May Loses Again

Well that was brutal, even more than expected: the Government lost by 230 votes. We’ll see if there’s confidence in this government very soon.

There might be! Or rather, as with the leadership challenge, Parliament might have little stomach for any alternative. It’s not clear that a general election would sort anything and the real chance for a Corbyn Government is toxic for most Tories.

Putting aside my feelings about Corbyn (he sucks), this is clearly a case where having a more radical leader is blocking things. If almost any other non corbynite MP were leader, it would be much easier to peel off Tories for a GE. If Corbyn were remotely competent, I think we’d have more of a chance.

It’s very unclear how to u break UK (or US) politics.

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Not a Disaster

Given the fundamentals, this midterm was a triumph for the Democrats.

It wasn’t my preferred triumph. My preferred triumph included the Senate or at least not losing ground in the Senate and in spite of some damn fine performances (cf O’Rourke) we didn’t do that.

Republicans have insulated themselves from the majority and continued to avoid total defeat in spite of their evil policies and grotesque ineptitude at governance. This isn’t good.

On the other hand, the ACA was and remains a genuine triumph that continues to do good. So improvement is still possible.

But it grieves me that so many fellow citizens vote in support of fascism, authoritarians, and grotesquerie of all sorts.

We Voted

Zoe had some adventures since she was in town so had to cancel her absentee. Voting is made far too difficult in the US.

This is the fourth major election since we became dual citizens. Two were god awful (Brexit and Trump). The UK General was not the horror show I feared but didn’t solve anything.

It’d be great to wake up to a Democratic Senate as well as House but I’ll settle for a Democratic House.

Here’s to hoping for better times.

Voting Matters!

As I recover from hand surgery, here’s another blast from the Monkeyfist Past. Alas, PA got rid of the big mechanicals.

My taste for irony sometimes finds a bit of unexpected sweetness in bitter experience or a dash of salt in singularly bland events. So it was today as I voted for the first time in Maryland in our pathetic midterm elections. I could discern no Greens on my ballot, so I voted mechanically for Democrats and those with female looking names. I don’t think my vote made any difference, much less a difference I even marginally care about. [Ed note: current me grew up and is very happy voting straight Democrat.]

It’s not clear that I even got that smidgin of personal satisfaction stemming from my childhood training in “civil virtue” — Yay, I’m a good citizen! I’m part of the process! The founders did not fight and die in vain! — On the other hand, while I don’t think I would have felt guilt at failing that taught duty, I probably would have felt odd at not feeling guilt. I guess I feel a gray satisfaction in acting in conformance with my old internalized standards, even if the motive forces have shifted. This is part of aging, I suspect; I will try to look forward to the next erosion of character.

One thing that used to perk me up for voting was playing with the voting machines. In Pennsylvania, we had voting machines as nature intended: big, hulking, industrial slabs of iron with big, heavy mechanical levers and an institutional green curtain wrapping around round like a hospital privacy screen. These things were big enough — as anyone who’s fairly adventurous or who’s seen Pecker knows — to have sex in. When you voted in one of these booths you knew you were in the rust belt and that US democracy was part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution.

In North Carolina I used little forms and felt pens: somewhat like the SAT, except with no ability to erase and no chance of a decent grade. We voters would fill out our ballots at little fold-out stands with mini-drapes — stands clearly meant to be folded up and stacked in the back of a station wagon or SUV. The ballots then got fed into a cooler-sized box which would slurp and flash a red LCD tally of slurps. I don’t know if scanning occured in these boxes, and I really didn’t care. Even more than the general character of North Carolina politics, this procedure made voting a bit hard to take seriously.

So now I live in Maryland, working in a Semantic Web research lab. As befits my post-industrial, information-age work, Maryland has touch-screen, computer-based voting machines. Though they, like North Carolina, have the little fold up stands; you’d think that the proximity to DC would inspire people to be a bit inspiring, what with all the monuments. The ‘puter-based machines did perk me up a little, as I still have a few habits left from my techno-toy influenced youth. The machines ran ugly Windows apps but seemed otherwise reasonable until the very last screen. It presented a scrolling window with an overview of my selection, a big blue button on the left for revisiting my choices, and a big green button smack dab underneath the down arrow on the scroll bar reading “CAST BALLOT”.

To add to the moment, there was a faint, pastel, small line of text along the top, which said something like “Be careful when scrolling down not to accidentally cast your ballot”.

Windows programming in embedded systems must be even harder than I thought if they couldn’t have switched the buttons or simply moved the button to the center of the screen where there was plenty of space, or put a confirmation screen between the review screen and the act of casting your ballot.

Americans Land in Plymouth

Dave Brockington breaks his long LGM drought with the first post of a series about the successful city council campaign he ran over the past 9 months. Poli sci prof as campaign manager! Ivory tower my ass!

Zoe and I met Dave in person during the last week of the campaign. We joined the Labour Party this year but haven’t really gotten involved. Yet!

An Electoral Cause for Jubilation

Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion. We might see legislation permitting this basic human right by the end of the year.

So many women’s lives will be improved or saved! It’s making me jump for joy. And it was a society wide endorsement of women’s rights: ~60+% for repeal on 64% turnout (which is huge for Ireland).

The anticipated legislation isn’t perfect—12 weeks on demand with a 3 day cooling off period—but not remotely terrible. I was surprised that in the UK you need two doctors to approve (which is insulting and absurd!) but on demand goes to 24 weeks.

If abortion is funded and readily available during that initial period, these limits are probably ok (as long as health of woman and fetus are legit reasons afterwards). A big thing that pushes women into later abortions is lack of availability. Earlier is easier and medically preferred as well.

All and all, a tremendous victory that put a spring in my step. Good job, Ireland!

Quick GE2017 Lessons

Some thoughts on larger lessons to be drawn from the surprise result of the UK 2017 general election.

Brexit

Brexit is, thankfully, at risk. Hard Brexit is probably off the table and the difference between most soft Brexit’s and staying in is that we’re worse off. A Norway style deal means most of the obligations (including budget contributions) but no say.

But hard Brexit is worse than all these. The best deal for the UK (indeed, a wildly unfair deal) would be to stay on the old terms. This is unlikely.

Was it a Brexit election? Did the Remainers fail to get their revenge? The LibDems campaigned on a second referendum and lost! vote share (while gaining a few seats). Does this mean Remain is dead?

We can’t quite use the LidDem failure to say Remain is dead. I’m a hard core Remainer and I voted Labour. I may still vote against Corbyn in a leadership election on Remain grounds. I’d guess that most Remainers are not single issue and a lot of Remainers are anti-Conservative/hope to avoid hard Brexit types. Clegg probably lost in spite of his excellent Remoaning, not because of it.

Furthermore, LibDems are a third party. In a two party consolidation election they are likely to do poorly. And this is roughly what we see from the Ashcroft post election survey. Consider the party shift graph:

q2-party-by-2015-vote

What’s striking is that both Labour and the Conservatives held onto around 80% of their 2015 voters. There wasn’t a lot of coming home of 2015-Conservative-voting 2010-Labour voters. UKIP collapsed mostly into the Conservatives (but they feel more like a generally spent party). LibDems held on to only 50% with a contingent hitting Labour. SNP had main party level retention, but few gains.

Compare with the party split of Referendum voters:

q2-vote-by-eu-result

Labour is the party of Remain while the Conservatives are the party of Leave. But in neither case was it dominant. It seems that Labour is underperforming (compared to the Conservatives) for Remain voters who seem to defect to the LibDems (seems!).

The depressing chart is the “feeling toward Brexit” (enthused, accepting, resistent):q6-brexit-enthusiast-1024x923

The “all” line is the problem…only 28% are resistant. The Conservatives are definitely the party of Brexit, but Labour has a mixed bag.

Events may change things, but non-Brexit is a long shot given these results.

Bernie woulda won

I don’t go so far as Scott in saying that all “x woulda won arguments are useless”. Counterfactual reasoning is tough and the more divergent the counterfactual from the real would the weaker the possible evidentiary constraints. Analogical evidence from across different elections and election systems is also weak. Combine them and you are in speculation land.

Many of these arguments (pro and con) that I’ve seen are facile: “Corbyn did better than expected so Bernie would have done better than expected and won”. “Corbyn lost so Bernie woulda lost”. None of these are great. Trump was a much better campaginer than May. Republicans were structurally favored (a bit) whereas I think the Conservatives were structurally disadvantaged.

The interesting analogical argument (and I don’t have a source ready to hand, so perhaps I’m making it up) would be of the following form:

  1. Corbyn started from a ≈20 point hole.
  2. Corbyn ran a Bernie style campaign with a Bernie style manifesto and youth enthusiasm.
  3. Corbyn made up a big chunk of that 20 point hole.
  4. So Bernie would have seen a similar gain and won a landslide.

Of course, the problem, in general, is that in polarised two party systems, each marginal gain gets more difficult and acceleratingly so as you get to the rough party parity mark (50% in the US, 40-45% in the UK). Roughly, making up large amounts of ground from a low mark can be much easier than gaining a lead from near parity.

People looking at Bernie’s approval numbers (compared to, say, Clinton’s) might take as a cautionary note how May’s absurdly (we now know) approval numbers didn’t save her. One lesson is that approval (or disapproval) may be more tricky and less sticky than we thought.

My modest conclusion remains: Being Bernie/Corbyn left on policy, rhetoric, and perception just isn’t electoral poison in either the US or the UK and we should stop thinking that it is. Trump made lefty (if lying) noises! It doesn’t mean that left policy alone means victory…as we have direct evidence thereof. It just means that arguments about policy shouldn’t be dominated by a “if left, then unelectable”.