Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Calling all single transferable vote junkies - you're gonna love this

One of the arguments for STV is that it gives voters more choice than many of the alternative voting systems. They can even choose between candidates of the same party.

Well, here's a case in point. The Australian state of Tasmania uses STV for electing its House of Assembly (equivalent to the House of Commons). The final count is now drawing to a close and in the seat of Lyons, a long-serving Labor MP, David Lllewellyn, has been unseated by Rebecca White, who also stood for Labor. It seems as if Ms White even campaigned against her fellow Labor candidates.

This is yet another reason why neither Labour nor the Conservatives will ever embrace STV with any enthusiasm.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Budget arguments show weaknesses in Labour, Tory narratives

As part of today's budget coverage in The Times, Peter Riddell gives a good description of how  Labour and Conservatives differ on the economy and the arguments they use.

I think he gets it about right - Labour's "safety first" vs. the Conservatives' "time for a change". 

"The differences are also about the role of government. Mr Darling is arguing for a benevolent and activist State helping people and businesses. For Mr Cameron, it is not just about cutting the State, but also changing it, “unleashing enterprise” and radical welfare and school reform."

But these statements are not, in themselves, political narratives.  They make assertions but do not recount events or changes.  They do not have characters, although Labour's view, as summarised by Riddell, makes a start.  The statements are not especially memorable.  They are not emotional.  Most importantly, we still don't know "what happens next" - how the stories end - because the major parties have told us next to nothing about how they will balance the budget over the course of the next parliament.  As Bill Clinton always says, elections are about the future, not the past.

This is surely why neither Labour nor the Conservatives have established a clear ascendancy as the best manager of the economy, the top concern of voters.  After 13 years in office, including the worst recession in generations, Labour does not seem kind or benevolent.  Gordon Brown's lack of popularity and failure to connect with voters does not help them. He does not embody the narrative that Labour wants. These counter-stories overwhelm Labour's attempts to get messages across. And voters are still not receiving clear, substantive messages from the Conservatives about what they would do if they win, the positive alternative they offer.  

The Liberal Democrats do better on the fiscal detail and their story has strong, plausible characters - the old parties who are both as bad as each other.  But warnings of  "wasted votes" are, as always, a powerful counter-story.  And the Lib Dems can't finish the story with a happy ending, so long as the politics of a hung parliament are so unpredictble and intractable.

It's going to be a fascinating campaign.



Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

If you're into the politics of hung parliaments and STV . . .

. . . then you might want to follow the aftermath of Saturday's election in the Australian state of Tasmania.

Final results won't be known until 1 April, but it seems that Labor -- the incumbent government -- will win 10 seats in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, the same number as the (centre-right) Liberals. The Greens appear to have taken five seats, giving them the "balance of power".

Labor previously had an overall majority but a 12 percent crash in their share of the vote has put an end to that. So far, the Liberals have won more votes than Labor. You can see the preliminary results here.

Labor leader David Bartlett refuses to concede defeat. He also says he won't do a deal with the Greens.

Liberal leader Will Hodgman says that if the two main parties end up deadlocked, he would expect to be given the opportunity to be premier. Soon after the numbers went up, Mr Hodgman indicated that he might have some Green MPs in his ministry. Now, Hodgman says that he wouldn't.

Hodgman is trying to get Bartlett to give an assurance that he won't try to govern with fewer seats and fewer votes than the Liberals.

For their part, Greens have promised not to block the budget, meaning that both Labor and the Liberals can, in theory, form a minority government and, presumably, negotiate each bill with the other parties. Their leader, Nick McKim says that he won't try to secure ministerial jobs for Green MPs. He has said that all three parties are now in the balance of power and that the people's mandare us for them all "to work constructively and cooperatively to deliver outcomes for Tasmania."

Meanwhile, a constitutional law expert has urged the state's governor to stay out of the melee and leave it up to the parliament to test out any deals the politicians make.

You can pick up the ABC's coverage here.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

How the Lib Dems can promote offshore wind energy

I welcome the Liberal Democrats’ call for action to deliver by 2020 a 40% reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions and to have at least 33 gigawatts of offshore wind energy.

The UK has about 1 GW of offshore wind capacity. So we need to explain in our manifesto how we’d get to 33 GW.

Nick Clegg’s pledge to invest in upgrading disused shipyards, so that off-shore wind turbines are made here is much needed.

There are three other steps we should take.

To sustain investor confidence, we should be ready to continue the temporary support to offshore wind under the Renewables Obligation.

To avoid the delays that have frustrated clean energy sources so much, we should put time limits on planning decisions for offshore wind projects.

And to unlock the commercial potential of offshore wind, we should back plans for a European super-grid which would allow more international energy trading -- and bring electricity prices down.

[This is a slightly expanded version of my one minute intervention in the debate on "Growth that Lasts: A Fair, Green and Sustainable Economy" at the Liberal Democrat spring conference, 14 March 2010]

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Obama's lost year and the secrets of political storytelling

The New Yorker of 15 March has a fascinating article by George Packer, called “Obama’s lost year”. Packer traverses the political and strategic mistakes that the president has made, the opportunities he has lost over the past twelve months. [Sorry – there’s no hyperlink to the full article unless you’re a paying subscriber]

Inevitably, one of the issues that Packer discusses is Obama’s failure to craft a narrative and tell the American people a story about what he is doing, and why he is doing it.

“Phrasemaking, throughlines, frameworks and narratives simply aren’t the stuff of the Obama press office.”

Packer draws some important contrasts between Obama and Ronald Reagan, another president who ran into big economic and political problems in his first year. In so doing, Packer shows us what makes a political narrative work.

“Reagan could recover from battlefield setbacks because he was fighting a larger war. His talent for phrasemaking and anecdote derived from having a strong world view: unlike Obama, he began with a set of ideas and found the evidence to match them and the words to dramatize them.”

The article goes on to quote the leading Democratic political consultant, Paul Begala:

“[Reagan’s] point of departure was always philosophical. He explained how the world works. Roosevelt did the same thing.” [emphasis added]

Reagan blamed the nation’s woes on “decades of tax and tax and spend and spend”.

Later in the article, top Democratic pollster Geff Garin develops the same point and shows the crucial role that characters – heroes and villains –play in political stories.

“Reagan had a kind of robust narrative with real explanatory power for people. He had a political narrative that told people what he was doing and what the Democrats were doing: a narrative which is available to Obama: Jimmy Carter left the country in a mass, we’re making changes that are painful now but if we stay the course they’ll succeed, and why would anyone want to go back?” [emphasis added]

Notice also how Reagan’s story offered two alternative endings, one good, one bad, and left people to work the rest out for themselves.

During the last presidential election campaign, I wrote a lot on my blog about Obama’s gifts as a teller of stories. In fact, I unpretentiously named him the political storyteller of the year for 2008. But Packer is correct: as president, he has not rendered the country’s story in a way that is memorable and convincing. To quote Paul Begala: “[Obama] doesn’t situate it in a philosophy.”

No, a political narrative is not the same thing as an ideology. But the experiences of Reagan and Obama show that a successful narrative must be based firmly on a coherent set of ideas.

As Packer puts it:

“To be an effective communicator, a President needs a strong world view, a fundamental vision of why things are and the way they ought to be, which can be simplified into a few key ideas and images – in short, an ideology. For Obama and his advisers, there is no worse pejorative.”

The narrative, the story is the most powerful tool that a politician has to explain those ideas, convey the images and make them real to people.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Thursday, 11 March 2010 » Blog Archive » Forget voting intention: What about the country’s “mood”?

Today, has reported on a study by researchers at Manchester University of the public's mood across a large number of issues.

This "macro-competence" measure is running heavily against Labour and is now about where it was in the party's locust years in the early 1980s. The researchers note that the Conservatives' "macro-competence" has been on the up since 2005, but not to the extent that Labour's has tracked downwards.

This may help to explain why current opinion polls suggest that a general election held now would result in a hung parliament.

But the Labour "macro-competence" chart also shows why talk of a hung parliament is a big risk for the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives will (and are) claim that by voting for the Lib Dems, people may end up with Gordon Brown as PM for five more years. ("The only way you can sure of getting a change . . . ")

So the Liberal Democrats' challenge for the general election campaign is two-fold: (a) to help keep the Conservatives' "macro-competence" score as low as possible; and (b) to present greater Lib Dem influence in parliament as an opportunity, and not a threat - a change that will be for the better. The party is more likely to be able to influence the second of these, but shouldn't give up on the first.

Yes, that's right. It's about telling a hung parliament story that has a happy ending.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

What voters think of Nick Clegg - an update

This week’s Times-Populus poll of Labour – Conservative marginal seats tells us a bit more about voters’ views of the three main party leaders, including Nick Clegg.

Nick is perceived as the most authentic of the party leaders. Asked whether each leader “generally says what he really thinks, not just what spin doctors tell him to say”, they gave Nick a spread of plus 25 per cent. For David Cameron the figure was plus 18 per cent. Both opposition party leaders were well ahead of Gordon Brown (plus 6 per cent).

The Populus result ties in with previous polls that gave Nick high marks for being honest and not just saying what people want to hear. Last week’s YouGov poll for The Sun found that he came top for being “honest” with a 23 per cent score, compared to 21 per cent for Brown and 20 per cent for Cameron.

The YouGov poll gave Nick the highest rating (21 per cent) for “being in touch with the concerns of ordinary people”. This is also consistent with previous surveys.

Voters may see Nick as the most sincere and empathetic leader, but they may not know what he stands for. When Populus put the proposition “I have a clear sense of what he really believes”, respondents gave him a spread of plus 14 per cent. That compared to plus 27 per cent for David Cameron and plus 15 per cent for Gordon Brown. And 26 per cent, more than three times the figures for the Labour and Tory leaders, replied “don’t know” when asked this question about Nick.

Now, here’s the real rub. Voters like Nick but they are still unsure about his leadership qualities. According to Populus, he had a spread of plus 49 per cent for being “nice, likeable”, the same figure as for David Cameron and much better than for Gordon Brown (plus 8 per cent). They see Nick as “strong and determined” (plus 40 per cent) but not as much as Cameron (plus 62 per cent) and Brown (plus 52 per cent). And people in the Populus survey were evenly split on whether “he has what it takes to be a leader”.

The YouGov survey told a similar story. Just 7 per cent of respondents saw Nick as “strong”. Brown came top on this one (!) with 26 per cent. And just 6 per cent saw Nick as “a natural leader”, compared to 22 per cent for Cameron.

Nick’s real challenge is a familiar one: a large chunk of voters still don’t know him. In the Populus poll, at least a quarter of those voting replied “don’t know” to the questions about him. (And 40 per cent did not know if he was a “family man”!) In the YouGov survey, 38 per cent did not know which of the listed qualities to associate with him. The general election campaign should resolve that, one way or the other.

Posted via web from Neil Stockley's posterous