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Brenda from Bristol

Although it is too early for a very detailed analysis of which groups voted which way in the UK election, here is a quick overview of my impressions of the campaign.

The election was called because the omens seemed favourable: the Conservatives were well ahead in the polls. Their cover story about the need for a strong hand in Brexit negotiations was plausible, but their timing was obviously opportunistic. In effect, a prediction about voting behaviour was taken as a chance to strike a blow against a weak enemy.

Once the election was announced, the polls continued to be favourable, and it looked like being the dullest election on record. As the weeks went on some cracks started to appear. The Conservative repetition of “strong and stable”, a necessary incantation in the ancient age of newspapers and television, became a joke in a multi-channel world used to getting varied messages and a continuing dramatic story. Their main character, the Headmistress in Blue, showed no character development. Meanwhile, the rival Grandpa in Red began to morph into a pop star. He loved the limelight, the debates and the chance to lap up applause. Campaigning in safe seats, he was pictured among large loving crowds, an impression that was widely shared and circulated in marginal seats. The Headmistress in Blue was less visible, and said little of note to enthuse people. She made a feeble anti-Corbyn joke about imagining him naked. He avoided personal attacks. Advantage Corbyn. He also changed his mind at the last moment and attended the main debate. The Prime Minister sent an under-study. Snooty.

Behind the scenes, it appears that the Conservatives went for a precisely targeted advertising campaign, while Labour spend their smaller sums more widely, and went for the sharing of a more varied, jokey stream of content. Crucially, they had apps to facilitate the young to register to vote, with an additional feature showing if they could swing more constituencies by voting at home or in their university constituency. Crafty. It probably won them many marginal constituencies.

Almost as an afterthought, the parties released their manifestos, which are normally not read by anyone other than the research departments of rival parties. The Conservative manifesto was a responsible company report about cost cutting; the Labour manifesto a cheerful list of spending on healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition, the extra cash to come from taxes on corporations and high earners. In the battle of counter-claims the Conservatives came off worse, having to reverse their policy on the funding of old age care. Damaging on two grounds: they were cast as being nasty, and also in disarray.

The British electorate, for centuries accustomed to free beer during elections, drank Labour. Young voters drunk most deeply. Accustomed to primary and secondary education being paid by others, it seemed logical to them that the third stage should also be free. More deeply, they were offered protection in an uncertain world, where home ownership seemed unattainable. Hope is a powerful drug, and the Conservatives peddled little of it. A Conservative MP who failed to be re-elected named the causes as “lots of complacency and a terrible manifesto”.

For once, some pollsters got it right, and there was far less herd behaviour among them than last time. The Conservative vote stayed roughly the same, the Labour vote rose progressively. Pollsters who assumed that young voters would turn out to vote predicted the outcome more successfully. Labour managed the social media campaign better, with a more communitarian movement of “likes” and “shares” of varied political jokes than did the Conservatives, who went for more traditional ads which did not gain as much personal traction. A friend repeating a joke is more powerful than yet another annoying ad which interrupts a personal conversation.

So, for anyone interested in the prediction of human behaviour, there is much to learn. The political wisdom had always been that: the polls taken before the election were the best indicators of the outcome; that the campaign and the debates did not matter much; that elections were won before they were announced; that terrorist attacks favoured the Conservatives who stood for law and order, that the old voted, the young were more likely to stay in bed; that slogans needed to be repeated endlessly; and that attacking the competence of the other side was always a good strategy.

All these nostrums have been proved wrong in this instance. Labour built its share of the vote by the nature of its campaign, and the British always love an under-dog. Attacking Corbyn’s past did not resonate with an electorate facing uncertain personal futures and mostly too young to remember the IRA bombing campaign. The economy was barely mentioned, so it was not “the economy, stupid” other than the oblique sense of “personal calculations of future job prospects and home owning” which of course depends on a flourishing economy, but these considerations did not favour the Conservatives, as they usually do. The Conservatives, wanting to show they could deliver, failed to over-promise. The United Kingdom Independence Party vote did not go back exclusively to the Tories, but many Labour voters who had voted Leave to stop immigration (most of which had resulted from the previous Labour government) went back to Labour, once they too said they had cooled on immigration. The young disproportionately voted Labour either because A) they were ignorant of history, and were bribed or B) the older generation had cheated them and they wanted just recompense.

One nostrum proved to be correct. Wiser political operators have noted that the electorate always needs to be bribed, and the skill lies in doing it adroitly, without it being too obvious. Excusing student debt (at the cost of £11.2 billion) may not seem to be a bribe, but it worked. The Conservatives failed to bribe anyone very much, not even farmers, traditional allies who would have liked reassurance that Brexit would not mean an end to farming subsidies.

After Brexit, Remainers said disparagingly of Brexiteers that “they had voted to return to 1954”, the year before mass immigration began. Looking at the Labour manifesto, it could be said that their supporters “voted to return to 1945” the year of Labour victory and mass nationalisation. In my view both these intended historical insults miss the point. The only real argument against policies which have been tried before is that they have been shown to have failed. If the electorate want less immigration, or nationalisation of industries, they can vote for it now. Evaluating whether those policies worked in the past would be sensible, because there is much to criticize in both policies, but the past is another country, particularly for the young.

As you will know from my previous posts, I am tired of journalists claiming after elections that “the country is split”. Elections reveal existing differences, which is what they must do as part of the electoral process. People have different opinions, and are swayed by different arguments. The detailed results have yet to come out. Typically, Steve Sailer already has good data from post-election opinion polls, but we await true exit poll results. Meanwhile, the percentage intending to vote Labour next time has gone up.

The very last constituency to declare its results, after three recounts, was a battle between two women Councillors, one Labour, one the sitting Conservative MP, both known to me. As a Councillor, the Conservative had helped me with a local development issues; the minority Labour councillor did what she could to support me in another campaign on behalf of residents. Different perspectives, but both involved with, and attentive to, the needs of residents. Against prediction, the established Conservative MP lost by 20 votes. As it should be, politics is a rough business, and as a (Liberal) former Deputy Prime Minister observed when he was defeated after a 12 year parliamentary career: “if you live by the sword you die by the sword”. They may get a second chance soon.

Another nostrum was proved correct, though it was ignored by the Prime Minister’s advisers. Avoid calling elections unless you really have to. Politics is not that much of a popular pastime in Britain. The British do not like the sight of adults arguing in public, particularly in summer, when one is on the lookout for a few moments of good weather in which to have a picnic with the family. This wisdom about not bothering people with politics was enunciated by Brenda from Bristol:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-39631693/views-from-bristol-after-snap-election-announcement

To the dismay of this redoubtable lady, and probably to most of the electorate, we will probably be getting more elections before 2022.

Oh no, not another one!

 
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  1. Attacking Corbyn’s past did not resonate with an electorate facing uncertain personal futures and mostly too young to remember the IRA bombing campaign.

    The Docklands and Manchester bombings were only in 1996. I guess to be too young to remember the Irish terrorism that preceded modern muslim terrorism in Britain, you’d have to have been perhaps under 16 then (I’m talking about ordinary folk here, not the kind who go on to be political obsessives) – born after 1980, so 37 or under today. I’d guess that’s probably in the region of a third of the population, but a much smaller fraction of the electorate.

    Probably when you wrote that you were thinking just of the younger demographic who voted Labour in disproportionately large numbers.

    Meanwhile, the percentage intending to vote Labour next time has gone up.

    This seems pretty likely. I think the degree to which turn-taking influences British politics can easily be underestimated.

    Blair won in 1997 because people were sick of the Conservatives who had been in office for 18 years and were pretty much corrupted and degraded to worthlessness by then. That disgust kept him and his successor in office, despite some dramatically low levels of actual support, for 13 years until 2010. In that period, it really didn’t matter what any Conservative or Labour politician said or what policies they adopted – most people weren’t going to vote Conservative regardless.

    Then disgust with the Blairites led to the “Conservatives” (again, despite little actual enthusiasm for them) getting back into office, initially with the help of the LibDems.

    Now the “Conservatives” have been in office for 7 years and the tide is running the other way.

    It’s Labour’s turn in government, if not now then next time. The actual issues are of limited relevance when that tide is running high – a lot of people decide their position on the issues according to which party backs what, rather than the converse, in any event.

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  2. Agree that Buggin’s turn may be a large part of the answer. Perhaps all governments are elected on promises and dismissed on realities.

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    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
    Utu at #3 seems to presume there is Deep State like behaviour in British politics which I believe is almost as obviously rubbish as it would be for Australia unless one considers the influence of big Conservative donors (all the more influential for there being no Deep State equivalent in the UK) who obviously can make their views heard by the PM. Do you not think it likely that some (who at least regarded her as a known evil) would have encouraged her to seek a bigger majority while the polls suggested she would succeed genuinely to strengthen her in handling both MPs and the EU on Brexit negotiations? Could any of them have believed she might lose? Could any of them have actually wanted a Labor government?

    (I take it that you would agree that there is no UK Deep State equivalent which, on the Turkish analogy, involves tight corps of military and especially intelligence and national police officers who can coordinate leaks, blackmail, disinformation etc. comfortable in the knowledge that they are largely brothers standing together).
  3. The election was called because the omens seemed favourable: the Conservatives were well ahead in the polls. Their cover story about the need for a strong hand in Brexit negotiations was plausible

    My first reaction to the news that new election was called by Mrs. May was surprise and suspicion. They had absolute majority and they still had circa 2 years to govern which was enough to push the Brexit through. Is it possible that the plausible cover was just a cover and the true intent was to lose the election to soften and water down the Brexit which financial elites and interest do not really want.

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    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
    No. That's tinfoil hat brigade stuff. May was just opportunistically seeking to crush the Labor Party when the polls and Corbyn's behaviour suggested she could. It's also illogical unless you also think that May was acting out a well plotted way to turn a 20 point lead into disaster that she and her advisers could thought they could rely on.
  4. @utu
    The election was called because the omens seemed favourable: the Conservatives were well ahead in the polls. Their cover story about the need for a strong hand in Brexit negotiations was plausible

    My first reaction to the news that new election was called by Mrs. May was surprise and suspicion. They had absolute majority and they still had circa 2 years to govern which was enough to push the Brexit through. Is it possible that the plausible cover was just a cover and the true intent was to lose the election to soften and water down the Brexit which financial elites and interest do not really want.

    No. That’s tinfoil hat brigade stuff. May was just opportunistically seeking to crush the Labor Party when the polls and Corbyn’s behaviour suggested she could. It’s also illogical unless you also think that May was acting out a well plotted way to turn a 20 point lead into disaster that she and her advisers could thought they could rely on.

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  5. The bit about the app advising students where to vote intrigued me. First they would have had to register or re-register to take advantage of the advice. How many days from the calling of the election would they have had to do that? And how easy would it have been?

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    • Replies: @James Thompson
    Apparently this had been set up some time ago, as part of a general Labour party push for new members, in which they have been very successful.
  6. @James Thompson
    Agree that Buggin's turn may be a large part of the answer. Perhaps all governments are elected on promises and dismissed on realities.

    Utu at #3 seems to presume there is Deep State like behaviour in British politics which I believe is almost as obviously rubbish as it would be for Australia unless one considers the influence of big Conservative donors (all the more influential for there being no Deep State equivalent in the UK) who obviously can make their views heard by the PM. Do you not think it likely that some (who at least regarded her as a known evil) would have encouraged her to seek a bigger majority while the polls suggested she would succeed genuinely to strengthen her in handling both MPs and the EU on Brexit negotiations? Could any of them have believed she might lose? Could any of them have actually wanted a Labor government?

    (I take it that you would agree that there is no UK Deep State equivalent which, on the Turkish analogy, involves tight corps of military and especially intelligence and national police officers who can coordinate leaks, blackmail, disinformation etc. comfortable in the knowledge that they are largely brothers standing together).

    Read More
  7. @Wizard of Oz
    The bit about the app advising students where to vote intrigued me. First they would have had to register or re-register to take advantage of the advice. How many days from the calling of the election would they have had to do that? And how easy would it have been?

    Apparently this had been set up some time ago, as part of a general Labour party push for new members, in which they have been very successful.

    Read More
  8. i called it from the states. first she called for the election, then pushed the dementia act etc. and talked pee cee after the attacks. and wanted to punish internet complainers. the lead evaporated. she is taking orders from the rothschilds and was trying to throw the election to end brexit.

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    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
    I think the theory that May deliberately threw the election ascribes a degree of competence to her and her close advisers which she had never previously demonstrated. Certainly all the Remainers (Blair, Cameron, Clarke, Major) are coming out of the woodwork, but they would, wouldn't they?

    "terrorist attacks favoured the Conservatives who stood for law and order"

    Corbyn could point to 20,000 fewer police officers (May's decisions) and the squeeze on both police and prison funding (Ken Clarke's decisions) since 2010. I said at the time we'd pay a price, but assumed it would be in increased crime, not terrorism.
  9. @empty13
    i called it from the states. first she called for the election, then pushed the dementia act etc. and talked pee cee after the attacks. and wanted to punish internet complainers. the lead evaporated. she is taking orders from the rothschilds and was trying to throw the election to end brexit.

    I think the theory that May deliberately threw the election ascribes a degree of competence to her and her close advisers which she had never previously demonstrated. Certainly all the Remainers (Blair, Cameron, Clarke, Major) are coming out of the woodwork, but they would, wouldn’t they?

    “terrorist attacks favoured the Conservatives who stood for law and order”

    Corbyn could point to 20,000 fewer police officers (May’s decisions) and the squeeze on both police and prison funding (Ken Clarke’s decisions) since 2010. I said at the time we’d pay a price, but assumed it would be in increased crime, not terrorism.

    Read More
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