my lovely Harvey Fierstein voice and watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition while playing the "Oh!My!Gosh!" drinking game. And read a lot.

3) I flipped past American Idol while I was eating dinner. America, as arrogant, arse-chinned and truly dreadful as Constantine was when he tried to pull a Chad Kroeger, I can't believe you preferred to boot him out rather than the smug, wall-eyed, god-bothering serial killer-in-waiting that is Scott Thingywotsit. If he's genuinely humble then I'm a teapot called Eric.

4) Some time ago leadensky said I was getting the impression that all the polls were running a 15 to 20 point difference, favor Labor (or whatever Blair's party is) and that nobody was taking odds for the Tories, much less anyone one else. Is there some reason to expect a Spain-style upset?

There's not much reason to expect a Spain-style upset because the parties are not *that* close in the polls that something like the Madrid bombing and the subsequent festival of lying, panicking and misdirection engaged in by the Aznar government could tip the vote the other way.

As in Spain, the involvement in Iraq is, barring something dreadful happening next week, an issue which impacts in different ways across the electorate. I don't know whether this has been reported at all in the media outside Britain, but the secret advice on the legality of the war which was given by the attorney general has been slowly leaked over the course of the election campaign. It proves that contrary to what Blair advised parliament, the case for war was not cut and dried and it is likely that Britain engaged in a war which was illegal according to international law. This actually matters in Britain, which is a signatory to a number of treaties on the subject and, in general, has historically been a proponent of creating a useful framework of international law.

For most people it's way down the priority list compared to say, issues of healthcare, education, taxation and immigration (the main areas of argument this election)

But for others, hardcore Labourites, Iraq was one break of faith too far from Blair, who is a centre-right social democrat when most of his party span the spectrum from social democrat to socialist. They despised him for other reasons of policy but the Iraq war is what convinced them that the compromise under which leftwingers united behind and supported someone from the right of their party because he was electable was not worth it. (Labour was out of power for 18 years before Blair, and it was scarred by the experience) Iraq was the issue that broke that particular devil's covenant for them.

However, the main opposition party, the Conservatives (AKA, the Tories), also supported the war in Iraq, so there's no leverage for them in that issue. It is led by Michael Howard, a former home secretary of frighteningly rightwing, illiberal views, who is now trying to come across as Mr Everyman. Michael Howard is the lawyer son of immigrants from Romania who fled the Nazis, and in that respect, a huge success story. However, he has chosen to run on a very tricksy platform in which the issue of stopping immigration is heavily foregrounded in a way which plays to the basest, most racist impulses of the electorate. Most hardcore Labour voters would rather drown themselves in a bowl of lentil stew than vote for him.

The voting situation is further complicated by a third main party, the Liberal Democrats. They were a midpoint between the Conservatives and Labour but now stand slightly to the left and side of Labour, supporting higher taxes to be ploughed into education and healthcare and an ethical foreign policy which would have permitted, say, the intervention in Bosnia but not the intervention in Iraq.

There are also a number of smaller parties, mostly operating on single issue tickets, the most odious of which are
(1) Veritas, a party which exists only for a permatanned former talk show host to parade his anti-Muslim and anti-European integration views;

(2) UKIP, The UK independence party, which is anti-European integration and would pull Britain out of its European alliances in favour of transatlanticism. This party took a huge bite out of the rightwing vote in the previous election but is now in disarray because Europe is no longer a live issue (this is because the French referendum on the EU constitution on May 29 appears likely to reject its adoption, and oh my god will that put the cat among the pigeons);

(3) The British National Party. Like Aryan Nation, only a wee bit brighter and in suits. They target poor wards and constituencies with large minority ethnic populations and target the white working class vote by playing on their fears. Words cannot express how much I despise these people. Unfortunately, they will probably make gains this election.

The UK has a majoritarian system of government that works like this: the country is divided into constituencies, some 646-odd of them, each of which returns an MP -- the person who has the most votes even if they've won by only 33 votes (which is the smallest majority in the country at present). The party with the most MPs at the end of Thursday night forms the government and the leader of that party is prime minister. Winner takes all, everyone else has to sit down and shut up.

The third party means that tactical voting assumes a large importance in the UK whereas it does not in the US, which also has a majoritarian system of government and bicameral legislature but elects them much more directly.

Labour won by a landslide in 1997, when the electorate administered an unheard of spanking to the loathed Tories. This was accomplished by tactical voting: hardcore Labour voters switching allegiance to the Liberal Democrats in seats which Labour could not possibly win and Liberal Democrats voting for Labour where their candidate could not possibly win.

In 2001, UKIP split the Tory vote and delivered a 167 seat majority to Blair, which allowed him to push through as much legislation as he liked without having to negotiate a huge amount of opposition, except on issues like Iraq and university fees.

The real battlegrounds are probably fewer than 200 constituencies where the vote is close. These marginals are where the parties pour most of their money and where tactical voting makes the contest the most volatile.

It would take a huge swing for the Conservatives to retake the seats they lost in 1997 and that requires a huge swing away from Labour. While Blair's numbers show that he is both distrusted and disliked, they also say that the country thinks he is doing a reasonably good job as PM. The Conservatives cannot win this election, barring a miracle or a terrorist disaster, because Labour has (though it pains me to admit it) been a fairly good government in many areas. And the electorate is content and apathetic.

Yet the Conservative vote is very strong this year, with up to 80% of those who identify as Tories likely to vote while only 64% of those who identify as Labour voters are likely to actually turn out on Thursday.

Therefore the twin-pronged Conservative strategy is this: (1) you depress the Labour turnout by admitting that the election looks lost. This means that weak Labour supporters won't bother voting because they don't think the Conservatives could possibly win.

(2) You tell the furious Labour voters who hate Blair to send a message by voting *against* Labour as a vote against Blair, weakening his position in the party and possibly forcing him to stand down at some point in the next term.

This has the side effect of encouraging slackness of allegiance and discouraging anti-Tory tactical voting. In a tight race, the Green party supporter, for example, might vote for Labour as the least-worst option, but when he/she believes Labour are sure to win, that person will vote with their conscience and go Green. In 2001 this slackness of allegiance hurt the Conservatives -- their voters were sure they would not win and so voted for UKIP to express their anger at the European policy of the main parties.

This differential turnout is hard to calculate in polling data and means that while the official lead for Labour in most polls is 5-8 points, when you count only the responses of those who are certain to vote, it drops to around 2 points, a very manageable swing.

And this is why electoral volatility should have made this an exciting election. Somehow, though, it hasn't been. I'm hoping for a lot of surprise victories for the Liberal Democrats and a much-reduced majority for the Labour party. It's not healthy for one party to have a majority in parliament of more than 100. It encourages dictatorial government.

My tribal loyalty is to Labour but not so much that I won't vote for someone else (who is not a bloody Tory)

Questions? Comments? Yawns?


matociquala may be interested in this article from today's Grauniad about 'Ryanair-style'-publishing in which the author receives no advance and bears all costs of professional editing. Looks like there's a division between those hoping it gets more people published and a large number who are appalled at authors getting an ever-smaller sliver of the pie.



Apr. 30th, 2005 04:03 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
One of the things I've heard about NHS is that nobody actually goes to a doc unless they're already sick. How true is this in your experience?

Not true in my experience. I use the NHS for all sorts of preventative and 'wellness' stuff - free STD screening, free family planning clinics, free cervical smear checkups, dental checkups, sight tests (which I get free on the NHS because I have a need for contacts/glasses). Blair says he wants to move it towards being a true National Health Service rather than a National Sickness Service, which sounds quite well and good but does raise a lot of people's 'nanny state' hackles.

Hmmm. Not trying to start a fight here, at all, please read this as kindly as you can - if the government provides free education, free housing, and free healthcare, what don't the have-nots have?

Okay, well, I am much better-placed to answer this than I used to be *g*, cos I see it first-hand via work. Yes, the government provides council housing, but the state of the majority of the country's council housing stock has to be seen to be believed. Most of my students live in council housing and it's overcrowded, squalid, and high-density. A lot of the sexual abuse issues many of our students have arise from family overcrowding in council housing - when you have 10 year old girls sharing rooms with their four older brothers, things tend to happen (this I have from the school's child protection office). Council estates are usually lacking in green space, plagued by social/crime problems like gang violence, joy-riding, drug-use in the few public places the kids have to play, and so forth. They are horrid places, mostly.

My kids live in these areas because social mobility is a real problem in this free market economy. Their parents generally have little or nothing in the way of educational qualifications, and don't have the leisure of going back to adult education to get them because they have to raise families and feed kids. They're usually in full-time employment, but it's unskilled and therefore very poorly paid (a lot of their parents clean hotel rooms or toilets at the airport).

Crap, I have to go, my houseguests are here, although I have more to say about this! *g*

Apr. 30th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
When you get the chance, do say more. I'll wait to comment until then.

- hg
May. 1st, 2005 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
*tries to remember what else was going to say*

Hmm, I think I was also going to bang on a bit about the free education part. Yes, every child in the country is entitled to an education up to the age of 18 regardless of ability to pay for it. In reality, though, the quality of that education varies enormously. This is what Teach for America and TeachFirst both sprang out of - the recognition that very few well-qualified people want to work as teachers in schools in the poorest areas of the country, where the school buildings are often falling apart and overcrowded, there are overwhelming problems with poverty of aspirations, childrens' schooling is often chaotic and interrupted due to family problems springing out of poverty, such as ill-health, and kids come from family backgrounds where parents are often basically illiterate and innumerate, with negative experiences of schooling themselves. A child born on the estate where I teach, which feeds several comprehensives as well as our academy, does not get anything like the same quality of state education as a child born in the catchment area of, say, the comprehensive school I went to in Gloucester. So yes, they are getting a free education, but the quality of it (and the obstacles to success they face outside school too) is such that it makes it very hard for those kids to leave the educational system with the qualifications to achieve any kind of social mobility. That isn't right, and it affects us all IMO because we are basically feeding kids back into lives of crime and the prison system, which our taxes pay for; back into the abuse cycle, requiring future generations of social workers and foster carers and care homes, which our taxes pay for; back into long-term, intergenerational unemployment, leading to another generation in need of welfare cheques, which our taxes pay for, and so on and so on.

I could probably bang on in this vein for ages, and we'd never come to an agreement *g*, but I am hungover and knackered and going to bed now :).