UKIP useful, LibDems not so much

After leaving the election all-nighter at 11 I was struggling to pick up, from fragments of news, what the sentiment was that lead to the unexpected Tory victory. Was is the sleeping lion of English nationalism rising against the SNP? Was it the thought of a left-wing coalition’s profligate spending?



This BBC chart clarifies one thing: the Tories are not especially more popular. The LibDems have been thrown down the electoral trash chute and UKIP have been taken seriously. People expected to get something from voting UKIP. What, then, will be the ideological direction of that party?

LATER: Outgoing leader Nigel Farage offers a clue:

“It’s going to change Ukip quite radically – it’s going to become a more radical campaigning party for political reform and social reform.

I can see Ukip becoming a very young and active political force. There will be disappointment but as far as the Ukip story’s concerned, we’re beginning a different chapter.”


Liberty’s Locales

To accompany Jordan Lee’s fascinating findings on potential libertarian battlegrounds, I thought I would bring you this nicely sharable summary of the best and worst places to try your hand as a libertarian. Constituencies have been ranked based on the basis of the “Euclidean distance” between the constituency and a theoretically perfect libertarian profile giving equal weight to YouGov’s size of state and libertarianism metrics.

It is a shame that there are not credible libertarian parties but hopefully sharing our experiments with demographic data will help ensure there are credible voting options in 2020. Do share widely.


How have spoilt ballots been interpreted before?

After stating my intent to spoil the ballot I got push back from various anarchists. Some said my amusing message would not be read, this is obviously true and not the point – the point is to change the election statistics. Others stated that an elevated spoiled vote count would be interpreted as a desire to do something, and and make the situation worse, something which I conceded may happen, but which is not new or unique to spoiling the vote (as compared to staying away, or voting for a comedy candidate).

Perhaps I conceded too much. Here is a quote from a story on the Guardian about high numbers of spoiled votes. Note that a clear message is taken away from the dry statistic.

Unusually high rates of spoilt ballot papers have been recorded in the police and crime commissioner elections amid suggestions that there has been a co-ordinated online campaign to protest at the poll taking place.

The Conservative candidate Angus Macpherson became the first police commissioner in Wiltshire on a turnout of just 15.3% – of which 3.3% (2,682) were invalid.

The elections expert Prof John Curtice told the Radio 4 Today programme that while the two-vote system tended to result in more invalid votes than the first-past-the-post system, the level of spoilt votes in Wiltshire “raised eyebrows” about whether some voters were deliberately spoiling their ballot papers to indicate their dissatisfaction with the process of electing PCCs.

The 2010 general election, fought under first past the post, saw 0.3% of the total votes cast rejected. In the 2012 London mayoral election – fought under the supplementary vote system used in the PCC elections – there were 1.8% rejected ballot papers.

Curtice said of the Wiltshire result: “It raises the question whether some people didn’t simply fail to cast a vote because they were confused by the system, but maybe some people amongst that minuscule 15.8% who turned out went to the polling station and said: ‘Hang on, let’s spoil that ballot paper to declare we don’t think the whole thing is a terribly good idea.’ “

Part of the evidence for this being the message was that the election was to a new post of Police Commissioner, and partly because an online campaign had been making suggestions along these lines. One of those things cannot be replicated, the other clearly can.

One more thing: here is the Electoral Commision on rejected (spoiled) ballots:

The proportion of ballots that are rejected at the official count continues to be very small. In 2010 it was less than three in every thousand votes cast.

One in 3,000 is 0.3%, or in a constituency like mine about 150 votes. How hard would it be to run a campaign seeking to bring out 150 extra voters to spoil their ballots? That would mean you would have doubled the average number of spoilt ballots. This is a dramatically lower level than that required to win a poll.

Smarties, fat tails and British politics

Does anyone you know passionately support any of the contenders in the UK general election? My own anecdotal impression is that there are strong views about who people don’t like and that the preferred candidate or party is only as a result of hating the other choices more.

As to the policies, there is tinkering around which part of the electorate is being bribed by each party, but no dramatic contrasts in views or opinions. On the economy no one challenges the neo Keynesian monetarist orthodoxy that explicitly believes state intervention can help the economy. On health the orthodoxy of free at the point of use NHS is uncontested. On politicians themselves they all present the same variation of cloned leaders to chose from, educated at the school of career politics.

All in all it’s like choosing between different coloured Smarties.

So in what circumstances will the political menu change? I have recently been delving into the works of the economist Nassim Taleb, writer of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. In this interview on the podcast EconTalk he expands on one of his favourite topics, that of the ‘fat tail risk’ or the events that, although at the extreme of the probability distribution, are more likely than widely supposed from observation of past events, and that have a much higher ‘risk of ruin’ than widely considered.

When applied to our current debt ponzi scheme one can question what the political landscape would be if the current rosy low inflation, rising GDP, economy implodes. From history it can be seen that economic collapse and hardship leads to polarisation of politics. In such confusion it is understandable that the populace blame free markets and capitalism when they find themselves in poverty due to the collapse of finance and banking. Extreme socialism, nationalism and fascism have been the historical outcomes of such disasters.

So for those who hold liberty dear, and believe in markets as a force for good, perhaps we can never compete as just another colour of Smarties. Perhaps some of our energies should be in preparing for when the Black Swan events occurs and we need to demonstrate to others the benefits of individual choices and interactions in markets. For as history and Nassim Taleb teach us, if we spin the roulette wheel enough times, we should not be surprised when zero comes up.