Monday, 22 September 2014

A few thoughts on the NZ Election

I'm going to try and write this objectively, even though I'm openly leftist and saddened by this weekend's NZ election result. These are just my thoughts and they're not scientific or anything.

For outsiders: National, the right-wing government, has won a 3rd election running and increased its share of votes and MPs. It's not only surprising to increase support after 2 terms, but they now have enough MPs to govern without making a coalition with other parties - rare for NZ's proportional MMP system.

Labour and the Green Party are the main losers, who failed to capitalise on National's failings and actually lost MPs.

Internet-Mana, the socialist-progressive party, lost its only MP the firebrand Hone Harawira, after Labour - its closest ally - defeated him with the support of the right-wing parties. Baffling.

Many of my friends are shocked, depressed, stunned, angry and physically upset. We have seen the destruction of the environment and the brutal victimisation of the poor, and it looks like this will continue.

But the shock is not valid. Myself and my friends - mainly left, green, progressive, and Wellington-centric - have clearly wrapped ourselves in a cocoon, now easier than ever in social media. None of us had any idea what was actually going on across NZ as a whole.

We assumed National's evils and failings were obvious, and assumed that after 2 terms there would be a weakening of the government - at the very least.

The dirty politics scandal and Kim Dotcom's "moment of truth" had the potential to change or even destroy the government. Certainly for us on the left, and those who care about politics in general, they both proved National's corrupt and immoral approach to governing.

But its clear the majority of New Zealanders DID see both of these as a distraction - if not a "circus" and a "hijack" of the election.

While this is ironic to me in some ways - National did not seem to actually campaign on any policies to be distracted from - all these events did was exaggerate the difference between the left and the mainstream.

People are also talking about non-voters, with approx 1 million eligible Kiwis not voting.

Engagement is obviously an issue for the whole country, but it is the left who are complaining the most, because most non-voters are young and young voters mostly vote left.

A government report on non-voters in the 2008 and 2011 elections puts the 18-24yr non-voting rate at 39% and 42% respectively - vastly higher than rates for older people. It is unlikely to be lower for 2014.

It seems clear to me the primary issue - in a complicated and bizarre election - is Labour's inability to convince and invigorate young people.

Labour are the primary opposition party - without them hitting 45 MPs, there simply is no left government.

The Green Party would love to become the primary opposition party but anyone would be deluded for thinking this major change is likely or even possible within the next 15 years.

I have written before about how the Labo(u)r parties are performing abysmally in UK, NZ and Aus all together. The mainstream left in all 3 countries is a shambles and the socialist left is fragmented, ineffectual and tiny.

Something is wrong when young, leftist, cosmopolitan Wellington Central votes for Grant Robertson (Labour) as its MP but votes for National as the governing party.

Again, it is up to the Labour Party to get their shit together and provide a confident, dynamic and convincing option as the next government. Because it is not enough to just wait for the National government to simply fall over, and at times it has felt like Labour's campaign strategy was exactly that.

Anyway I just wanted to write all this down, even just for my benefit.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scottish Independence, Lord Ashcroft Polls, BBC, and a mockery of numbers and graphs

Edit 21/09: The Guardian is now taking Lord Ashcroft's awful poll seriously with an infographic here. Appalling.

I've seen this graph a couple of times already. It annoyed me, because the age brackets are the same width, when they shouldn't be.
Pictures below innit

Just like when the BBC "Scotland Decides" results page gave constituencies the same widths, even when they had massively different numbers of voters.

Why not show the green and pink as the actual number of votes.
Seeing as it's a referendum and not an election.
They I went to the data source, and I got really annoyed...

The data comes from Lord Ashcroft Polls. Lord Ashcroft is a Conservative Party lord and openly employed by and linked to the Tories, who makes giant profits offshore and has been in trouble with the courts for dodgy financial dealings.

They polled 2047 people via landline phones and the internet - not mobiles.

And here are the numbers they asked in each age range:
16-17: 14
18-24: 84
25-34: 263
35-44: 384
45-54: 415
55-64: 399
65+: 488

Not only are these very different sample sizes. The 16-24 sample sizes aren't even big enough to justify a conclusion.

So there you go. This graph is drawn badly and based on insufficient data collected poorly by a biased source.

What a bunch of bollocks.

Why not show an age bracket of 2 years as 20% of age brackets of 10 years.
Just saying. Just saying.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scotland Referendum: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Is this really happening?

The political establishment is horrified Scotland might actually say "Yes". I'm not horrified - I'm on the fence, and it's not my vote anyway - but I am baffled and surprised.

There's one reason we're here at this point. It's a bad reason too, whatever the outcome:

Simple majority. 51%.

That's all the Yes vote needs for the UK to start making Scotland an independent country.

Believe me, I'm on the fence - not totally neutral but I definitely see both sides.
  • There's no imminent need for Scotland to become independent. No-one's dying because Scotland's in the UK. Scots are proud of their country and their differences, but the "need" for independence has been driven by a vocal minority.
  • On the other hand, I sympathise with most independence movements across the world. These are regions campaigning and often fighting for recognition of their own identity and control of their own affairs. Why shouldn't Scotland have a vote on independence? And if the Scots want it, why shouldn't they get it?
My only problem is the simple majority: 51%. This isn't very high, and certainly isn't high enough on huge issues like independence.

I try and see all views and I don't want to be called a patronising colonialist, but I will put it out there that my view is this: 51% is not high enough.

Let's talk a realistic scenario:
  • Popular issue = high turnout = maybe 75% turnout
  • Divisive issue, no clear winners = maybe 52% Yes vote
  • YES win - Independent Scotland
  • 75% of 52% = 39% of eligible voters
52% would be considered a decisive victory by the YES campaign, and it certainly shouldn't be underestimated how far they've come in the last 18 months.

But just like all elected UK governments, it would have been voted for by a minority - not a majority.

A standard threshold for important matters around the world is a 2/3 majority. The USA for example requires a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress (and presidential support) to change the US constitution. This is partly why it's had so few changes in 200+ years.

YES campaigners however would indeed call me a patronising colonialist for saying the bar isn't high enough. They would point back to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, where a requirement for 40% of total eligible voters was added. The "yes" votes won, but only with 32% of all possible voters - therefore Scotland did not get its own parliament.

It had to wait another 20 years - 18yrs of 4 Tory governments, including all 12yrs of Thatcher - before it did.

So you can appreciate Scottish nationalists are glad that this time, there is no stupid requirement. Scotland would never have a chance of independence because it would be so intensely difficult to hit 40% of all voters and/or 67% of the votes cast.

And I do feel I understand it. Take for instance the British monarchy.

I'm no fan of the monarchy, and I think former British colonies like Canada and Australia have even less reason to keep the British monarch as head of state.

But the closest Australia has ever come was the "republic" referendum in 1999, where "yes" lost with 45.13%. To get 67% would have been impossible, and would be impossible today - and would probably stay impossible long after the British monarchy has declined into (further) irrelevance.

Maybe big changes conducted by referendum simply require a lower threshold - if they are ever going to happen - than big changes decided in parliaments, because politicians are employed to vote and normal people aren't.

But there's a huge difference between a big change decided by a 51% majority, and keeping the status quo with 51% majority.

The monarchy are not eating babies (last I heard anyway). Obviously I think Australia should ditch the monarchy and elect an Australian as its own head of state - but it would not be right to make that change on a tiny majority.

Similarly, the English are not eating Scottish babies. It's not the 1700s any more. Even if Scotland becoming independent from the UK was the "right" decision - and that's not clear politically, socially or economically - it's not right for it to happen on a 51% majority.

It's also plain bizarre that the UK government ever allowed it to go ahead like this.

Maybe the Conservatives were arrogant enough to think it would never happen. They've certainly showed themselves arrogant in every other way since 2010.

And to be fair, the Better Together campaign has been the most rubbish political train crash you could imagine. The Better Together campaign has, weirdly enough, probably convinced more Scots to vote yes than the actual YES campaign. While Eddie Izzard calmly made a friendly, human case for the UK staying united, #PatronisingBTLady was telling people "It's too early to be discussing politics, eat your cereal".

ANYWAY. It doesn't matter what I think.

What is likely? What's going to go down?

Here's my loose prediction, for what it's worth...
  • YES campaign gathering momentum, NO campaign flailing without clues or answers
  • YES wins by slim majority, 51-55%
  • Turnout high but not decisive, 75-85%
  • Independence is GO - but negotiations are key and devil is in the detail
  • Slim victory means a partial, weak, and slow independence process
  • Bitter Tory government does everything possible to slow down and corrupt the process (because they know they will get hammered at the general election)
  • Most overarching things will be kept - monarchy 30+ years, British pound 10+ years, military/foreign policy 5+ years, etc.
  • YES vote means Conservatives get pounded in May 2015 general election (all UK, not just Scotland)
  • Incoming Labour government commits to process (maybe LibLab?), but...
  • Always potential for process to be aborted, challenged or dropped. Events, dear boy, events!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I am a series of numbers. I am a free man.

Patrick McGoohan famously said in The Prisoner, "I am not a number! I'm a free man!"

It was the catchphrase and motto of the whole TV series, born in counter-culture 60s: the struggle of the individual against the oppression of government, bureaucracy, and man-made systems which treat humans as units rather than people.

But I've realised, the opposite is true for my life today. Numbers give me freedom. They are a symbol of my freedom and agency.

In the TV show, McGoohan is "Number 6" in the mysterious Village he can never escape from. We never learn his name - an excellent plot device which deepens the mystery - but he is insistent on his humanity, and repeatedly says he is not just a number.

While I would absolutely agree with the defiant statement on civil liberties, this blog post is more literally about numbers, and about travel.

I've been lucky enough to live abroad for nearly 6 years now. There are particular things that helped me do this - things like being British, being a native English-speaker, earning and borrowing money.

But what really shines through are the numbers.

In a modern, technological society where we use systems to pay for things and book things and process the services we need, numbers are essential.

I am my flight number and my departure gate number and my seat number.

I am my passport number and the barcode on my boarding pass.

I am my Australian Tax Office number and my NZ Inland Revenue Department number and my UK Student Loans Company Customer Reference Number.

I am my visa numbers and my visa application numbers.

I am my Facebook URL and my Twitter username.

I am my UK phone number and my NZ phone number and my Australian phone number.

I am currency exchange rates.

I am my bank account numbers and my PayPal passwords and my debit card number.

I am time zones and international phone codes and my Skype username at silly times of the night.

I am measurement conversions between metric and imperial.

I am all of these things.

This isn't a political statement in favour of bureaucracy. The story of the 20th century is one of mechanisation; millions continue to suffer in very real ways through the heartlessness of systems which do not account for the circumstances of individuals, which put barriers between people and other people.

But I am not afraid of numbers, nor the endless bureaucracy that feeds on them.

We all use and need numbers and codes in our daily lives - paying rent, texting friends, setting up accounts. But for me they are a symbol of my transitory life, and they enable it. Numbers are my bat belt.

I am a series of numbers, and luckily, gratefully, I am a free man.