The politics edition, pre-election special

18768260_1466003540131241_6262486182608639194_o In the politics edition I made some amazingly prescient comments that now appear somewhat dated. Not quite definitively wrong4 - next week will seal that - but before the election itself it will be fun to write down what I think to see how it stacks up against what happens.

Less than two months ago I said What will happen? Labour will do badly, obviously and I don't see anyone disagreeing with that, then. Now we have the Torygraph saying stuff like Labour continue to narrow the gap on the Conservatives, with the General Election's latest polls and odds showing that Theresa May may not actually win many more seats and so on, and suddenly it isn't very funny any more (I'm all for the Tories not doing well, but I'm aghast that my fellow countryfolk are mad enough to support Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Shameless bribery of the electorate is back, it seems).

What has led to this odd turnabout? Any number of things I suppose; partly the aforementioned shameless bribery (the Labour manifesto was widely decried1 as the manifesto of a party that didn't expect to have to implement it so was happy to promise everyone everything) but mostly the Tories being a shambles. Theresa May looks every day more and more like some dull pol who accidentally fell into the top job after shamelessly throwing her convictions away, but who can't handle it.

Here's a picture of some polls, taken from the Economist but I warn you, if you feel too cheered up by that, try clicking on the "just show how the old will vote" button and them remember that more of them do than the idiot young.


Speaking of TE, I notice that they endorse the LibDems for this election, and their summary of why is The leaders of both main parties have turned away from a decades-old vision of an open, liberal country.

Nice pic. Let's quote some of their stuff: Mr Corbyn poses as a radical but is the most conservative—and the most dangerous—candidate of the lot. He wants to take the railways, water and postal service back into public ownership. He would resurrect collective pay-bargaining and raise the minimum wage to the point where 60% of young workers’ salaries are set by the state. His tax plan takes aim at high earners and firms, who would behave in ways his costings ignore. University would be free, as it was until the 1990s—a vast subsidy for the middle class and a blow to the poor. Yup.

But what about the Tories? The Tories would be much better than Labour. But they, too, would raise the drawbridge. Mrs May plans to leave the EU’s single market... she insists on cutting net migration by nearly two-thirds... she will not meet the target without starving the economy of the skills it needs to prosper—something she ought to know, having missed it for six years as home secretary. Her illiberal instincts go beyond her suspicion of globally footloose “citizens of nowhere”. Like Mr Corbyn she proposes new rights for workers, without considering that it would make firms less likely to hire them in the first place. She wants to make it harder for foreign companies to buy British ones. Her woolly “industrial strategy” seems to involve picking favoured industries and firms... She has even adopted Labour’s “Marxist” policy of energy-price caps... She wanted the election campaign to establish her as a “strong and stable” prime minister. It has done the opposite... the centrepiece of her manifesto, a plan to make the elderly pay more for social care, was reversed after just four days... It does not bode well for the Brexit talks. A campaign meant to cement her authority feels like one in which she has been found out. So, she's rubbish, but less rubbish that Corbyn. Yup.

And the LibDems? It is a dismal choice for this newspaper, which sees little evidence of our classical, free-market liberal values in either of the main parties... No party passes with flying colours. But the closest is the Liberal Democrats... They are more honest than the Tories about the need to raise taxes for public services; and more sensible than Labour, spreading the burden rather than leaning only on high-earners. Unlike Labour they would reverse the Tories’ most regressive welfare cuts. They are on the right side of other issues: for devolution of power from London, reform of the voting system and the House of Lords, and regulation of markets for drugs and sex. Yup.

If I was in the Cambridge ward, I'd vote LibDem3. But I'm in South Cambs, which is inevitably Tory, so I'll probably vote Green instead.


Our dear PM is probably regretting calling the election now. I rather regret that she so casually threw away the 5-year-fixed-term-parliaments act. It was weak, true, but had it been allowed to bed in it might have become a tradition, and stronger. Now it is gone.


The most likely result is a Tory victory with a (perhaps marginally) increased majority. But that would be dull, so why not speculate? A possible result is a hung parliament with - if my fellow electorate are not too foolish - the possibility of a Tory-LibDem coalition having a majority. Of course the obvious objection to that is that the LibDems got badly burned last time, why would they wish to try again? And the obvious answer would be that they'd have to be given something they really want. Which could be, some variant on a second referendum on Brexit2. Done baldly it might not work but more subtly as "a referendum on a deal, in good time to patch things up if there is no deal" might do it. Of course some Tories and all the Kippers would go apeshit, so it would be worth it just to see that, but it might make it rather hard to stitch together.


1. By the cognoscenti, of course. The hoi polloi don't seem to have been given the sekrit decoder ring.

2. If I believe the Graun, the LibDems have ruled that out. If they have, they're idiots. Fortunately there is enough ambiguity in the quotes words to give them wiggle room.

3. So after some reflection and whilst trying to find out if 2 is true or not, I decided to bung them some money.

4. I do rather regret my Which is all fairly believable and will definitely Do... perhaps she is just as much of an opportunist as Boris, but more competent; probably that question doesn’t matter. As time has passed I think it has become obvious that her ability to make vaguely convincing speeches is combined with an inability to make sensible decisions or even to think clearly; I wouldn't call her competent now, not even by comparison with Boris.


* JA isn't happy


More like this

In the pre-election special I said1: The most likely result is a Tory victory with a (perhaps marginally) increased majority. But that would be dull, so why not speculate? A possible result is a hung parliament with – if my fellow electorate are not too foolish – the possibility of a Tory-LibDem…
I find myself unable to resist the calls to comment on the surprise calling of an UK election. But while here I'll comment on Trump, too. Theresa May seeks snap election to take UK through Brexit Says everyone, including the FT, which adds things like The pound rose on expectations that Mrs May…
Post-referendum thoughts, and indeed Say no to Brexit refer. But so do Timmy's NO, DON'T LET MPS HAVE A VOTE ON BREXIT (Timmy is very shouty, as you'd expect) and The Brexit Conundrum - Freedom Of Movement Means Only Hard, Or Clean, Brexit Is Possible (so perhaps it is the ASI that is shouty. Well…
[Update: or, you might prefer Man who just got elected ‘definitely unelectable’; or Jeremy Corbyn now abandoned by everyone apart from ‘voters’] [Uupdate: Jeremy Corbyn on the Beach : Why a Man who Just Got Elected is Unelectable] So says NewsThump; and I need something to distract people from the…

Why hasn't UKIP tapped native Mancusian Mark Steyn to run against May and Corbyn?

The fierce anti-Islamist went to the same grammar school as Enoch Powell, and can count on his Heartland Conference pal Piers Corbyn to draw votes away from his Laborite brother.

Please, if you want to be really cool and "with it", write thus:


1. By the cognoscenti, of course. Hoi polloi don’t seem to have been given the sekrit decoder ring.

By Mentifex (Arth… (not verified) on 01 Jun 2017 #permalink

The absolute worst result would be a narrow Conservative victory, propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP are hard Brexit, with morals from the 50s.

The best? Large gains for civic parties in Northern Ireland, with the opportunity to support a Lab-Lib Coalition.

[One of the successes of recent years has been to reduce NI to "uninteresting". Let us hope it continues that way -W]

Hung Parliament? Declare national emergency, Dunkirk spirit, standing alone etc & trigger a cross party coalition? Boris Johnson for PM - he just wrote a book about Churchill so the obvious candidate. What jobs for Corbyn? Farron? May? Endless fun. :)

As an American, I was very surprised that May called for an election when she had a parliamentary majority. Elections are very unpredictable. For instance, even though Reagan beat Carter in a landslide, polls several weeks before the election showed Carter winning by 8 points. See… Of course, there is also the recent surprise Trump win. Will be interesting to see what happens in the British Election.


So, ah, would you say Russia is 'ibertarian nowadays?

"Sergey Karaganov, the director of Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy ... The problem, he said, was that in 1991, "we introduced capitalism without the rule of law."

If not, why not?

[Because of that you've already said: the absence of rule of law. There's a bizarre belief amongst the left that Libertarian is lawless, which is odd, because it is the most strictly law-obliged. In particular, property rights are their foundation; and property rights in Russia depend on the whim of Putin (for anything large enough to come to his attention; for smaller things, local bandits-cum-bureaucrats-cum-apparatchiks get to pick). Timmy thinks the same, by odd coincidence -W]…

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 03 Jun 2017 #permalink

WC writes: [...There’s a bizarre belief amongst the left that Libertarian is lawless,...]

Bizarre? Given that most libertarians want to repeal so many laws I'd hardly call it bizarre. One can quibble over whether all statutes, ordinances, and regulations are 'laws' -- but that's a semantic argument that evades the issue.

In my city a homeowner must cut his lawn grass before it exceeds 18 inches in height. Hairdressers must be certified. Bar tenders must be licensed. Do libertarians want to get rid of these laws? Yes. How many more?

Yes, we know they want to keep enough police around to enforce their property rights, but isn't that about it?

[You can believe in having less laws and still strongly believe in the rule of law -W]

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 03 Jun 2017 #permalink

The railways require large public subsidy, and the water companies are practically the definition of 'natural monopoly'. Perfectly reasonable to have both in public hands.

Personally I want to see a SNP-Labour CoalitionOfChaos. It may not go brilliantly - I can't see any prospect doing well - but just to see the look on the Tories faces.

[It is natural to say things like that but bear in mind that Trump pulled out of Paris to see the look on the Dem's / Obama's face; so make sure you don't really mean it -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 03 Jun 2017 #permalink

> [You can believe in having less laws and still
> strongly believe in the rule of law -W]

With all the interest, someone should put out an edited set of lawbooks containing only what the 'ibertarians agree necessary. Bowdlerized.
It would be fascinating to see a Venn diagram of opinions.

But, ya know, there's a problem with the notion of litigation being the way to resolve controversy.

"Hard cases make bad laws."
Most cases make some law.

So you'd need an 'ibertarian congress cancelling precedential decisions left and right, to make sure they don't grow into more and more laws.


By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 03 Jun 2017 #permalink

So most of this discussion seems to be about US laws. Is the perception that the US is closest to becoming an 'ibertarian shining city on a hill? The Magna Carta doesn't work as a foundation document for British law to go that way?

[Pfft, you Yanks seem more interested in the L word than anyone else; probably it stems from your history. I'm not familiar with the cases you cite; but having just looked at the first, Nebbia, I'm with the dissenters -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 04 Jun 2017 #permalink

The thing is, I don't see either main party as fit to govern with a large majority - given that our political system means that a majority of 100+ in the commons is basically an elective dictatorship. So some sort of hung parliament is preferable to me. And brexit looks like it's going to be a mess whoever is in charge.

I think that university tuition should be free (at the point of use). Partly because loading 18 year olds up with debt when they don't really know what they want is unethical, partly because graduates already pay more lifetime taxes than non-graduates and partly because of the notion that for a welfare state to work, everyone must perceive some benefit from it.

[Graduates pay more tax because they make more money. Subsidising university xfers money from poor to rich. I can see the attractions of univ-for-free (I benefited from it) but how do you answer those points? -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

The poor-to-rich transfer thing only really works if university entrance is dependent on family circumstances.. which is what we should be trying to avoid. The idea being that university admittance is dependent only on hard work plus talent, so on average there is no transfer.

In practical terms as well, you can't fund university through standard commercial loans, because there is a huge incentive to default. So any system of loans has to be government-supported in some way, not least in being non-dischargable through bankruptcy. So, bureaucracy and wage-garnishing. For the amounts involved it doesn't seem worth it.

[No, I don't mean in some theoretical utopia. I mean now, in the current conditions. Not charging uni students for fees would be a subsidy to the better off. Do you doubt that? -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

A subsidy to the children of the better off.

[Perhaps; but in the state of the world today, that strongly correlates to "the better off". And since graduates are better off than non-graduates, ditto. So, is this a problem for you? Or are you happy for poor non-graduates to subsidise better off graduates? Or are you not happy with it, but this concern is overridden by your desire to have free education, regardless of any other consequences? -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

Something to bear in mind is that university fees are only paid back in the future once the graduate is earning more than £21k (this may have gone up) and they pay back at the rate of 9% of their earnings over 21k. So, right now I think very little of these loans have been paid back. If we decided that rather than this complicated repayment scheme, you simply increased tax on earnings over 21k by about 1% (this is a rough estimate, so may be higher), you'd probably target the correct people (i.e., those who went to university, or have benefitted in some way from those who went to university), you'd probably recover about the right amount of money (even with the repayment scheme, something like 1/3 will not be repaid because the loan is written off after 30 years), and it would be slightly less regressive (those who earn more initially can end up paying less, overall, for their degrees than those who earn less - unless initial earnings are so low that they end up paying back very little in the 30 years that they pay).

So, it's not clear to me that we couldn't make university essentially free while still ensuring that those who've benefitted most, essentially pay the most towards the cost of running universities.

My own view is that some amount of direct payment by those who go to university is probably a good thing (if only to continually remind them that it actually costs money) but the current fee systems, in my view, seems excessive. People who go to university are not the only ones who benefit from a society in which there are people with university educations.

[I can see a benefit of a "graduate tax"; but I also think - as you say - that some direct burden on people going to uni is a good idea. Because you want people to think "is it really worth it". Unfortunately, the answer for just about everyone at the moment is "yes", which says it isn't set at a good level -W]

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

[Unfortunately, the answer for just about everyone at the moment is “yes”, which says it isn’t set at a good level -W]

I think this is partly because the payment is in the future and, on a monthly basis, does not depend on how much your loan is; it depends only on how much you earn once you graduate. Of course, whether you pay for the full 30 years, or pay it off in 15, does depend on how much you earn, but most aren't thinking that much about something that's more than a decade into the future.

If the fees were upfront, or you had to start paying back immediatey, then I suspect the attitude would be different. The problem here, though, is that not everyone can afford to do this, and this would then penalise those from low income households.

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

The problem with 'worth it' arguments is that it's hard to know. If you were asking 18 year olds to come up with the full costs up of university up front, very few would consider it 'worth it'. If you ask them to sign up for a loan, then given inexperience with money and youthful immaturity, many will sign up when objectively they wouldn't benefit. They simply don't have enough information to decide.

And, of course, if we restrict access by affordability (as opposed to academic criteria) we create some very high barriers to access.

Also regarding subsidising..

Person A Earns £10, puts £5 in the pot and takes £1 out of the pot.
Person B Earns £5, puts £2 in the pot and takes £4 out of the pot.

Is person B subsidizing Person A? (Ignoring the oversimplification of reducing it all to cash)

[But the trouble with shrugging and saying "hard to know" is that you're just letting your emotions and prejudice decide -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

[Unfortunately, the answer for just about everyone at the moment is “yes”, which says it isn’t set at a good level -W]
I think this is partly because the payment is in the future and, on a monthly basis, does not depend on how much your loan is

A great deal of the problem is that in the current job market, you can barely get a job flipping burgers without a degree. Hell, our last receptionist had a masters... If you don't have a degree, you're fucked. It doesn't matter a toss what the degree is actually in, for the most part, but if you don't have a degree in something, you're really going to struggle.

In the U.S., tuition and room/board are charged on a sliding scale based on family income. (That's oversimplifying a bit, but basically how it works.) Is there no similar concept on your side of the big ditch?

[The fees are lower here I think - capped at £9k/y - and room+board is about the same. I think it is more all-or-nothing than sliding. FWIW, I'm paying "all" for my son and expect to do the same for my daughter. There's an interesting economic failure over the £9k: it is the max, set by govt, and the hope was that some universities would charge less to attract students. But in the end, essentially all unis charge the max (to do less would be to admit you're not good?). So the hoped-for price differentiation doesn't exist -W]

By Raymond Arritt (not verified) on 05 Jun 2017 #permalink

Dunc beat me to it. Almost every decent job requires some sort of tertiary qualification. This is a huge part of the problem.

[People certainly think that is true. And my companies job ads certainly say it. But our job ads are rubbish. Would someone who had skipped uni, actually got a job, or done online course be turned away? Likely not -W]

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 06 Jun 2017 #permalink

The problem with getting price differentiation is that you have to raise fees to the point where economic factors dominate choice of university for most people. That's strongly at odds with the idea of meritocracy. Even now there is a strong correlation between parental income and educational achievement, we don't want to make it worse. Well, I don't.

Now, if we agree that a completely deregulated, private sector higher education market probably wouldn't lead to great outcomes, then how much subsidy and regulation is involved becomes a political and emotive subject. No one is exempt from that.

Oh; my background on this; Parents left school at 14 and 15 respectively, I went to Cambridge; would hope to pay my kid's tuition fees in 10 years if my immune system doesn't kill me first. Working class debt-aversion might well have stopped me nowadays, which does give something of an emotive response.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 06 Jun 2017 #permalink

[But in the end, essentially all unis charge the max (to do less would be to admit you’re not good?).]

I think it's roughly what it costs. Salaries are similar across the whole sector. Staff-student ratios are similar. There are similar resources (lecture theatres, computing labs, study spaces, etc). So, if you want a range of fees, then you really need there to be a range of provisions, from universities with fewer staff, teaching more, earning less, in less well-equipped teaching spaces. Since we don't really have that, the fees are similar across the whole sector.

[I think the Tory hope was that there would be a range of provisions. However, there is a lot of institutional and reputational inertia against that. Would it be a good idea? I'm not sure. it would help to answer the "but everyone must have a degree point"; everyone would, but some would be cheaper -W]

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 06 Jun 2017 #permalink

So, if you want a range of fees, then you really need there to be a range of provisions

Only if you believe that the value of a degree is related to what you actually learn... I'm not at all convinced that that is the case - although the actual content of the courses may be much the same, a degree from Balliol College Oxford is clearly worth more than one from a former polytechnic in Bradford (*), because a significant component of the value is down to things like social cachet and the old-boys network.

[There is some of that, but I've seen several posts pointing out the other major effect: it's a certificate to employers stating that you've made it through someone's rigourous selection process. In effect, a degree from Balliol is a certificate that you did well in your A-levels :-) -W]

(* Bradford chosen purely for rhetorical effect. I have nothing against Bradford University, and in fact I understand that it's quite highly rated for certain subjects.)

Would someone who had skipped uni, actually got a job, or done online course be turned away? Likely not -W

Do you have much experience of what filtering goes on in your company's HR department? There are often too many candidates for any position to even read all of their CVs properly, so the first level of filtering is frequently that any application that doesn't list a degree goes in the bin without even being read any further.

[Some. Well, I don't see much of HR's filtering, but I don't think they do much. The filtering I do when I look at CVs has very little to do with what university you went to. In fact, I don't give a toss and very rarely even read that bit. Or, ter be 'onest, much of the rest. I only care how well you do on the coding test(s). However, the flipside of that is you have to get as far as me, and I'm not speaking for the mgt layer filtering that goes by first.

Nowadays internationalisation makes prejudice harder: I've no idea what a good university in Germany of Greece or India is anyway. FWIW, people's "experience" sections are generally useless, too, because it is too hard to tell genuine from fluff -W]

Nowadays internationalisation makes prejudice harder: I’ve no idea what a good university in Germany of Greece or India is anyway.

At the initial level of filtering I'm talking about, it doesn't really matter - nobody cares what your degree is in or where it's from, as long as it looks like you've got a degree in something from somewhere. That's why all these diploma mills can even exist in the first place...

May be not.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 08 Jun 2017 #permalink

Ooh, this is exciting. As of the time I'm writing this (Midnight in London; 7 PM US EDT) the exit polls project a hung Parliament, with the Tories losing enough seats to deny them a majority.

"The BBC reported that 76 seats appeared too close to call."

I don't think this is what May expected when she called the election.

ruh roh raggy!

Is that stifled laughter I hear from the general direction of Brussels?

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 08 Jun 2017 #permalink

The recent elections in the US (pitting Trump against Clinton) and GB (pitting May against Corbyn) makes you wonder about the health of English speaking democracies.


To make my point in post 37 clear -- I am talking about 4 rotten candidates runnning.


So what price do DUP want?

Also as remain voters seem to have shown stronger strength of feeling over the issue of brexit than leavers, does that make any difference? As I have said before, if more information is available and electorate has changed their views and different people make up the electorate by the time an exit deal is or isn't negotiated, what gives past electorate the right to cling on to claiming their past victory is still relevant?