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.

Activists defame UKIP at London train station


This leaflet was being handed out at London Bridge station this evening by a team of activists from Stand Up To UKIP. The tagline reads “UKIP is a racist far-right party that loves the rich”.

It’s content is clearly defamatory and it’s truth will no doubt be disputed.


Anti UKIP activist

Stand Up to UKIP describe themselves as “an umbrella organisation which believes women, trade unions, anti-
racists, black, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, other faith communities, LGBT, young people, students and all good people, must unite and stand up to UKIP”, a statement that cleverly fails to name who is within the umbrella.

One of the activists, pictured above, was believed to be carrying a copy of a socialist publication.

UKIP press officer Gowain Towler tweeted “truly bored by them, aggressive, angry people, whose ideology cannot be softened by logic or evidence”.

How I will be voting

The previous UK election was an EU election. It would have been inconsistent with my desire for a responsible media and a small state to vote other than against the media and against the EU. Let’s be clear about what a UKIP vote was at the previous election: it was a vote against the existence of a political institution that we do not need and do not want, so I voted UKIP.

The test for this Westminster election is very different. This is an election about how political force is wielded at Westminster and none of the parties, including UKIP, are standing are standing on the platform “not at all, thank you”.

Like Rocco (or at least ostensible Rocco, the man talks in code half the time) I believe it is important to vote. Politics operates in a dreamland, but a vote creates a new fact of reality that politicians will pay attention to. So how to vote in this election? What facts of political reality can be created that matter?

I take seriously the idea that voting legitimises the process of democracy and implies a sanction on the use of political force over the minority, but your absence from the ballot sends no message at all to your rulers. At best they will assume you do not care what they do to you. The task is, instead, to explain that you do care but you do not want them to do what they propose to do.

Absent a libertarian candidate and absent a “none of the above” option there are two options remaining: the lesser evil and a spoilt ballot. Unfortunately, as can be expected in a system in which the majority vote for the lesser evil, there is not an evil which is tolerable. There is not a mainstream party in the UK which will not actively pursue an agenda harmful to liberty. A party which offers to tinker a bit around the edges and basically change nothing would be something of value worth pursuing, but that is not on offer. All the parties are going somewhere and all of them in one wrong direction. They offer nothing more than the liberty to choose your favourite plastic teenager from the line up of a Simon Cowell pop-band, when what you want it is genuine punk-tinged English folk music with a beat boxing double bassist.

So, I implore you, get up off your arse on polling day, get into the booth and spoil your ballot in the most amusing manner possible. Send a message that you care, and what is on offer is not what you wanted.

TV Election Misery

Last night, the British public was treated to an amazing spectacle! This was a chance for the leaders of all of the parties to have a vigorous debate about their policies and engage with the Great British electorate. Well, kind of…or not at all. In reality, the ‘debate’ didn’t include much arguing over policy. By the time most of you have read this article there will inevitably be a whole range of opinion polls and surveys revealing who ‘won’ this debate but for now I will have to rely on my own judgement. In reality this was simply a platform for a handful of politicians to spell out their policies on various issues, apart from a rogue heckler towards the end, the whole thing looked extremely contrived, But I must admit that I wasn’t expecting anything else.

So far, the election campaign has been dismal. There has been much talk in the build up to GE2015 of how new forces in politics are going to really shake up the British political system. Yet so far the campaigns have been woefully predictable, both the Conservatives and Labour are championing the same issues they were in 2010. But surely a debate that includes the other parties will be more interesting? Sadly this isn’t the case. Arguably the thing that stood out most from last night’s debate was that each politician was clearly trying to appeal their own crowd and little beyond that. Seemingly there will be no one to mercifully break through Britain’s election dullness.

The first question was somewhat predictably about the economy. The striking thing about the first section of this discussion was how close to the Tories Ed Miliband looked. There was a pretty clear split between the parties that accepted austerity and those that didn’t; with Plaid Cymru, The Greens and the SNP backing the latter. It was noticeable how Ed Miliband spent the rest of this section desperately trying to join the other side to get away from David Cameron. Speaking of David Cameron, it has been noted by others that Cameron’s reason for agreeing to this discussion was that he stood a better chance of doing reasonably well in a room full of people as opposed to a one on one debate. Clearly there had been some strong words with the Conservative leader after his grilling by Jeremy Paxman; Dave seemed to be more comfortable than he did last week.

Next the panel was asked a question about the NHS. On this issue, there was a miserable consensus. From this point onwards it was clear that Nicola Sturgeon was going to be the most charismatic person on the panel and Natalie Bennett has so far avoided a meltdown so at least the discussion was bearable to watch. It was fitting that The SNP’s leader led the charge condemning the ‘privatisation’ of the NHS, the other parties followed suit. Essentially the leaders all took turns to accuse the panellists of not being committed enough to the health service. Despite there being an uncomfortable moment when Nigel Farage said that a foreign family that got HIV here in the UK would be simple ‘unfortunate;’ this section was relatively dull.

I will address the last two questions at the same time because they were essentially a continuation of the same discussion, more so that the first half of the debate.  The third question was about immigration and the last was about young people. Really these were just chances for the leaders to address their core vote, no one would be surprised that Nick Clegg sprung into life when tuition fees were brought up and immigration saw Nigel’s most animated moments. I would argue there David Cameron saw his worst instance here when he claimed that by voting for UKIP, people were electing ‘Labour by the backdoor’. I could feel the whole country groaning with me. It was also noticeable that Ed Miliband’s most reliable tactic is his ability to distance himself from New-Labour, I imagine he will continue to deploy this through the election campaign.

To conclude, it was clear by the end of the ‘Leaders Debate’ that Libertarian values will play no part in the upcoming election campaign. Throughout the discussion, there were no references to greater freedom and genuine prosperity at all. But on this issue, I am hardly surprised. I believe that David Cameron’s plan to participate in a little debate as possible during the race to Downing Street has worked remarkably well; I don’t think that his opinion ratings will have been damaged or radically boosted by this debate. As for the minor parties, I don’t think that they will have radically changed their electoral prospects. At the time of writing this article it looks like David Cameron and Ed Miliband have done equally well in Salford. The monotony of the upcoming electoral wrangling hasn’t been made any more thrilling.