Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A University Challenge (For Nick And Chris)

Of course, amidst this week's flurry of blog posts (this is now my fourth day in a row, I'm not sure which of the seals I've opened, but it's definitely one of them!) I have unaccountably failed to explain the disappearance of certain information from my profile.

I can therefore confirm that I have resigned from LDYS Executive and LDYS Policy Committee. I'm not going to go into detail at this stage, mid-leadership election and all; suffice it to say, my resignation was on a point of principle relating to LDYS' future direction.

In that vein, I offer a challenge to our leadership contenders. The numbers are stark; there are 22 held or target seats in which the student vote alone could decide the seat. And yet, LDYS is the single most neglected part of our campaign arsenal, with the Federal Party taking notice only when it wants its picture taken in front of good things and when it wants bad things hushed up. My challenge, therefore, is this; tell us how you are going to ensure that LDYS is supported, not only by our words, but by our actions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Causal Relationship Will Be Between This Stick And Your Head

As a recovering scientist, one of my public policy bugbears is the flagrant misuse of statistics. What is worse is when that misuse comes from the academics themselves...

The Independent on Sunday reports the findings of a study in the journal Environmental Research claiming that the fall in violent crime in the US in the 1990's was the result of banning leaded petrol. Researchers report a "very strong association" over a period of fifty years between childhood exposure to lead and crime rates in adulthood. Similar trends are reported to have been seen in individual US cities and in other nations around the world.

This is by no means the first study to suggest a left-field cause for this particular drop in the crime rate, as at least one blog this week (though which one I've shamefully forgotten) pointed out when referring to The Impact Of Legalized Abortion On Crime, co-authored by Freakonomics' Steven Levitt.

Now let's face it, you don't have to be a recovering scientist to realise that the flaw in these studies is the failure to recognise that even the strongest correlation is not necessarily causal (although if you do need help with this concept, Wikipedia offers some delightful examples...)

What all this brings home to me, however, is the scale of the task we face as liberals on crime and the importance of making an impact. Pretty much everything Labour and the Conservatives (and, for that matter, the SNP and Plaid) say and do on crime is predicated on the idea that crime is perpetrated by bad people and that if there were only less bad people things would be all right.

That there are serious social scientists eager to support that assumption is of real concern. That there are serious politicians who would use those assumptions to ignore the deprivation that is the real cause of crime is just shameful.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Nick And Me (Michael Moore(s) Not Included)

I've just got back home from Nick Clegg's Welsh campaign launch in Swansea, and in between being impressed by his pronunciation of Cymru Fydd, I've really been reminded why I'm voting for Nick.

To explain, I first met Nick in December 2005 at a proto-Pizza And Politics event organised by Sheffield University Lib Dems. He'd drawn quite a crowd, with Brummies and Londoners joining those of us who'd crossed the
Pennines, and to kick off we went round the group describing our formative political experiences. As we went round, the story was pretty consistent; Iraq showed me I was a liberal, politics at college showed me I was a liberal, I always knew I was a liberal...

I got to go last, and of course I didn't consider myself a liberal; I was very clear that I was a centre-left progressive with a particular interest in electoral reform whose attraction to the party was the democrat part of the title. Never one to shy away from my politics, however, I openly and honestly declared where I was coming from.

I'd met MPs before, of course, but Nick was the first Orange Booker I'd encountered. I was therefore somewhat wary, expecting perhaps to be disappointed by a doctrinaire right-winger. And make no bones about it, Nick is an economic liberal with serious intellectual credentials.

But Nick did something that I'd never seen an economic liberal do before; he explained how his economics achieved his social goals. Where many saw economic liberalism as something we had to embrace because we were liberals and it was in the name, Nick put it to use.

For me, above everything, above all the intellectual arguments about liberalism, conservatism, authoritarianism, etc. this leadership election must be about communication. We have a body of policy and we know that it is massively superior to the drivel that Brown and Cameron will trot out in the next two years. What we must fight off now is the concept the electorate has of our policy, namely, "oh, but you'll never be in power so you don't have to worry about what you say, it's all just pipe dreams".

In reality, we have never had a stronger case against both parties, that years of their ideas have not worked and that our ideas, tried and tested around the world, can make a real difference. I have no doubt that Nick is the candidate best equipped to make that case and take us forward, and I would urge everyone to lend him their support.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What Happens On Facebook Stays On Facebook

Charlotte Gore raises an important point about Facebook's political categories and the debate going forward (although missing the reason why those categories are the way they are, namely that Facebook is American and wouldn't know a socialist if Bernie Sanders hit it with one.) Charlotte has perhaps also missed one of the wonders of Facebook, in that the numbers to inform the answer are but a mouse-click away...

For those who have missed it, Facebook's UK Politics application is essentially a mass opinion poll on the question, "who are you planning on voting for in the next General Election". It's been incredibly popular, and now has around 4500 responses logged. It may not be particularly accurate (it is, after all, self-selecting) but it does have the advantage that it can compare an individual's responses to all their other profile data.

Right now (18:55 as I type), the overall poll is as follows;
  • Conservative - 34.9%
  • Labour - 33.3%
  • Liberal Democrat - 18.6%
  • Green (UK Total) - 4.1%
  • Others - 9.1%
But then consider some of these breakdowns. For "Very Liberal";
  • Liberal Democrat - 44%
  • Labour - 38.8%
  • Green - 7.3%
For "Liberal";
  • Liberal Democrat - 50.3%
  • Labour - 37.5%
  • Conservative - 4.1%
Those two are perhaps less surprising, and neither is the fact that the Conservatives take over 90% of the "Conservative" and "Very Conservative" votes. The remaining categories are a touch more interesting. In "Libertarian";
  • Conservative - 56.3%
  • Liberal Democrat - 14.4%
  • Labour - 11.3%
In "Moderate";
  • Labour - 56.8%
  • Conservative - 24.8%
  • Liberal Democrat - 8%
And in "Other";
  • Labour - 54.7%
  • Conservative - 9.6%
  • Green - 8.3%
  • Respect - 6.6%
  • Liberal Democrat - 5.8%
To me, those numbers suggest two problems in addition to the one Charlotte correctly identified. Firstly, in the Facebook world at any rate, the Lib Dems and Conservatives know what they are and identify accordingly, while the Labourites still think they're socialists. Second, the libertarians clearly believe they must stand in the Tory camp at this stage (and I suspect they're correct in that analysis). The question is, can we attract these two groups, both of whom should be with us to a greater extent than they are, without pissing everyone else off?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If Newsnight Doesn't Understand, How Can Anyone Else?

So let me get this right; according to the combination of Newsnight and BBC Ten O'Clock News, Simon Hughes is the representative of the social democratic wing of the party, Nick Clegg is represents both the economic liberal wing and the right wing, and Steve Webb and Chris Huhne represent the left wing. If the telly was mine I'd be throwing things at it...

Whoever our new leader may be (and let me state plainly here and now, much as I associate myself more with Steve Webb, it has to be the Clegg) they really must tackle the fundamental mental block we now have as a party, namely an unwillingness to define ourselves on the left-right spectrum. Now I have all the Facebook political compass-type applications going and I understand all the reasons why two axes are superior, but I am left nevertheless with one simple conclusion;

"If no-one in the media is never going to give a rat's nether regions about two axes, we should stop blathering on about them!"

All the analysis now is going to be that we are suffering from being squeezed out of the centre ground. That is the terminology of the day, so it's that terminology we must challenge. The irony is, with "cozy consensus" we're halfway there, but cozy consensus doesn't work as a message if the perception that we're in the middle of it goes unchallenged. Failure to challenge it will just see us repeating history yet again.

Either way, I hope we will reflect on and appreciate the contribution that Ming has made to the party, even in his parting. It was a courageous decision, a decision that showed real commitment to the party and its ideals over individual power. The sooner he is back taking David/Ed/Glenn/Steve Miliband to task over the failings of New Labour's excuse for a foreign policy, the better.

PS A special award to blogger for having an outage just as I was about to post this last night...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Thank YouTube It's Friday

YouTube has finally come up with the goods and I can present my favourite video of all time (four versions thereof, no less!)

If the Public Information Film man didn't do it for you, surely Tomorrow's World's very own Maggie Philbin is authoritative enough?

And in the interests of balance, here are the news reports of the day's events, proof positive that some things never change...