Here we go again #2

This all feels very familiar. Let’s see if any lessons can be learnt this time, or we going to make the same mistakes as last time.

Labour leadership: where do the candidates stand?The Guardian
Lewis is certainly a candidate on the left of the party and was once very closely associated with the leader. He has, however, since said Corbyn did not go far enough to democratise the party by giving members a say and criticised his “prevarication and lack of leadership” over Brexit. …

Long Bailey is considered the continuity candidate. She is backed by many of Corbyn’s key allies and has stressed that the party’s radical platform at the election was “principled and popular”. …

Nandy has been critical of the manifesto and Brexit policy, but has also said Labour must not abandon the radicalism of the Corbyn era. She is considered to be on the soft left of the party and has stressed her socialist credentials, but some Corbyn allies may eye her with suspicion for having backed Owen Smith’s leadership challenge in 2016. …

Phillips caused a stir over the weekend by saying she would not rule out campaigning to rejoin the EU if Brexit turns out to be a disaster. … Phillips is a long-term critic of Corbyn and is unlikely to win many votes among his staunch supporters. …

Starmer was instrumental in shifting Labour’s position toward a second referendum, but has since said he was simply in favour of the party taking a stronger position one way or the other. …

Thornberry has been very loyal to Corbyn over the years, but declined this weekend to say he had been a good leader. She said only that he was a man of “many, many talents”.

We need some new news

2019 has been an … interesting year for political news reporting and current affairs.

What we learned about the media this electionThe Guardian
The British public were more than capable of creating their own disinformation. Ahead of the election there were concerns about foreign manipulation of the electoral process. Although there were some issues – the prime minister refused to let a report into Russian money be released pre-election, and Reddit suggested a Russian-linked account may have helped distribute leaked US-UK trade papers – ordinary, politicised Britons proved more than capable of creating their own fake posts.

Looking forward to 2020, here are 10 themes for newsNew York Times
People crave transparency. Similar to the shift we’ve seen in the farm-to-table movement around food sourcing and production, people want to know what goes into news production. In dozens of conversations with people around the world, we heard that people want more than just the story: they want to know why it’s being told, who is telling it and how it came together. News consumers want to pull back the curtain to understand why a headline was written a certain way, or why a particular story was featured over another on a home page. They want to know that specific information was verified by multiple sources, or that reporters pored over thousands of pages of documents for a particular story.

The public hears claims of “fake news” just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it.

It’s not all bad news, of course.

99 good news stories you probably didn’t hear about in 2019Future Crunch
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

But even here, we need to be careful.

The year in good news 2019 (and the bad news about good news)Kottke
But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

Let’s see what the new year has in store.

Corbyn’s fault

So that’s that.

Here’s what we learned from the election resultsHuffPost UK
Boris Johnson’s gamble of calling a snap general election has gone better than probably even he hoped. By 5am on Friday, the Conservative Party had officially won the 326 seats needed for a majority. The prime minster has declared a mandate to “get Brexit done”, killing off any chance of a second referendum as hoped for by pro-Remain campaigners.

I’m going to cheer myself up with a trawl through my bookmarks to play a four year long game of Told You So.

Let’s start with that first Labour leadership election, in 2015.

Corbynmania is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ politics, says Tony Blair in final pleaThe Observer
Writing in the Observer, Blair says he accepts that successive warnings about Corbyn from himself, Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown have fallen on deaf ears and seem to have made people more likely to back the MP for Islington North than turn away. However, insisting that the debate about the party’s future will preoccupy the Labour party for years to come, he refuses to back off, comparing the surge for Corbyn – now the strong favourite to succeed Ed Miliband – to a suicidal rush towards a cliff edge.

Labour is losing touch with public opinion, research suggestsThe Guardian
YouGov data shows how Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity as leader and the changing profile of Labour voters could make the party unelectable. … “The party is winning tenuous support from former Lib Dems and Greens because of Corbyn, while simultaneously losing support from voters who best reflect public opinion. In so doing it is choosing to represent a dwindling section of the electorate that not only does not reflect the breadth of public opinion but is blissfully unconcerned by it.”

There was continued opposition to the Leader of the Opposition throughout 2016.

Brexit: Hilary Benn sacked as Corbyn faces ‘no confidence’ pressureBBC News
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has been sacked from the shadow cabinet amid claims he was encouraging ministers to resign should Jeremy Corbyn ignore a vote of no confidence. Labour’s leader faces a vote of no confidence over claims he was “lacklustre” during the EU referendum.

Whoever the leader is, Labour may never recover from this crisisThe Guardian
On one side is the current leader and a small band of leftist diehards, backed by an energetic, well-drilled movement but devoid of any coherent project and out of touch with the voters who have just defied the party in their droves. On the other is a counter-revolution led by MPs who mostly failed to see this crisis coming, have very few worthwhile ideas themselves, and are a big part of the reason the Brexit revolt happened in the first place. As the activist Neal Lawson says, the choice is essentially between different captains of the Titanic, and therefore is no choice at all.

I re-joined the Labour party just so that I could vote against him being leader again…

Join Labour now to help topple CorbynThe Times
If he is re-elected, the Labour party, which has been in existence since 1900, and which for all its faults has been a vital engine of social progress, will have been captured by extra-parliamentary forces, many of whom won’t care if the party’s share of the vote halves, so long as it can be portrayed as a “victory for socialism”. Effectively, Labour as a party of government will have been destroyed.

Saving Labour
After the referendum, Britain is at a crossroads. Britain and Labour needs new, strong leadership for the months ahead. Tens of thousands of people have joined our campaign calling on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down and 81% of Labour MPs say he should go, but he has refused. There is now a leadership contest, so your immediate action will make a difference. Join our campaign to save Labour and save democracy.

…but that didn’t work out.

Fury as new members barred from voting in fresh Labour leadership contest by NECIndependent
The meeting of the party’s ruling body decided by a margin of 18-14 that as the incumbent, leader Jeremy Corbyn had an automatic place on the ballot and did not need to gather 51 nominations. But it also decided that people who had been party members for less than six months could not vote.

A fetid cloud of acrimony hangs over Labour – this is the endThe Guardian
Clearly, there are elements from all wings of the party prone to horrible behaviour. But let’s not mess about: right now, the lion’s share of the noise is coming from people who evidently see what they’re doing as part of the defence of their embattled leader. Whether particular elements of the party – Momentum, chiefly – have authorised any of this is hardly the point: of course they haven’t, and many of their people are appalled. But there is also a sense that awful stuff is being tacitly tolerated, as the seriousness of what is happening is either underestimated or completely ignored.

Corbyn’s supporters loved his principles. But he ditched them in the EU campaignNew Statesman
If you believe the Labour party needs to be more than a rest home for embittered idealists – if you believe the working class must have a political party – if you believe that the job of opposing the government cannot be left to Ukip – if you believe that Britain is better than racism and insularity, and will vote against those vicious principles when given a reason to; if you believe any of those things, then Corbyn must go. Not just because he’s ineffectual, but because he’s untrustworthy too.

Labour of the negativeSpectator
The current crisis in the Labour party has many causes; but the principal one, it seems to me, is that the party is now led in Parliament by someone who thinks that he is answerable only to those who voted for him, and neither to his wider constituency in the country — the constituency of Labour voters — nor to the institution in which he sits.

Leading up to the 2017 general election, we were expecting the worst.

Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressivesThe Guardian
It is a perfect storm. Corbyn must be persuaded to promise that, in the event of the likely crushing defeat, he will stand down after the election, offering Labour MPs some chance of saving themselves and their party. It is improbable.

How to save the Labour partySpectator
The first question is whether Labour wants to give up or fight for its historic commitment to forming a government that can change the lives of working people. We know where the present leadership stands. Its election strategy is about maximising the vote share, not winning seats. Whatever the result, Corbyn and his supporters will argue millions voted for socialism and the job is not finished. The PLP should not allow this argument to take root.

Corbyn got through that, but we still thought his approach to Brexit was still the wrong one.

Labour MP says shadow minister is ‘fundamentally wrong’ on BrexitThe Guardian
She writes: “[Gardiner] starts by asserting the reasons he says people voted for Brexit last year – a list that could have come straight out of Tory central office – sovereignty, immigration and the ECJ. “But what about the false promise of large amounts of extra money for the NHS? What about the British prime minister who hyped up his negotiations with the EU but came back with very little to show for it?”

Labour has to stop dithering on BrexitThe Guardian
Today the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, along with Open Britain and many figures from across the Labour movement, have published a new report challenging these “Lexit myths”. It is claimed that a clean break from the EU will allow us to reverse austerity. In fact, EU rules impose no restriction whatsoever on levels of public spending. The reality is that a hard Brexit would so severely hurt the public finances that we would likely see a continuation of austerity and further strain on the NHS and other public services.

2018, and it’s obvious the problem isn’t just how Corbyn handled Brexit.

Patrick Stewart: ‘I find it difficult to know what Labour stands for’New European
The encounter symbolises the unhappy stage that Sir Patrick has come to in his relationship with a party that he has believed in passionately all his life. I ask him if he will be voting Labour again, and, after a long pause, he says, in a quiet and sad voice, probably not – so long as it supports Brexit and seems unable to deal swiftly and decisively with obvious evils such as anti-Semitism.

Among Britain’s anti-SemitesHarpers
The Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Jewish Leadership Council condemned the new guidelines, and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle called the Labour Party “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Sixty-eight rabbis wrote to the Guardian to complain about the guidelines, and Labour decided to consult with the Jewish community and to delay a final vote until the fall. Even so, the drama mounted. Margaret Hodge, a veteran Labour MP whose grandmother was killed in the Holocaust, and who fought off a threat from the British National Party in her own constituency in 2010, called Jeremy Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist” behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons. He said: “I’m sorry you feel like that.” Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The Labour Party said it would bring disciplinary charges against Hodge, but dropped the charges after she excused herself in the Guardian:

A definition of sexual harassment agreed without the explicit endorsement of women would be unconscionable. A definition of Islamophobia that was rejected by the Muslim community would never be entertained. Yet a definition that rolls over the sensibilities of Jews who are the victims of this racism is somehow OK.

Derek Hatton is back in the Labour Party – 33 years after he was kicked outLiverpool Echo
The former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council was kicked out of Labour by then leader Neil Kinnock and the party’s ruling committee for belonging to the left-wing Militant faction. But the ECHO can today exclusively reveal that he has once again been allowed to join Labour as a member and says he is excited to be back. Mr Hatton, now 70, said it was the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn that made him re-apply for membership – but insisted that he has no plans to run for public office.

Chris Leslie condemns Labour intolerance of critics of CorbynThe Guardian
Referring to the Corbyn’s speech at the Labour confernce in Liverpool on Wednesday, Leslie said in an article for the The Observer: “Jeremy Corbyn claimed this week that the Labour party should foster a culture of tolerance. But those acting in his name do the precise opposite. The reality is that we are no longer that broad church and with every ‘no confidence’ motion or change of selection rules, the party becomes narrower. Such tactics are familiar from the hard left of the past. Momentum is the Militant for the digital age. What do they expect the public to conclude, if Labour continues to push out people on the centre left like me while readmitting the likes of Derek Hatton?”

What party conference season says about British politicsTLS
At first glance, then, May’s tactic of comparing Corbyn and his closest colleagues to great Labour figures of the past seemed effective and, in the main, accurate. It is hard to dispute the claim that “the heirs of Hugh Gaitskell and Barbara Castle, Denis Healey and John Smith” were not on the Labour front bench. Instead, she said, “their faces stare blankly from the rows behind while another party occupies prime position: the Jeremy Corbyn party”.

2019 saw more people jump ship.

I can no longer support Corbyn becoming prime minister, which is why after 22 years I’m leaving Labour – I hope you’ll join meIndependent
The party’s collective failure to take a lead and provide sufficiently strong, coherent opposition to Tory government policy on the UK’s relationship with Europe, with all the adverse implications this poses for the working people of this constituency, is a betrayal of the Labour interest and Labour’s internationalist principles. This started with the leadership’s halfhearted effort to campaign for Remain in 2016, followed by its refusal even to commit to the UK staying part of the single market and now its offer to facilitate a Tory Brexit. So many families in my constituency, like me, have relatives from EU countries and feel grossly betrayed by the party.

Labour MPs quit over Brexit and anti-SemitismCNN
The seven Members of Parliament, many of them longstanding figures in the party, said variously that Labour was racist, had betrayed its working-class roots and was a threat to national security. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not fit to become Prime Minister, they said. One of the seven, Luciana Berger, said she had become ashamed of the party she’d served as a Member of Parliament since 2010. It had become “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left,” she said.

Watson tells Corbyn he must change direction to stop Labour splittingThe Guardian
Watson’s emotional intervention came as a number of Labour MPs were poised to follow the founders of the new Independent Group – and after reports on Monday night that some Conservatives were also ready to defect. Saying that he sometimes “no longer recognises” his own party, Watson urged Corbyn to ensure Labour remains a broad church and reshuffle his shadow cabinet to reflect a wider balance of MPs.

MP Joan Ryan quits Labour for Independent GroupBBC
Joan Ryan has become the eighth Labour MP to quit the party in the past 48 hours, citing its tolerance of a “culture of anti-Jewish racism”. The Enfield North MP said she was “horrified, appalled and angered” by Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, saying its leadership allowed “Jews to be abused with impunity”. Ms Ryan said she did not believe Jeremy Corbyn was fit to lead the country.

And then, just last month, a few more nails in the coffin.

Tom Watson quits as Labour deputy leader and stands down as MP to ‘start a different kind of life’Manchester Evening News
The two men clashed repeatedly at the top of the party, with Mr Watson becoming a focus for the ‘moderate’ opposite in the party to Mr Corbyn. He criticised the leadership’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party and led moves to push it into supporting a second referendum on the EU, despite the entrenched resistance of the leader. Most recently, he defied Mr Corbyn by calling for the party to back a new public vote before the country went to the polls in a general election.

Second ex-Labour MP urges people to vote for Boris Johnson to stop Jeremy CorbynIndependent
Mr Woodcock, who held Barrow and Furness for Labour for eight years before resigning the party to go independent in 2018, said he would be voting Conservative in order to prevent Mr Corbyn taking control of the UK’s defence and security.

Which brings us up-to-date, and to yesterday’s vote for the least worst. Let’s allow Polly Toynbee the last word.

Devoid of agility, charisma and credibility, Corbyn has led Labour into the abyssThe Guardian
Given the worst choice in history, the public preferred him [Johnson] to his opponent. How bad did Labour have to be to let this sociopathic, narcissistic, glutton for power beat them? That’s the soul-searching question every Labour member, office-holder and MP has to ask.

Labour was disastrously, catastrophically bad, an agony to behold. A coterie of Corbynites cared more about gripping power within the party than saving the country by winning the election. The NEC, a slate of nodding Corbynite place-persons, disgraced the party with its sectarian decisions. Once it was plain in every poll and focus group that Corbynism was electoral arsenic, they should have propelled him out, but electoral victory was secondary. …

Here’s the real tragedy. The manifesto was essentially magnificent. The vision was of a country freed from years of darkness with green investment, growth in places that most need it, salving the many wounds of marrow-deep cuts, restoring pride in the public sphere and hope in a future that was absolutely affordable. Why should we not tax and spend the same as similar north European countries? But if socialism is the language of priorities, these were lost in a profusion of never-ending promises too easily mocked. The political landscape was never prepared, soil untilled, last-minute policies falling on stony ground. Where was the simple five-point pledge card?

Credibility is everything and Corbyn lacked it like no other. Without credibility all was lost. Think on it, every Labour member. It will be a long, long road up from such a fall. There will be days to consider hope: today is for confronting reality.

Today is Friday 13th, unlucky for everybody. Well, not everybody.

corbyns-fault-1

Victory for Boris Johnson’s all-new ToriesThe Economist
This realignment may well last. The Tories’ new prospectus is calculated to take advantage of a long-term shift in voters’ behaviour which predates the Brexit referendum. Over several decades, economic attitudes have been replaced by cultural ones as the main predictor of party affiliation. Even at the last election, in 2017, working-class voters were almost as likely as professional ones to back the Tories. Mr Johnson rode a wave that was already washing over Britain. Donald Trump has shown how conservative positions on cultural matters can hold together a coalition of rich and poor voters. And Mr Johnson has an extra advantage in that his is unlikely to face strong opposition soon. Labour looks certain to be in the doldrums for a long time. The Liberal Democrats had a dreadful night in which their leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat.

Here we are, then

General Election 2019: Longest voting queues ever at polling stationsMetro News
It’s been dubbed the most important election in a generation, and if the queues at polling stations this morning are anything to go by, that message has sunk in.

Let’s see what the night has in store, when the polls stop and the counting starts. But whilst we wait, here are a few reminders of this crazy campaign.

Thursday briefing: Now for the only poll that countsThe Guardian
Well, the campaign is finally over. It’s been a whirlwind six weeks in which the leaders have travelled across the country, stolen phones, hidden in fridges, refused to apologise for their party’s handling of antisemitism when repeatedly asked by Andrew Neil, refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil at all, posed in boxing rings, posed bulldozing a menacing tower of styrofoam blocks, watched as their confident promise of becoming prime minister quickly became a vanishingly small prospect, or as their pledge to help the Tories by pulling out of seats backfired.

Campaigns are always a little scrappy and gaffe-prone. Here’s a quick look at how the parties are trying to spin the issues behind the photo ops.

The British election explained in five key phrasesThe Conversation
Tensions have been high as the country attempts to resolve the identity crisis first sparked by the Brexit vote in 2016. It’s a complicated moment for the nation and, at times like these, it can help to observe the big issues through the lens of language. The slogans and terms that get thrown around again and again during a campaign can often tell us a lot about the bigger picture.

That ‘get Brexit done’ line is so insincere. If anything, it should be ‘get Brexit started’.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy explainedThe Conversation
The UK and the EU have between the withdrawal date and December 31 2020 (the end of the transition period) to negotiate and ratify the full agreement on their future relationship, which should govern relations in a vast range of areas such as trade, migration, security foreign policy and data.

It has taken three and a half years to negotiate the withdrawal agreement, which covers a much smaller set of issues and has not yet been ratified. It will be highly challenging to resolve the future relationship in such a short timeframe, not least because the future relationship agreement may need to be ratified by each EU member state’s parliament, as well as several regional parliaments, which is not the case for the withdrawal agreement.

I loved the caption they used to go with this photo of Johnson and other EU leaders.

here-we-are-then

Getting the deal through the UK parliament is only the first stage. Then comes the boss level.

What I have found worrying though (apart from the prospect of this deluded act of national self-harm actually taking place), was the level of vitriol the BBC has had to sustain, from both sides of the divide.

BBC caught in the crossfire: why the UK’s public broadcaster is becoming a big election storyThe Conversation
Traditionally, the BBC is regarded as left wing by the right and right wing by the left and has perhaps taken comfort that this indicates balanced news coverage. But the Conservative Party has a traditionally feisty relationship with the BBC dating back, famously, to Margaret Thatcher’s fury over its coverage of the Falklands conflict. More recently, David Cameron threatened to “close down” the corporation during the 2015 election campaign.

But – more recently and less obviously outside the mainstream – relentless social media activity from a range of increasingly popular alt-left media websites has kept the BBC in the crosshairs throughout the campaign and might have provided the Conservatives with some cover. Given that the most recent Ofcom report notes that ITV and SKY News are perceived as marginally more trustworthy than BBC, then alt-left criticism might simply be fanning the flames of anti-BBC sentiment already emanating from the opposite side of the political divide.

Indeed our Cardiff/Swansea research examining the Facebook activity of alt-left media sites supports the notion that their critiques might be strengthening the prime minister’s resolve. Their collective seething at what they see as right-wing bias might be reinterpreted by the BBC’s critics as the public broadcaster being no longer fit for purpose.

In effect, left-wing media may have legitimised right-wing plans to abolish the licence fee.

I think they do a fine job and will be watching them this evening, as soon as the polls close.

A non-binding contract?

Last year, Tim Berners-Lee launched his Contract for the Web, setting out what he hopes will be our rights and freedoms on the internet. It wasn’t received entirely positively at the time, but Tim’s persisting.

Contract for the Web
Everyone has a role to play in safeguarding the future of the Web. The Contract for the Web was created by representatives from over 80 organizations, representing governments, companies and civil society, and sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas. To achieve the Contract’s goals, governments, companies, civil society and individuals must commit to sustained policy development, advocacy, and implementation of the Contract text.

We can all get involved — governments, corporations, individuals.

Contract for the Web: Tim Berners-Lee calls on world governments (and us all) to make the web a force for goodBoingBoing
Governments that sign on are asked to promise to “ensure everyone can connect to the internet,” to “keep all the internet available all the time,” and to “respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights.”

Corporate signatories promise that they will “make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone,” “respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust,” and “develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.”

Individuals are asked to “be creators and collaborators on the Web,” “build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity,” and “fight for the Web.”

It’s the digital equivalent of the climate crisis.

Tim Berners-Lee unveils global plan to save the webThe Guardian
“I think people’s fear of bad things happening on the internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater,” Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, told the Guardian. “If we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong. We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around. It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now.”

But, as before, doubts remain.

Tim Berners-Lee: web inventor’s plan to save the internet is admirable, but doomed to failThe Conversation
But the fact that Google and Facebook back the contract raises some questions. Do they really want to help reform the web to curb their worst behaviour or will manipulation continue to be the cost of access?

The algorithms of Google, Facebook and Twitter determine what people see online, whether that is adverts or political content. The contract does nothing to resolve this huge imbalance in influence and power. Many of us feel like we have no choice but to use their services, and they often use openness – such as free email and free apps like Google Maps – as a way of furthering their control over everything people do online.

Google makes money from people using free services, mostly by hoovering up our data to fuel targeted ads, and its business model isn’t likely to change overnight. For internet reform to succeed, it would need international collaboration between governments for effective regulation, along with pressure from users.

Sounds unlikely, to be honest. Unfortunately.

Update 05/12/2019

I’ve just come across this article that I thought fits well here, trying to imagine an internet that serves the public interest. It seems such a quaint idea, but one with a solid history behind, thanks in part to radio and the BBC.

Building a more honest internetColumbia Journalism Review
Of the world’s top hundred websites, Wikipedia is the sole noncommercial site. If the contemporary internet is a city, Wikipedia is the lone public park; all the rest of our public spaces are shopping malls—open to the general public, but subject to the rules and logic of commerce.

Resisting political negativity

It’s hard to stay positive about politics these days.

Chief Rabbi launches unprecedented attack on ‘mendacious’ Jeremy Corbyn over Jew hateThe Jewish Chronicle
Also highlighting shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s claim that the party is now “doing everything” to tackle the crisis, the Chief Rabbi says: “The claims by leadership figures in the Labour Party that it is ‘doing everything’ it reasonably can to tackle the scourge of anti-Jewish racism and that it has ‘investigated every single case’ are a mendacious fiction.” …

In a clear reference to Jewish MPs such as Dame Louise Ellman, Luciana Berger and also to the whistleblowers who spoke out about Labour’s failure to tackle the problem in a BBC Panorama documentary, he writes: “We sit powerless, watching with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism.”

Harry Dunn’s family urge voters to unseat Dominic RaabThe Guardian
They said: “We are not political people. Whatever political thoughts we hold we generally keep to ourselves. But the enormity and shocking nature of what has happened to us have left us feeling compelled to come to Esher and Walton this evening in the midst of the current election campaign. We feel that his handling of our situation has been so outrageously dishonourable and disrespectful that we have a duty to respectfully bring these matters to the direct attention of that local community that have until now voted him into this position.”

Tony Blair says Tories and Labour engaged in ‘populism running riot’The Guardian
“We’re a mess,” Blair said. “The buoyancy of the world economy has kept us going up to now, but should that falter, we will be in deep trouble. Investment is down; jobs in certain sectors are already moving; our currency stays devalued sharply; and market sentiment swings between anxiety and alarm.

“And across a range of international issues which matter to us, we’re irrelevant – too preoccupied to spare overstretched bandwidth of attention. Our politics is utterly dysfunctional.”

Nine key facts about the election everyone keeps getting wrongWired UK
The 2019 general election is proving to be one of the most complicated to discern, as candidates and political parties move away from traditional truth-stretching and fact-massaging to more malicious potential falsehoods.

The public have also picked up on it, too, becoming more tribal, overlooking obvious facts when they do not chime with their viewpoint. It’s also an immensely important election, so we’ve taken the time to look at several key areas and bust some “facts” you may hear from the mouths of politicians, pundits and the general public that prove to be… less than factual.

I need to revisit my earlier post, I think, It’s not all bad news, and its links to Hans Rosling’s work. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying his “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, a book needed now more than ever.

FactfulnessGapminder
Factfulness is a relaxing habit for critical thinking. It helps you maintain a fact-based worldview. It teaches you how to recognise and avoid the most common ways information gets misinterpreted.

attention-filter-01

Democracy damaged

It seems the Conservatives have shown themselves to be factually untrustworthy. I can’t imagine they thought they’d get away with this. I guess they mustn’t care.

Or perhaps it’s just a classic Trumpian move: the more we’re talking about this concocted social media controversy, the less we’re talking about the real issues at stake. Either way, (more) trust is lost.

Tories under fire for ‘fake’ fact-checking Twitter accountThe Telegraph

Tories pretend to be factchecking service during leaders’ debateThe Guardian

Fact Check HQ: Tories condemned over fake Twitter accountThe Herald

Tory HQ slammed for ‘dystopian’ rebranding of Twitter account during leaders’ debateHuffpost

Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile ‘factcheckUK’BBC News

Britain’s ruling political party masqueraded as a fact-checker on Twitter during a TV debateCNBC

The Tories just used a disinformation trick that deserves to get them banned from TwitterNew Statesman

Twitter says PM Johnson’s party misled public with ‘factcheck’ accountReuters

The debate itself left no clear winner. Perhaps, as suggested in the latest B3TA newsletter, the format should be dropped entirely and substituted for something more testing.

Forget leaders debates, prospective Prime Ministers should do a series of tasks without losing cool: switch phone to a different tariff; retrieve ball from grumpy neighbour; submit tax return to HMRC website; take a driving test etc.

In an earlier newsletter they had some pointers on how to improve voting, which, joking aside, might really be worth considering.

16 year olds should get TWO votes as they’ve got to live with the consequences longer.

Blank ballot papers so votes only count if you can remember the name of the candidate.

One person, one vote and that person is Sir David Attenborough.

 

We have rights, but who pays?

Two more think pieces on Labour’s plans to provide free broadband to everyone in the UK, if elected.

Free broadband: internet access is now a human right, no matter who pays the billsThe Conversation
Before the internet, most people in democracies had roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights. They could vote, write to newspapers or their political representative, attend public meetings and join organisations.

But when some people gained internet access, their opportunities to exercise political rights became much greater compared to those without the internet. They could publish their views online for potentially millions of people to see, join forces with other people without having to physically attend regular meetings, and obtain a wealth of previously inaccessible political information.

Today, a large proportion of our political debates take place online, so in some ways our political rights can only be exercised via the internet. This means internet access is required for people to have roughly equal opportunities to make use of their political freedoms, and why we should recognise internet access as a human right.

Economics of Labour’s plan to nationalise broadband – £20 billion cost is unrealisticThe Conversation
While there is no nationalised and free full-fibre scheme to compare Labour’s proposal to, Australia carried out a government-funded broadband rollout scheme that is widely viewed as a relative failure. This policy was not identical – it was not for full-fibre connections – but costs of the programme spiralled and it became a political football.

Expanding access to super-fast broadband is clearly an important policy goal and rural communities would likely be the biggest beneficiaries, as market forces are unlikely to provide this in the short or medium term. But Labour appears to significantly underestimate the costs, while possibly overestimating the savings.

Ultimately, the question to ask is whether guaranteed full-fibre connections in every home is justifiable if the programme started to run several times over budget, as seems likely. There would be a very real risk of non-delivery if the project keeps going over budget. Then, a lack of private sector provision would leave little alternative for consumers to turn to.

Mixing yesterday’s politics with tomorrow’s technology

I must admit I was as incredulous as everybody else when this was announced. Any talk of nationalisation makes me cringe.

Full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Labour’s British Broadband announcementThe Labour Party
A Labour government will make broadband free for everybody. And not just any broadband, but the very fastest. Full-fibre broadband to every home, in every part of our country, for free – as a universal public service.

And once it’s up and running, instead of you forking out for your monthly bill, we’ll tax the giant corporations fairly – the Facebooks and the Googles – to cover the running costs.

But perhaps I’m being too hasty to dismiss this?

The Conservative’s own research shows why Labour’s broadband plan makes perfect senseWired UK
Research commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year argued that current major providers are competing for a slice of just 75 per cent of the UK broadband market – and largely ignoring rural areas that they consider unprofitable. …

Openreach was even identified as the best (and only) contender for the job, and advised against “competitive tendering”. In a similar way to Australia and Singapore, this model could deliver coverage at a lower cost than a model that relies more heavily on the private sector, analysts argued.

We’ll have to wait and see. It could all be academic anyway, come 12 December.

Who to vote for? Who to trust?

This election’s quickly getting complicated. Let’s start at the beginning.

General election 2019: A really simple guideBBC
The UK’s main parties are gearing up for a general election on 12 December. These national votes, to choose a government to run the country, are supposed to be held every five years. But this would be the third since 2015. …

The issues UK voters care most about have changed a lot, according to the polls. The National Health Service (NHS) and immigration were the things that most concerned voters in 2015. The European Union (EU) was of far less interest. Now, however, Brexit – the UK’s departure from the EU – is by far the biggest issue.

who-to-trust

As this explainer from the BBC shows, there are marginal seats, with a majority of less than 10%, and now there are ultra-marginals, those with a majority of less than 2%.

Election 2019 in maps: Where are the seats that could turn the election?BBC
In 2017 there were 51 of these ultra-marginals – considerably more than in previous elections. In fact there were eight seats with a majority under 50.

All those will be hotly contested. The Conservatives will be hoping to win back some of the seats they lost last time – like Canterbury, Keighley and Kensington – while Labour will try to take seats where it got within a whisker – such as Arfon, Pudsey and Southampton Itchen.

Lots of talk about pacts and alliances between parties, though that’s far from straightforward.

The Lib Dem-Green-Plaid pact isn’t really a remain allianceIndependent
It’s perfectly legitimate for parties to tactically stand down against each other to increase their chances of winning. To describe this particular arrangement as being in aid of Remain however seems like a stretch given some of the seats involved. The selection seems more driven by which seats the parties want to win, rather than an assessment of whether the sitting MP supports a Final Say or not.

Remain alliance hit by candidates backlash over centrally-imposed pactTelegraph
The Green candidate in former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford seat is now backing Labour even though the pact between LibDems, Greens and Plaid Cymru explicitly ruled out any deals with Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for a Brexit deal. John Tyne, a Green activist, said he was “tactically withdrawing” from the contest and would instead work with Labour to overturn Mr Duncan Smith’s 2,400 majority.

UK election 2019: everything you need to know about Brexit Party’s Leave ‘pact’The Conversation
Electoral deals, unilateral standing aside and tactical voting seem to have become the hallmark of this election campaign so far. And, if the assumption that in the absence of a Brexit party, or of UKIP, supporters will tend to vote Conservative holds, then this is both good and bad news for the Tories. Because although it may help some defences, it undermines Johnson’s team in their attack seats. And it may not do wonders for its brand in other areas.

And no shortage of people telling us who to vote for, however surprisingly.

Second ex-Labour MP urges people to vote for Boris Johnson to stop Jeremy CorbynIndependent
Mr Woodcock, who held Barrow and Furness for Labour for eight years before resigning the party to go independent in 2018, said he would be voting Conservative in order to prevent Mr Corbyn taking control of the UK’s defence and security.

Vote Lib Dem, urges former Conservative minister David GaukeThe Guardian
The former chief secretary to the Treasury said getting enough Liberal Democrats and independents returned to parliament would create a parliament opposed to no deal and that would also block the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from becoming prime minister.

At least we’re clear who the leaders say we should vote for, right?

The fake video where Johnson and Corbyn endorse each other BBC
A fake social media video where Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn endorse each other for prime minister has been posted online in an attempt to show the potential of so-called ‘deepfake’ videos to undermine democracy.

Rather than voting for the party you want, perhaps we should vote tactically, against the party we don’t. But how?

And then there were three: Remain tactical voting sites fail to agreeThe Guardian
While tactical voting could play a key role in shaping the result of a volatile election, there are already concerns that the three sites disagree on which party voters should back in dozens of seats around the country.

Under current plans, Miller’s site will back about 50 Liberal Democrat candidates. Another major site already up and running, run by the Best for Britain campaign, recommends about 180 Lib Dems. Remain United’s model suggests that the Lib Dems are likely to win only 33 seats if there is a significant tactical voting drive. A third site, run by the People’s Vote campaign, also launched this weekend with its own set of recommendations.

I live in one of those ultra-marginals mentioned earlier, a constituency on the People’s Vote top 100 key target list, and all three sites suggest the same for me. This is how Best for Britain sees the result going. We’ll see.

who-to-trust-2

How much faith should we have in these sites and their differing methodologies? And what on earth is multilevel regression and poststratification?

Can you actually trust tactical voting websites?Wired UK
Because there are very few rules ensuring transparency in MRP modelling, it’s almost impossible to know where this variance comes from. People are being advised to vote for a political party without knowing that advice’s true impact. While Remain United has posted its results and general methodology online, Best for Britain has been less open. … John Curtice, who is also the President of the British Polling Council, told me that the regulatory organisation is “in the process of developing” transparency rules for publishing data from MRP modelling.

But perhaps we’re seeing this whole election from the wrong angle. Perhaps we’re overestimating the significance of the pacts and alliances, of the tactical voting models and strategies — of Brexit, itself.

Tactical pacts won’t turn this into a Brexit electionThe Guardian
Most people are not party members. Only the eccentric few follow every twist of the debate. The nerds who monitor cabinet reshuffles as if they were football transfer windows relish an election. It is our world cup. But the rest see it more like a trip to the dentist, necessary but unwelcome. It is something that should happen regularly but not often; definitely not recreational. Those are the people who decide the result and, hard though it may be for the obsessives like me to accept, their perspective is often better than ours. …

The ambition for pacts comes from the belief that this election is a referendum in disguise, and that voters must be channelled into leave and remain streams before they can be let loose in a polling booth. That isn’t how most people will see things, because it isn’t how general elections work. They are a tangle of old habits and first-time departures, local cultures and personal priorities, of which Brexit is only one. For some it is the NHS, or crime, or just a nasty taste in the mouth when Johnson or Corbyn appear on television – which is as valid a test as any, frustrating though it can be for people who wish the electorate could be organised into tidy ideological compartments.

Be happy!

This study into happiness came out last month, but it’s interesting to read through this in light of the general election we’re currently in the middle of.

Why the UK was at its cheeriest in the 1920s
Says who? A study. By psychology researchers at the University of Warwick. They analysed millions of books and newspapers going back to 1825, counting key words that signify happiness and sadness.

And they found? That in the UK, we were happiest in the 1920s and after the end of the second world war. And least happy in 1978 during the winter of discontent.

Can money buy happiness? Two centuries’ worth of books suggest it can
By examining millions of books and newspaper articles published since 1820 in four countries (America, Britain, Germany and Italy), they have developed what they hope is an objective measure of each place’s historical happiness. And their answer is that wealth does bring happiness, but some other things bring more of it.

be-happy-1

Let’s hear from the researchers directly. It’s not all about the money.

What makes us happy? We analysed 200 years of written text to find the answer
What we found was remarkable. While gross domestic product (GDP) is often assumed to be associated with a rise in well-being, we found that its effect on well-being throughout history is marginal at best. GDP has increased fairly consistently over the last 200 years in the four countries that we looked at, but well-being has moved up and down dramatically over that time.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that well-being appears to be incredibly resilient to short-term negative events. Wars create dramatic valleys in well-being, but soon after the war well-being frequently recovers to its pre-war levels. Lasting changes to our measure of happiness occur slowly, over generations. …

Across countries, an extra year of life (in terms of longevity) is equivalent to a 4.3% rise in GDP. A year of internal conflict is equivalent to a 30% drop in GDP. Policies that seek to enhance longevity, for example through providing better access to healthcare throughout life, may therefore be better than policies that only attempt to increase GDP, which is increasingly being challenged as a measure of progress.

A new political matrix?

Everyone’s election campaigns are underway now, with the various parties keen to target those voters they think best placed to swing it in their favour. But who are these people these days?

The centre folds – What happened to Britain’s median voter?
Since Brexit sliced through traditional political alliances, politics has become less of a simple matter of left versus right. Parties hammering out manifestos and preparing leaflets for swing seats are thus grappling with “Schrödinger’s median voter”, argues Marcus Roberts, a pollster at YouGov: they are unsure whether this mythical figure is alive or dead.

a-new-political-matrix-1

If Brexit dominates the coming election, the median voter will be no more. When it comes to leaving the European Union, voters have polarised. There is little sign of compromise between the Remain and Leave camps. Fishing in the gap between these two pools of votes will land few votes, points out Chris Prosser of the University of Manchester. When elections are fought on economic issues, between left and right, political parties can pick a point in the middle and not go far wrong. By contrast, “identity politics do not have give and take,” says Geoffrey Evans of Oxford University. It is relatively easy to compromise on, say, the level of tax. It is harder to do so on notions such as sovereignty.

Here’s my simplistic take on this: we need the parties to pick a quadrant.

This is how it used to be; the left, the right, the centre.

a-new-political-matrix-2

Brexit isn’t a left or right thing, it’s in or out.

a-new-political-matrix-3

But because we have another general election, rather than another referendum, we have to think of the latter in terms of the former.

a-new-political-matrix-4

So where does that leave those of us who sit in the bottom-left quadrant?

Meanwhile.

Tom Watson quits as Labour deputy leader and stands down as MP to ‘start a different kind of life’
The two men clashed repeatedly at the top of the party, with Mr Watson becoming a focus for the ‘moderate’ opposite in the party to Mr Corbyn. He criticised the leadership’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party and led moves to push it into supporting a second referendum on the EU, despite the entrenched resistance of the leader. Most recently, he defied Mr Corbyn by calling for the party to back a new public vote before the country went to the polls in a general election.

The Twitter Presidency

Some people think Twitter’s latest announcement about banning political ads is one others should copy.

The Irish Times view on Twitter’s ad ban: over to you, Facebook
In an important announcement on Wednesday, Twitter chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey promised the platform would ban all political advertisements – including ads about political issues – by late November. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said. …

On Wednesday, Dorsey pointedly tweeted: “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.” He’s right. Facebook and others should follow Twitter’s example.

Here’s a different take on that, though.

Twitter’s political ad ban is disingenuous: The platform will continue spreading false political statements free of charge — and benefiting from it
In fact, I’d rather see a misleading statement by a politician clearly marked as an ad than endlessly replicated on my Twitter feed as organic content. It’s hard to disagree with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s contention that it makes more sense to increase political advertising transparency than to impose a complete ban on such paid content.

Of course, some “politicians” are getting their message out for free. Here’s a visually striking, in-depth article from The New York Times on how crazy Trump’s Twitter tantrums and tactics have become.

How Trump reshaped the Presidency in over 11,000 tweets
When Mr. Trump entered office, Twitter was a political tool that had helped get him elected and a digital howitzer that he relished firing. In the years since, he has fully integrated Twitter into the very fabric of his administration, reshaping the nature of the presidency and presidential power. …

“Boom. I press it,” Mr. Trump recalled months later at a White House conference attended by conservative social media personalities, “and, within two seconds, ‘We have breaking news.’”

twitter-presidency-1

twitter-presidency-2

Less elder-statesman, more oversugared-bullying-kid-in-sweet-shop. We’ll need to amend the dictionary definition of presidential, when all this is over.

There are other articles in this series, but I’m reluctant to subject myself to more of this craziness.

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

It’s not all bad news

I think I might not bother keeping up with current affairs for a while, it’s all too ridiculous. Basically, another prime minister, another deal, another vote.

How much of Johnson’s ‘great new deal’ is actually new?
As MPs prepare to vote on Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, Guardian analysis shows that less than 5% of the original deal has been renegotiated, despite it being rejected by parliament three times.

not-all-bad-news

Another lost vote.

‘House of fools’: how the papers covered Johnson’s latest Brexit defeat
Newspapers cast prime minister as either a fighter or a loser, with plenty of anger directed at Parliament, too.

not-all-bad-news-1

This current prime minister seems as prime ministerial as that president is presidential, i.e. not much.

Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
Rather than writing one letter to the European Union, Johnson has sent three – almost. The first is less of a letter: rather an unsigned photocopy of a portion of of the Benn Act. Rather than asking for an extension on behalf of Johnson, the text merely points out that the Benn Act requires the government to seek an extension. After this, it adds that “if the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. In what seems a fit of pique, and reinforcing his determination simultaneously to write and refuse to write to Brussels, the prime minister declined to actually sign the missive.

Remember all those flow charts trying to explain how we might leave, back in March and April? Back to the drawing board with all those.

Brexit: What happens now?
It’s not clear that the whole process will be completed by 31 October. The government will seek to pass a “programme motion” to limit the length of debates in the House of Commons. MPs could reject that, though, and the bill must also pass through the House of Lords.

not-all-bad-news-2

And it’s not just the British press that’s struggling with politics.

Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today
Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

not-all-bad-news-3

But what we need to remember is, if we step back from all this, it’s not all bad news. We just need to look in the right places.

Beautiful News
A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful.

We’ll be releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention beyond dramatic news headlines to the slow developments and quiet trends that go unseen, uncelebrated.

Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.

It’s the new initiative from David McCandless and his Information is Beautiful team. Here’s an example.

Everyone, everywhere is living longer
One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the increase in life expectancy. In 1960, the average life span was 52.6 years. Today it’s an impressive 72 years. The reasons are simple: improvements in child survival, expanded access to healthcare (including widespread vaccination), and people being lifted out of extreme, grinding poverty.

not-all-bad-news-4

And another.

More Afghan girls are being educated
Educating girls is probably the single most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. Women who spend longer in school have fewer, healthier and better-fed children, are less likely to die in childbirth, contribute more towards a country’s economy, participate more in politics, and are less likely to marry young or against their will.

not-all-bad-news-5

Just two of dozens of uplifting stories. I know which news website I’d rather read.

Update 22/10/2019

I should, of course, have added some links to Hans Rosling’s work after that.

Bill Gates on Factfulness
Bill Gates recently read Hans Rosling’s new book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” In it, Hans offers a new framework for how to think about the world.

And here’s Hans in his own words about the need for fact-based optimism.

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

its-rarely-black-and-white-1

We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

its-rarely-black-and-white-2

Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

devolving-politicians-2

Law disordered?

I loved the cropping of the photo The Guardian used for John Crace‘s write-up of the home secretary’s speech at the Conservative party conference yesterday.

Tories reveal themselves as party of lawlessness and disorder
“Today, here in Manchester, the Conservative party takes its rightful place as the Party of Law and Order in Britain once again,” she began. Er … run that past us again, Priti. Psycho Geoff on his way home to the Cotswolds in the back of a police car under armed guard. The prime minister has been accused of groping two women at the same time and channelling public funds to a woman with whom he had an affair. The government judged by the supreme court to have acted unlawfully over prorogation. The full-on search to find a way of getting round the Benn Act. Mark Francois committing crimes against his own sanity. Right now, it was harder to find someone in the Tory party without serious form.

These clowns are a joke.

A brief moment of clarity

In all the muddle and obfuscation swirling around the Brexit miasma, the judgment of the supreme court on the legality of Boris Johnson’s prorogation provided welcome evidence of intelligence and crystal-clear language.

From the full judgment:

JUDGMENT R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister  Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
55. Let us remind ourselves of the foundations of our constitution. We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies). The Government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons. It has no democratic legitimacy other than that. This means that it is accountable to the House of Commons – and indeed to the House of Lords – for its actions, remembering always that the actual task of governing is for the executive and not for Parliament or the courts. The first question, therefore, is whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account.

56. The answer is that of course it did.

Loving that ‘of course’.

61. It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.

And from the summary:

R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. … The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.