Here we go again

Another year, another vote, but it’s the wrong question. John Crace and Jess Phillips nail it again.

Brexit reduced to a petty squabble. Classic Dom
The one standout moment was a passionate defence of futility from Labour’s Jess Phillips. The coming election would not answer any of the questions that had precipitated it. People would interpret the results to suit their own ends, she argued, and Brexit wouldn’t be resolved for years.

All that was happening was that MPs had run out of ideas. An election was an admission of collective failure. Unable to resolve their differences, MPs had turned their sights on each other. A collective act of self-harm. We were heading for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. There would be blood. Many MPs wouldn’t be back in December. But everyone was banking on the fact it wouldn’t be them.

Nothing to worry about, right?

British polling – Who is winning the race for No 10 Downing Street?
Our poll tracker, which averages the findings of more than a dozen pollsters, shows how the parties are faring. It will be kept updated throughout the campaign. However, it should be read with caution. It gives an indication of public sentiment, but does not forecast the distribution of seats.

here-we-go-again-1

The Guardian ignores that last line about the polls not forecasting distributions of seats with this headline. It makes a good point about Labour’s fence-squatting habit, though.

Can Labour eat into projected 58-seat Tory majority?
Certainly, the Conservative strategy for an election campaign looks simple enough – “let’s get Brexit done” – an appeal that plays to the idea that the nation is worn out by Westminster’s endless battles.

That contrasts with the opposition’s argument, easy to portray as overly complex: vote Labour, negotiate a new deal and have referendum on the deal the party just negotiated. It is a promise of more Brexit debate and no certain final outcome.

And the first general election in December since the 1920s. Relevant? Nah.

Does holding a general election in December affect voter turnout? Science has the answer
“Such evidence as we have – which is limited – does not provide any support for the proposition that you can’t hold an election in the winter,” says John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde …

Research from 2007 published in the University of Chicago Press found that every incremental inch of rain decreased voter turnout by one percentage point. However, a 2013 study from researchers at Gothenburg University in Sweden didn’t find any effect of rain on turnout. Research from Oxford University also disputed any connection between weather and voter turnout, finding turnout was far more motivated by the election race being close or not and the policy differences between the leading parties.

Here’s another great piece from Chris Dillow, on a possible way forward through all this mess.

Detoxifying Brexit
The Leaver-Remain divide is so bitter because it’s become not about our relations with Europe but a battle of identities, with the two sides now being proxies for other things. Remainers see Leavers as social conservatives; Leavers see Remainers as elitists.

There are so many valid, sensible, rational and calming points here, from the benefits of constructing a counter-argument for yourself, to avoiding cognitive biases and dialling down fanaticism, but, as he acknowledges, there’s a problem:

The people who most need to know all of the above are those who are least likely to read it. The mainstream media seem keener to inflame passions than to dampen them.

A bit of me thinks the reason for this isn’t just to do with winning clickbait – something which the BBC, unforgiveably, seems as concerned about as the commercial media. Whilst we are divided about Brexit, we are not divided about something else – class. In this sense, Brexit hysteria suits our rulers just fine.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic:

Mash-up: Trump’s al-Baghdadi speech & Obama’s Bin Laden speech

A class act

Brexit blah blah blah. Chris Dillow makes some interesting points on how we might have got here.

On class difference
My point here should be a trivial one. Background determines character, so rich backgrounds tend to generate different characters than poor ones. I’d suggest other differences, all of which should disqualify most posh people from politics:

1. If everything comes naturally to you, you don’t need to think so much about how to get it. So you under-invest in learning how to hustle, negotiate or strategize. (Is it really an accident that the western politician who most mastered these arts, Lyndon Johnson, came from a poor home?) This might be one reason why Brexit has gone badly. Having spent his entire life thinking he could get what he wants simply by asking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been disturbed to find that the EU doesn’t work like that …

3. The rich don’t appreciate just how important money is. For a poor family, an extra fiver at the end of the week can make the difference between relief and misery. This warps their political priorities. Whereas I regard economic growth and redistribution as the main political issues, the rich have others – Brexit if you are on the right, Palestine if on the left.

And so on.

Whilst we’re on the subject (kinda):

 

Counting the uncountable

“Not all things worth counting are countable and not all things that count are worth counting.”
Albert Einstein (Or was it?)

Chris Dillow reviews The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller, a book about “how the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government.”

The Tyranny of Metrics: a review
Muller provides lots of examples of this, mostly from the US. But you’ll all have examples of your own. In universities the Research Assessment Exercise (now the REF) contributed to increased administration costs and perhaps to the replicability crisis by incentivizing the publication of mediocre research. In schools, targets can encourage teaching to the test, endless revision and a focus upon the marginal student to the neglect of both the strongest and weakest. Waiting-time targets might distort clinical priorities. Immigration targets deter foreign students and lead to the harassment of people who have lived here for decades. Sales targets encourage workers to mis-sell financial products, cook the books, or increase risk by encouraging “liars’ loans. And so on.

It’s not all bad news, though. It’s just a question of balancing the quantitative with the qualitative.

The Tyranny of Metrics is not, however, a diatribe against targets. Muller points to the experience of some US hospitals to show that metrics can work. They do so, he says, when they are “based on collaboration and peer review”:

Measurements are more likely to be meaningful when they are developed from the bottom up, with input from teachers, nurses and the cop on the beat.

In other words, metrics can succeed when they are complements to knowledge: when they organize the tacit and dispersed professional judgements of people who know ground truth.