We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

In defence of the politics of fear

It is being claimed by the losers in this election that the winners campaigned on fear. Which they did. But what is wrong with fear? What is wrong with being scared? It is a very rational thing to feel, in the face of something scary.

The experience of the British electorate is that when the Labour Party promises to do stupid things, it is very stupid and you shouldn’t vote for it. So far so adequate. But when Labour promises to do only sensible things, that is when it is truly dangerous, because then it is liable to win, and to wreck the finances of the country. It does this every time it gets into power. Who wouldn’t be scared of that? Who, when campaigning against this wrecking ball of a political party, wouldn’t appeal to the fear that so many entirely sensible voters feel about such a scary thing?

Which is why, by the way, Ed Miliband is not the basic reason why Labour lost, this time around. The main reason was the recent bad experiences of the electorate. “New Labour” turned out even worse than Silly Old Labour, because New Labour actually did some serious damage. The more cunningly it (by which I mean Prime Minister Tony Blair) misled us about the damage it would do, and then flat out lied about the damage it was doing, the worse that damage became. So, what could Ed Miliband do? He floundered waffled, not because he is by nature a flounderer and a waffler. Others, unable to separate what he was saying from how he said it, will disagree with me, but I think that had Ed Miliband had a persuasive case to put, he could and would have put it very well.

Tony Blair recently said that Miliband had turned left, i.e. opted for Silly Old Labour, and that Miliband would consequently lose. But had Miliband presented himself as New Labour 2, he would have done little better, given the electorate’s recent experience of New Labour 1.

Because of all those opinion pollsters, I was becoming very scared that Labour might win. Which was why, with all his and their faults, regularly explained here, I wanted Cameron and his Conservatives to win, and with as little help as possible from inevitably even more statist small party collaborators. Was I wrong to be scared? I don’t think so.

Luckily, it seems that a decisive slice of my fellow-countrymen shared my fears. Maybe all those polls were right and this slice of Conservative support only made up its mind at the last possible moment, after all the pollsters had ceased their polling. No doubt quite a few baffled pollsters now think that, or at least want to. Or maybe David Cameron, in some nefarious Prime Ministerial way, arranged for the pollsters all to say that it was going to be a dead heat, to scare his more indolent and unwilling voters off their bums or away from UKIP. Whatever. My point is, all those frightened people were quite right to be frightened of the prospect of Labour government (especially one in league with the Scottish Nationalists), and the Conservatives were quite right to speak to those fears. It was their best argument. For many voters, it was their only argument. It was also a very good and persuasive argument.

As for the supposed superiority of the politics of hope, well, if this means hoping that tax-and-spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow statism will turn out better next time, then the less hope anyone can be persuaded to feel about all that, the better.

BBC is at it again…

I saw a BBC article about JK Rowling getting abused by SNP Brownshirts on Twitter… and frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. She is a champagne lefty who wrote some nice books with a libertarian message, even if she was not aware of that. She can cry Evian tears all the way to the bank. Whatever. Ok… in truth I do kinda like her.

But the line that caught my eye was this:

The SNP took 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland in Thursday’s election and is now the third largest party in the UK.

Bzzzz. Wrong, or at the very least misleading. It is the third largest party in Parliament, not the the third largest party in the UK, having 56 MPs for their 1.5 million votes. UKIP, not the SNP, is the third largest party in the UK, having 1 MP for their 3.9 million votes.

The political class at its most despicable

There is a stunning article in City AM:

The former Labour Treasury minister behind the infamous “there is no money” letter has apologised for the gaffe, admitting it helped the Tories attack Labour’s financial irresponsibility. […] “I’ve asked myself that question every day for five years and believe me, every day I have burnt with the shame of it”

What? I mean… what? So the problem is not that he and his cohorts squandered the UK’s finances, but that he admitted it in a letter that was used to hold them to account? Really? He says he has “burnt with the shame of it”, but in truth he is utterly shameless. The lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. My loathing for these people is boundless.

there_is_no_money

6th April 2010: Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam

Wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong, wrongbert, wrongble and wrong

A little over a year ago I asked the following question:

Has the day come when election polls are nearly always right?

Famously, in the last US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His prediction for the election before that was correct for 49 out of 50 states.

Both times, I had hoped it would turn out otherwise. My hopes had been a little higher than they should have been because of the residual glow from the Shy Tory factor, first exhibited to a dramatic extent in the 1992 UK general election and still apparent, though in lesser degree, for several elections after that. I had known about that factor in my guts before that election, from listening to people on the tube, and had correctly guessed the final result would be more Conservative than the polls claimed. As the results came in I did not rejoice that the Government would be Conservative, but I did rejoice that the Chattering Classes had been confounded, their bubble burst, their conversational hegemony broken open and their flary-nostrilled noses put out of joint. Yeah.

Unfortunately not-yeah since then. I haven’t eaten a hearty post-election breakfast with schadenfreude sauce about the polls for many a year now. George Bush winning in 2004 was splendid fun, of course, but it was no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. The polls had given him a consistent small lead for months before the election.

Betteridge’s law of headlines strikes again. That day had not come. The polls in the General Election of 2015 were wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong, wrongbert, wrongble and wrong.*

As was I, but least I had the nous to put in a question mark.

So, elections just got interesting again. Goody! But none of the articles I have yet seen adequately explain why the Shy Tory effect was successfully allowed for by the pollsters in the UK General Elections between 1992 and 2015, only to burst forth again now, nor why political polling in the US has generally managed to factor in Shy Republicans just fine. Except for the 2014 midterms.

The one place where the UK polling companies did fairly well this time round was Scotland, although they still underestimated the scale of the SNP’s triumph. Wishful thinking led me to suppose that the estimates being chucked around of 48 seats for the SNP were exaggerated; in the event they were too cautious. Going back to 2011, it is part of Scottish Nationalist mythology that the victory of the SNP in the Holyrood election of 2011 was completely unpredicted by the polls. However the very last polls were quite close to the actual result when it came to the constituency vote, but much less close when it came to the regional vote in the Scottish Parliament’s semi-proportional voting system. Probably the polls recorded a shift of opinion in the last few weeks of the campaign, which is all you can ask of them. When you think about it, polls cannot predict anything; the people who look at them do that. The final polls for the Scottish referendum were out by a not-bad 5% or so, in the usual direction of underestimating the small-c conservative side.

All in all, a British or American polling company attempting to sell its wares to interested political parties or news organizations on May 6th 2015 could have made a fair case that they were on top of the Shy Tory problem. So what happened on May 7th? What will happen on November 8th 2016, and will we have any idea beforehand?

*This is funny but nothing to do with this post. Americans and people under 50: don’t ask.

Apathy sends a message

I agree with commenters on the piece I did early this morning, who said that the result of this election is a least worst outcome. All the political people whose opinions I most dislike are weeping and wailing and gnashing whatever remains of their teeth (what with the world-famed past deficiencies of British nationalised dental care). And that’s very good. But, like Rob Fisher, and despite having strong preferences concerning the national outcome, I personally ended up voting for nobody. Nobody will do much of what I want, and nobody will refrain from doing big things that I do not want, so nobody was who I voted for. I considered both the Conservative and the UKIPper, but, as the deadline got nearer and nearer, I could not bring myself to vote for either of them. I presume that the Conservative was and will remain ‘my’ MP. Yes.

But the good news is that, having spent last night and the early hours of the morning watching the story of the election unfold on the telly, I can report that voting for nobody most definitely does send a message. Turnout matters. Does low turnout signify apathy? Maybe so, but apathy is still a message, and not a message that these fanatically political people like to be told. If not voting accomplished nothing, then why all the nagging, which happens before every election, from the sort of people whose political opinions I most dislike that I should be voting? Yes, refusal to select your least unappealing lizard does definitely irk the lizards.

Most of the politicians I heard on the telly overnight just took it in turns to say that since we don’t yet know the result I won’t answer the question, and let’s just wait and see. But the now rather elderly Peter Hain bucked this conversational trend. Hain used to be an MP but is not one anymore. He wasn’t bothered about saying something interesting but off-message, and he actually did say some interesting things. This election result, Hain said, is an anti-Westminster result. In Scotland this expressed itself in the huge breakthrough success of the SNP. In England, it took the form of the impressive pile of votes amassed by UKIP, and everywhere in the relentlessly diminishing votes gained over the longer term by both Labour and the Conservatives, and by the way that the Lib Dem vote fell off a cliff at this election, following their actual participation in government. And, said Hain, this anti-Westminster animus took the form of lots of people just not voting at all, as it has done for quite a while now. We hate you bastards! That was the message, said Hain. In other words, apathy does send a message, and there it was being received loud and clear, on the telly, by a Talking Head. (Hain’s cure for all this protest and apathy is quite different from mine, but that’s a different argument.)

→ Continue reading: Apathy sends a message

Keep this in mind Tories…

I think it is worth bearing in mind that this is no great vindication of Cameron. Against rubbish opposition he has a majority in single figures. In 1983, also against rubbish opposition Maggie got a majority of 144 (IIRC).

– Patrick Crozier

Another fragment from today’s UK election result

On the glorious denouement of Russell Brand and “celeb” politics:

Hilariously, the very same people who accuse the Murdoch papers of brainwashing their readers into voting for the Tories – such undiluted snobbery – believed that a celeb with a webcam and a lively Twitter presence could simply click his fingers and get the hordes voting Labour. But he couldn’t. And it isn’t hard to see why. It’s because people aren’t idiots. They want substance, seriousness, not finger-wagging gags about EVIL TORIES and instructions to ‘save Britain’ by giving the nod to Ed.

Brendan O’Neill.

Samizdata quote of the day

How can the Tories have won? We did so many tweets and photoshops. I just don’t get it. #GE2015

– Favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k spots a particularly choice tweet, by David Schneider.

Scottish questions

It is, as I type this, only a few hours since the polls closed, and this graphic is not the result of Britain’s General Election. It is merely a guess, based on asking people just after they had voted who they voted for. But, for what it’s worth, here it is:

Conservatives316

I found it at the Guido Fawkes blog, which has been the pair of spectacles, as it were, through which I have mostly been viewing this now-concluded election campaign.

I have learned the hard way that what I hope for and what will happen in elections are not the same thing, not least because I tend to choose my electoral spectacles on the basis of pleasure rather than mere enlightenment. But the story told in the above graphic is very close to what I was and am hoping for, given the plausible possibilities or likelihoods that it made sense to be choosing between.

(What I would have liked, in a perfect, parallel-universe and wholly implausible world, would have been an election in which candidates were falling over themselves to offer swingeing tax cuts and competing about who could close down the most government departments and slash and burn the most in the way of government spending. All this, while the voters all stood around jeering, and saying: “Yeah, they say they’re going to slash and burn the public sector, but do they really mean it? They would say that, wouldn’t they?” Dream on, Micklethwait.)

The TV broadcasters have now been saying, for several hours now, that the Conservatives are doing significantly better than had been expected but not well enough to be truly happy because destined to occupy more Parliamentary seats than everyone else put together, that the Scottish Nationalists are engaged in sweeping Scotland and annihilating the Scottish Labour Party thus causing Labour, who are not doing well in England anyway, to do very badly indeed in the UK as a whole, that the Lib Dems are taking a hammering everywhere, and that the UK Independence Party is going to get a small mountain of votes, including a great many from Labour, but only a tiny molehill of seats.

The biggest story, as I watch my telly in the small but getting bigger hours of Friday morning, is the electoral earthquake (choose your preferred geological or climatological metaphor) that is erupting, exploding, sweeping across, engulfing, swamping, blah blah blah, … Scotland.

→ Continue reading: Scottish questions

Another Samizdata quote of the day


“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

– Douglas Adams. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, not for the first time either.

Samizdata quote of the day

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote—
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

– Rudyard Kipling, MacDonough’s Song, not for the first time.

Dick Puddlecote’s Fantasy Front Bench

That dependable wag and foe of darkness Dick Puddlecote (who is still blogging in spite of dying in 1305, which is pretty damn hardcore if you ask me) has come up with his Fantasy Front Bench for freedom lovers!

Puddlecote-FantasyBench

What do you make of Ol’ Dick’s choices?