Friday, 9 June 2017

Whistling in the dark

I remember 1992.

Everyone expected Labour to win and kick out Major. I sat and watched it with a friend from school. I was very Left wing, and in 1992 almost everyone my age (even Etonians) wanted the Tories out.

By 2am, it was clear that Labour was not winning. I took out a tiny, tiny speck of dope that I had left over and ate it in a feeble attempt to get high. Then we went to bed.

Anyway. I need to find some positives in this situation:
  • We will get rid of May, who has shown zero talent and zero charisma. 
  • Corbyn probably will not form a government.
  • If he does, it will be a weak one, and as he has shown zero talent for organization and management – as opposed to his huge talent for campaigning and speechmaking, for which, full respect – it will probably lead to swift disillusionment for the kids who are now out celebrating.
  • The Lib Dems might be able to demand a referendum on PR, and the mood of the country is such that it might vote yes this time.
  • A lot of young people have been enthused by politics. I'm not sure this is a particularly good thing, but at least they will be enjoying themselves.
  • Ruth Davidson has done really well in Scotland. (I've often thought that it would be quite funny, and really wind up the Left, if the Conservative party could have the first Jewish, the first female, the first gay and the first black Prime Ministers.)
  • The SNP are one step further from breaking up my country.
I will try to think about the negatives in the morning. At the moment it is just too grim. Oh, one more:
  • There were some excellent dogs at the polling station where I was a teller.

Why did Corbyn do so well? A little bit of political economy

Let's assume the exit poll is about true, and that Jeremy Corbyn has done even better than the polls thought – and he was already pulling far ahead of what people, including me, expected.

There are lots of things to say about this: failures in polling (again); Theresa May's incompetent campaign and feeble personality; Jeremy Corbyn's quality as a campaigner; the role of the internet.

I think one dog that very importantly did not bark is the Labour manifesto. Remember, Jeremy Corbyn is a passionately ideological Leftwinger. But the manifesto was in many ways rather moderate. It did not, for example, aim to spend much more than the Conservatives. It did not set out to reverse many Conservative welfare cuts.

A classic model in political science explains why parties move to the centre. Suppose the two parties are concerned only to win the elections. They will each promise a platform right in the middle of the electorate, at the famous "median voter" - the person in the middle, who has half the electorate to the left of her and half the electorate to the right. Why? Because if one candidate moves to the left of this person, then (at least!) everyone on the right votes for the other candidate, who wins a 50% majority. And if one candidate moves to the right, then everyone on the left votes for the other candidate who again wins.

Here's an ASCII art picture. It shows a line representing political preferences from Left to Right. The voters are at x. The median voter is marked with a *, with two voters on her left and two on her right. Voters vote for the party that is closest to them. Both parties will propose a platform at *. Any party that moved left or right would get three voters preferring the other candidate.


A natural response to this is "oh, but politicians are idealists! Or at least, Jeremy is. Jeremy cares about policy, not just getting elected." Well, stop swooning over Jeremy for a second, and suppose that is true. Suppose you are Jeremy Corbyn and deeply want policy to be as left wing as possible. You will still move to the centre. For, if you do not, and lose, then you will get the policies implemented by your right wing opponent.

This seems to be what has happened. Corbyn moderated his manifesto. That made Labour palatable to voters who would never have tolerated Corbyn's own ideal policies.

In a sense, you could say that despite appearances, the ghost of Blair still haunts the Labour party. Even with Corbyn as leader, they are forced to go along with a lot of the consensus of the past forty years.

(Thank God! ... But this is a post about the "horse race", not the outcome.)

The original model of the median voter is the "Downsian" model, made famous by Anthony Downs' An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957); but actually first suggested by Hotelling (1929) "Stability in competition". The point about "idealistic" politicians was first made, I think, by Donald Wittman (1929) "Candidates with policy preferences: A dynamic model" – sorry no ungated version.

Monday, 5 June 2017

How I will vote

I will not be voting for Labour this Thursday. Here is why:
  • The Labour manifesto promises to nationalize the railways. Our rail service in the UK is far from perfect, but for me at least, it provides a reasonable way to get around. I remember the days of British Rail, with no affection whatsoever. There were fewer trains than now. Connections were slower. Trains were dirty, and so were stations. You could not hear station announcements. Staff were unhelpful. Railway and train food was a byword for badness. Not surprisingly, passenger numbers on UK railways steadily declined. After privatization, they immediately started to increase again. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Please, let’s not. 

Rail passenger numbers under nationalization and privatization. Can you spot the difference? Graph by Absolutelypuremilk and Tompw, via Wikimedia. Data from ATOC.

  • Labour also wants to abolish university tuition fees. The tertiary education sector is one of the UK’s success stories. It attracts students from all over the world, whose fees help to subsidize our own. Continental systems, which are mostly fee-free, do not. There is a generous system of student loans available, so students from poor families, who feel that they will benefit from a university education, need not be afraid that they cannot afford it. Indeed, the introduction of higher fees in 2010 did not reduce rates of participation, which are extremely high, and also has not affected participation by poorer students, which went up by 42% between 2005-2014. Higher fees have made students demanding, and have encouraged universities to provide courses that they want. There are bad aspects to this, but overall I think it is a good thing. In terms of self-interest, higher fees help to pay my salary. Lastly, students end up wealthier than non-students, so abolishing fees means either reducing funding for education, or shifting the cost from richer to poorer people. Abolishing tuition fees is a bad idea.
  • Immigration to the UK is historically at high levels. I think it should be less, for reasons I won’t detail here, but which, for the avoidance of doubt, do not include being a hate-filled racist. Neither party has a clear plan for making immigration less, but at least the Conservatives have a clear goal of doing so. They are the less bad alternative.
  • Let’s not fanny about: Jeremy Corbyn has a clear history of sympathizing with terrorists. He had contacts with the IRA. He shared a platform with people wanted for murder. He attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Paris grave of a Palestinian terrorist involved in the Munich hostage-taking and murder of 11 Jews. His claims to have been doing this for peace are disingenuous: Jeremy Corbyn, the backbench Labour MP, could have no influence on bringing peace to the Middle East, and not much on Ireland. It is much more likely that he saw these groups, who espoused hard Left ideologies, as political allies. This, on its own, is an excellent reason for him never to be Prime Minister.
So, I am going to vote Conservative on Thursday, not with vast enthusiasm, but because the alternative is worse. If you agree with me, thank you for reading this message; if you disagree, thank you still more. And whichever way you are going to vote, do vote!