Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Rejecting The Premise Of Saint Jude

So you may be asking yourself, what is Gareth Aubrey, that smart, sassy young political operative doing spending a month trying to unseat the First Minister of Wales (you may very well not be, but it’s a good West Wing paraphrase and I never look a gift one of those in the mouth) But, taking Leo’s advice not to accept the premise of the question, why shouldn’t I be doing so? I mean, let’s list three reasons why Rhodri Morgan might be considered favourite to win in Cardiff West;


  • He’s First Minister
  • His majority’s quite big
  • Erm…
  • Ah…
  • That’s it…

My abiding memory of the election night coverage in 2005 is of Anthony King, on being told that we had won Manchester Withington, saying that the result was a mistake, followed by bugger all mention of it by anyone the rest of the way, certainly compared with the song-and-dance made of results like Leeds North-West. But at least with Professor King, one can at least be comforted in the thought that he goes away, does years of painstaking analysis and eventually comes to understand how things came to occur as they did.


The problem is that reality is defined not by the academics but by the journalists, and in their world only two things can identify an election race as interesting; a squeaky bum-time majority or an incumbent who molests domestic animals. On those occasions where a seat changes hands in other circumstances (for example, in a student-rich constituency with predominantly Lib Dem councillors where hospitals have been closed and major infrastructure programmes postponed), the result is chalked up to some fluke process and the carnival moves on.


I mention all this for two reasons. One is to remind all those young activists who are starting out on their Lib Dem careers this year that journalists are, in electoral punditry terms, rank amateurs. Have faith in the people around you, they are the ones with actual information. They will tend to pessimism, it is true, but that pessimism will be borne out of realism rather than ignorance.


The other is to remind all those young (and indeed old) journalists that fluke results don’t happen; when you overturn majorities of 5,000+, there is always a reason why. The choice you have is simple; rely on the primary school maths and look stupid, or know your stuff and be the cleverest pundit on the planet. And never forget, probability dictates that one day the supposedly shock result will be in the constituency you live in, and how dumb are you going to look if you don’t know what’s happening outside your front door?


2 comments:

Blamerbell said...

"On those occasions where a seat changes hands in other circumstances (for example, in a student-rich constituency with predominantly Lib Dem councillors where hospitals have been closed and major infrastructure programmes postponed), the result is chalked up to some fluke process and the carnival moves on."

Not so. I can tell you that a keen eye is being kept on constituencies with student populations.

"I mention all this for two reasons. One is to remind all those young activists who are starting out on their Lib Dem careers this year that journalists are, in electoral punditry terms, rank amateurs. Have faith in the people around you, they are the ones with actual information. They will tend to pessimism, it is true, but that pessimism will be borne out of realism rather than ignorance."

Yes, because they aren't partisan at all. Just this week I've spoken to each one of the candidates in a supposed 'squeaky bum marginal'. They are all convinced that the 'feeling on the ground' is pointing to a resurgence in their vote. Of course, we should just believe them all.

Auberius said...

I'll give you a certain leeway on the student bit, but that element wasn't the point of the piece; my issue is with the extent to which the punditry only reflects the majority and big local issues and doesn't consider the actual activity going on in the constituencies. There's a difference between safe seats where nothing's happening and safe seats where a great deal is, and I think a number of those get neglected in both Westminster and Butetown.

On your other point, if you found a candidate who was willing to tell a journalist that things were awful on the ground and everyone hates them, I'd give them their well-deserved hiding myself; my point was to young Lib Dem activists, who should trust their campaign workers (who I tend to find are distinctly pessimistic) who will know what's going on.