Thursday, 1 December 2016

A void at the centre caused populism so a popular centre can oppose it

Hyperventilation can be a symptom of dying or of hysteria. The response of the mainstream commentariat and much of the political class to the alleged rise of populism (read nationalism, anti-political establishment and economic and diplomatic isolationism) is of the latter variety. Collective panic has nonetheless been strangely comforting for many, justifying emotional rather than rational responses, licensing patronising insults as righteousness, obscuring the truth and enabling the deferment of uncomfortable conversations with voters and the necessary policy-making response. The jury is out on whether it’s chicken or egg, whether great populist currents are sweeping the West or alternatively, populist politicians are opportunistically filling a void at the centre. It is more the latter and centrists must look in the mirror, take responsibility for our role and draw the conclusion that as populism grew because of a vacuum we created, it is within our power to rectify the situation.

The first step must be to debunk the received wisdom of Trumpxit that globalisation’s reliance on migration, free trade and economic specialisation has caused an indignant rage against the political and business elites which created and defend this orthodoxy. Sprinkle in social media’s ability to circumvent the filters of traditional journalism, add avowedly non-establishment leaders and “it’s the end of the world as we know it”. (As a side note, I’m not alone in regarding that classic R.E.M. 1987 hit as an anthem for 2016, with its line “Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped”). We’re told that politicians as diverse as Jeremy Corbyn and Podemos on the left and Trump, UKIP and Le Pen on the right are symptoms of the same trend. This is conventional unwisdom.

In actual elections, the populists have not swept the board. In the EU referendum, the results were 52% to 48%, which Nigel Farage himself said would have meant “unfinished business” had Remain won by that margin. UKIP only have one (former Tory) MP and even under full proportional representation would be nowhere near challenging for power. In the US, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote while Donald Trump won in the electoral college.

Electoral colleges share some of the blame in the UK too, where one enabled Ed Miliband to win the Labour leadership in 2010 despite his brother winning a majority among members and MPs. Were it not for the last-minute nominations of a handful of Labour MPs in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, a man who lacked the support of the vast majority of his parliamentary party, would not have become leader. Does this capture by the hard left of the once great Labour Party indicate relentless momentum towards a Socialist utopia? Quite the reverse: the polls suggest that Corbyn’s Labour will be trounced in a General Election, resulting in a large majority for the popular but non-populist Theresa May.

We should therefore not see Trump, Corbyn or Brexit as inevitable staging posts towards some brave new world. Instead we can see knife-edge moments on which the hinge of history has turned a little. Yet for moderate progressives, there should be no comfort in the thought that ‘victory’ was fleetingly close. These moments are the hinge but they did not open the door. Here I will take a leaf out of the playbook of the post-truth politicians and will speak from the heart, trust my gut and tell it like it is. It has largely been our fault in the centre-ground. In recent years, particularly on the centre-left, we have made mistakes, taken wrong turns, misdiagnosed problems, failed to either listen to vast swathes of voters or provide solutions to some of their main concerns and have not carried out a sufficiently heart-felt mea culpa which would quench voters’ legitimate misgivings and give us space to speak.

Beyond policy, there is the important issue of popularity. The centre-left has failed to ensure that sufficiently strong, popular and charismatic leaders reached the top positions. In the US post-Obama and in the UK post-Blair, the centre-left appeared to take electoral success for granted. It shouldn’t require a politics degree to understand that victory only came when the leadership possesses both outstanding communication skills and the right policy platform. Had Labour not snubbed the voters’ verdict by moving leftwards in 2010 and 2015, had the Democratic Party chosen a candidate who wasn’t so closely associated with the establishment and had there been more ‘big beasts’ advocating our membership of the EU for the last decade and a better campaign, things could have turned out differently.

These disappointments must not lead to defeatism but instead realism and optimism. Realism, because they show that political outcomes are not inevitable and are not the result of amorphous ‘waves’ of populism, or any other ‘ism’. Weakness at the centre is not the result of populism, it is the primary cause of it, because it feeds voters’ doubts that centrist politicians can improve their lot and makes the populists’ silky-toned, simplistic promise of panacea more attractive. Optimism, because even with the man-made disaster of the vacuum at the centre, moderates have not been defeated.


We have conceded much territory through our own inaction. With the right kind of action, the centre can win again. Despite the manifest problems facing the Labour Party under the control of the hard left and the unrepresentatively small number of Lib Dem MPs, there is a growing sense on the centre-left and even in parts of the Conservative Party, that muscular moderates must work together to rebuild a centre which is credible in the eyes of voters. It is early days yet, but a space must be created and links established where like-minded people within and outside parties can coalesce and organise. I’m confident that in the months and years ahead, this will happen. Let’s not forget that the second half of the title of the R.E.M. song is “and I feel fine”.

Monday, 28 November 2016

My Times letter on Sir John Major's 1992 victory

MOST POPULAR

Sir, Richard English says that Sir John Major “presided over the worst defeat of the Conservative government in the past half century” (letter, Nov 26). He is referring to 1997, of course, but omits to mention that in 1992 Sir John won the general election having secured more votes than any leader of a political party before or since.

John Slinger

Online here


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

My Times letter on Aaron Banks's proposal to "drain the swamp" in Parliamemt

Letter as edited by The Times:

Sir, While no one would disagree with Arron Banks that “lazy, ineffective or corrupt” MPs should have no place in our parliament, the danger of his aggressive rhetoric is that it fuels the public perception that many or most of our politicians share these attributes. They do not.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/arron-banks-plan-to-reform-the-commons-h7pc90fdn

Full text of letter sent:

Sir,

Aaron Banks says he wants to “drain the swamp” and "destroy the professional politician”. While no-one would disagree with him that “lazy, ineffective or corrupt” MPs should have no place in our Parliament, the danger of his aggressive rhetoric is that it fuels the public perception that many or most of our politicians share these attributes, when in fact they do not. 

There is nothing wrong with wealthy individuals such as Mr Banks bankrolling political parties such as UKIP and movements such as Leave.EU. Indeed I respect him for putting his money where his mouth is. However, our political parties are an important democratic mechanism through which hundreds of thousands of ordinary individuals, who do not have such financial clout, are able to influence politics and serve their communities and their country. 

Virtually all who join a political party, stand for election and serve as a representative of the people do so for honourable reasons. One such “professional politician” is Nigel Farage, who has been an MEP for 16 years. 

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

---

Mr Banks's original statement, to which I was responding http://leave.eu/en/news/0/tycoon-wants-to-smash-commons-political-careerists-and-drain-the-swamp

Friday, 11 November 2016

A song I wrote and recorded in 2002 called Going Mad.

https://m.soundcloud.com/john-slinger/going-mad

GOING MAD

DIY reality
Taken from a TV screen
Soma for society
Selling you impossible dreams
Everything is going so cheap

All the stars are faking it
And everybody's buying it
See them with their weasel grin
Statues of a state we're in now
Everybody's giving in now

'Cos the whole world's going mad
Useless and forgettable
God damn my latest fad
Pointless and predictable

Can you hear the drums of war
Beating up outside your door
Fighting in the neighbourhood 
Fighting in the whole of this world
Hasn't anybody here learnt?

'Cos the whole world's going mad...
...maybe you can save he world

Pointless and predictable...

'Cos the whole world's going mad
Useless and forgettable
And you're my latest fad 
Pointless and predictable
The whole world's going mad 
You give me my sanity 
The whole world's going mad
Take away my vanity
But the whole world's going mad
You give my sanity
The whole world's going mad
Take away my vanity

Give me spontaneity 
Give me creativity
Give me spontaneity
Give me creativity

(C) John Slinger
All rights reserved

Sunday, 6 November 2016

My transcript of interesting interview on BBC Radio 5 Live re social media analytics predicting Trump win

Here's my transcript of a 4 November BBC Radio 5 interview with Jean Pierre Kloppers, CEO of BrandsEye about their analysis of Twitter responses to the US election. His company apparently correctly predicted the Brexit vote and are now saying that Trump will win based on similar trends. It’s an interesting alternative perspective that moves beyond traditional polling. 

However, the jury is out on whether social media analytics tells us much of any importance within the context of an election.

I've highlighted the best bits below

——

My transcript from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b080x5sv 3h15m

Jean Pierre Kloppers, CEO of BrandsEye: “We’ve seen in the last week a remarkable shift in online sentiment towards Trump in all of the battle ground states. Two days ago, Hillary was still ahead in New Hampshire. Yesterday we saw even in New Hampshire on social media pushing past the 50% mark people talking positively and advocating Donald Trump.”

Interviewer: So just explain to us how these social media polls work?

JPK: OK so it’s not a poll per se. We look at all conversation from the US on social media. And the challenge with social media conversation as you’re well aware, is twofold. One is you get a view normally from the people you’re already connected with…you get the social media echo chamber effect and it’s hard to see through that. The challenges in seeing through it is accurately determining sentiment in social media is a nightmare, because people speak so sarcastically, with local nuance and use vernacular - it’s hard to understand that. That’s the challenge of it. 

So what we do is we take a representative sample of all of that conversation and can look state by state and week by week to accurately determine what are people actually saying. So if there are 60,000 people in Florida talking about the candidates, how do they feel about these candidates. And so it becomes, inadvertently, a poll when you look at it from that perspective. But it’s an unsolicited poll - people just sharing their own opinions of their own volition. So you get something that the polls often miss which is the energy and the volume and emotion that comes with the sentiment being expressed on social media.

And what happened last week with the whole [Clinton] email saga is it gave a lot of people licence to get back onto social media to support Trump. And we hadn’t seen that in weeks before that. Especially post the 2005 audio that was shared where he talked about touching women inappropriately. I think a lot of Trump supporters post-that were a bit ‘ok we can’t post our opinions’. And certainly on social media this last week, that has changed. 

In states like Pennsylvania over 90% of people speaking from Pennsylvania are supporting Trump on social media. 

Interviewer: So your poll shows that Trump’s ahead. You’ve been correct before on something else that was pretty big?!..

JPK: It was pretty big, you could say that. Yeah, we saw the same trend in Brexit the week before the referendum. What happened there was we didn’t know what to do with this data, because we saw. three days before. 58% of people from the UK on Twitter promoting the Leave camp. And we thought this was bizarre because it was not what all the other polls were saying. It was not what the media was saying. It seemed like the Remain camp had it in the bag. But that’s not how people in the UK, certainly in the outlying regions were feeling. And if that’s anything to go by this time, we’re seeing the same trend, just far more exaggerated in the US. 

Interviewer: So you were the only polling company to predict Brexit and now you’re saying that Trump’s ahead?

JPK: Yeah correct. And...social media, it’s not a poll, because you can’t have 90% of Pennsylvania voting Trump, you know that’s never going to happen. What we have seen is that it gives an indication of which way the surprise is going to go. And I think what we’re seeing in the US is, you know, the Nate Silvers (of http://fivethirtyeight.com) of the world are putting Hillary’s chances at 65% to 70% of winning the election. And what that can do is cause people to not come out and vote - certainly on the Democrat side. On the Republican side I think that what it’s doing is getting the people who wouldn’t ordinarily have voted, social media is now giving those people the sniff that ‘hey, maybe we can win if we get out and vote’. I think it’s certainly mobilising people who wouldn’t have entered the conversation before to get out there and both get involved in the conversation online and I also think it’s going to translate into more people than we expected getting out to vote for Trump. 

And the big question is, in that silent majority of people who aren’t speaking on social media, are they just going to stay home, or will the help of Obama, Bernie Sanders, the other kind of big names on the Democrat side who are out there campaigning for Hillary, will they be able to move those people to get out on Tuesday to go and vote? 

Rule of Five Tweets Edition 2: Salient points from Nigel Farage’s Andrew Marr Show interview & with Gina Miller

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082q91d

(1/5) Encouraging distrust of Supreme Crt “reach of EU into upper echelons of society..makes it quite diff for us to trust the judgments”

(2/5) Disparaging ‘movements’ despite UKIP being one: “What I see is a movt [to stay in Single Mkt] &..court case is just a part of it”

(3/5) On naming High Court judges “enemies of the people” (a tool for repression popularised under Stalin) – “I completely understand it”

(4/5) Implying referendums trump legal process: GMiller:“do u want country where we have no process”. NF:“we had it-it’s called a referendum”


(5/5) Harsh lang: urges Brexit ppl to “get even”&“peaceful protests”http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/get-even &to GMiller “what part of Leave don’t u understand”

Friday, 4 November 2016

Rule of Five (tweets) Edition One: Reasons why May may call an early general election (in May)

Periodically I'll try to summarise the five most salient points about an issue via five tweets.

My Twitter is here.

Yesterday I tweeted as follows below.

Note that points 1 and 5 have been verified by today's news that Conservative pro-Brexit MP Stephen Phillips has resigned, thereby forcing a by-election, in protest at his Government's Brexit strategy of trying to limit Parliament'a involvement.

***

5 reasons PM likely to call early election (1/5): to increase her majority which is perilously small at 12. All other reasons are connected

2/5 To give her clear democratic mandate (she's not been elected by party/the country) to govern as she wishes(ie different to Cam/Osborne)

3/5 To deal w/Article 50 High Court result by potentially getting HofCommons majority for Leave &maximising her strength in EU negotiations

4/5 To capitalise on Labour's unpopularity given the clear lead her party enjoys (which exists now but may not on 4 years' time)

5/5 to MINIMISE the risks: an early election is risky but the calculation must be that 2020 is even more risky as econ may be in trouble