You did know there were elections coming up less than a week from now, didn’t you? I must confess I’ve not been paying attention so much this time around. So many other exciting things to do in life, like plan holidays, meet friends. Local democracy is not always the first thing on your mind when the time comes around. And it makes so little difference in the place where I live where there is one-party dominance.
So please keep uploading those leaflets as you get them. They are much appreciated for showing me that local democracy is still alive and flourishing in other parts of the country.
The Electoral Commission has just published the invoices from all the different actors in the AV referendum. As someone who paid money into one of the campaigns (What are we supposed to do? Leave it all to bankers to pay for our political process?), I was interested to see where they money went for this disastrous campaign.
Out of the “Yes in May 2011 Ltd” expenses it appears that Blue State Digital got £154k for “strategic consulting” (absolutely bugger all), Iris got £258k for lots of billboards, Vodaphone got £72k for that cold calling system that didn’t even slightly work, and Electoral Reform Services got £767k for lots of printing of leaflets.
You will find invoices for pizzas, helium balloons, the filming of that godawful party election broadcast, travel, hotel stays, taxis for celebrities, money for loads and loads of political consultants which all added up into a painfully failed campaign.
But in among it are the small stories about election leaflets.
Consider this excerpt from a Memorandum for Legal Services (the answer is £402):
And then this invoice from Iris:
The result is that fine leaflet which you see there on the right which appeared in Holborn and St Pancras on 2 May.
The successful No campaign had 3 times as many invoices, few of them very big, because they were busy, busy, busy, printing and shipping their LEAFLETS out, running internet servers, and not wasting any time lining the pockets of big ticket political consultants. There are invoices from Jane Kennedy Training. She was the MP for Wavertree who gave her seat to Luciana Berger in 2010 in a campaign that resulted in many delightful leaflets.
With this record the hard paid-for services are laid bare. It doesn’t give the whole story; the money flow is a shadow play of what went on, and very telling. So are copies of the leaflets, which I am glad we have got some of.
I am surprised by how little was spent on polling, because I thought that this would be the necessary feedback mechanism in any such strategy, to know if it is having an effect. Maybe this information was coming some other way.
Let’s be clear, this was no quick last minute contract to deliver an on-line presence in a hurry. Blue State Digital have been angling for this work for years. Matthew McGregor on on Oct 27, 2009 posted:
When a huge scandal over MPs’ abuse of parliamentary expenses erupted in Britain this summer, supporters of electoral reform realised they had an unprecedented opportunity to change the British political system.
In June, a coalition of those supporters launched the Vote for a Change campaign, which is calling for a referendum on the electoral system for the House of Commons. Vote for a Change turned to Blue State Digital’s London team to provide the technology and strategic expertise to mobilise a broad constituency of British citizens….
As Vote for a Change increased the pressure on political leaders to act, Brown announced that he would support a referendum that replaces Britain’s existing “First Past the Post” system with the “Alternative Vote.” This would ensure that MP candidates must get a majority of votes to be elected.
Unfortunately, this system ultimately may be no more proportional than the status quo and wouldn’t happen until after the general election. So Vote for a Change still has a lot to fight for….
This week, BSD helped Vote for a Change launch a new campaign website (www.voteforchange.co.uk) to hammer home the need for decisive action in the Queen’s Speech, when the government will outline its legislative programme for the year.
The www.voteforachange.co.uk url (not to be confused with www.voteforchange.co.uk) redirects to www.yestofairervotes.org with Blue State Digital’s crappy invalid URL message above.
According to Vote For A Change’s recommendations for tactical voting in the 2010 general election, the LibDems thought it was a Labour front group:
Ever hear of Vote for a Change? Vaguely?
Another of the plague-on-all-your-houses, real-reform-now campaigns which have been springing up all over the internet over the past year, right? Yes, that’s what I assumed too.
Their aim, they say, is to advise people on how to vote tactically in each constituency to bring about a hung parliament. This is what they say about how they made their choices:
We began by looking at the latest national opinion polling, which has the Conservatives in first place, Labour in second, and the Lib Dems in third. In each constituency, we assessed how many candidates had a strong chance of winning the seat – based on polling, personal draw, and the political dynamics of that constituency…
What appears to be going on here is that Vote for a Change are basically recommending a massive, increased Labour majority. On being challenged, they have published only about half of their recommendations and changed their FAQs page, apparently to anticipate some of the inevitable “WTF” type questions that spring to mind.
Owing to the website being deliberately broken by Blue State Digital, there’s precious little primary digital information, but Cosmodaddy blog has quite a few articles, suggesting that he might have been one of those “Grass roots” employees. Details of lots of rubbish campaign events that were signature of the YesToAV campaign suggests a connection.
The Blue State Digital employee Matthew McGregor who was involved in that Vote For A Change effort has a blog interview from 13 April 2009 that presaged all that was going to go wrong two years later:
A veteran of the Jon Cruddas for Deputy Leader and Ken Livingstone for Mayor campaigns, Matthew spent several months in the United States following the 2008 election when he joined BSD at the end of the summer…
“The big lesson I learned from the Ken campaign was that losing is incredibly unpleasant.”
“To me the big thing about BSD – what made me hire the firm on two previous campaigns and then jump at a chance of working here – is the strategic approach to engaging people online. But the tools are a massive and integral part of that. The phone bank is a tool that stands out for me – we used it on the Cruddas campaign to allow union activists to contact union members when that union had endorsed a candidate. The warm contact – which is so much better than direct mail or robo-calls – made a huge difference for us. And it might sound simple, but BSD’s Mailer is such a significant step above anything else that is available to campaigns. That simple fact has made a big difference to clients. BSD has a mailer that delivers email very fast and doesn’t fall over – while that may sound like a given, far too often it’s not for many campaigns…
“One thing I picked up from the U.S. is how the campaigns used Internet videos to both support their media messages, and also to engage with supporters. We can do a lot more of this in Europe to communicate better with a larger number of people than perhaps we do now – some of the videos made by the Obama team are just breathtaking, so it’s great we have some of those people on the BSD team now…”
Here is one of their breathtaking videos. You’ll find better ones around, but this was the one that was broadcast on prime time TV as the party political election broadcast. It’s too embarrassing for me to watch.
So it goes.
Blue State Digital were bought by WPP in December 2010, suggesting to some that the Yes campaign could have been sabotaged by a conflict of interest. But the rot had set in with bad campaign strategies years before that no one showed any signs of detecting.
In the United States they’ve cracked it. Money very reliably buys democratic elections through the agency of effective PR corporations. The fact that this one, Blue State Digital, have been fundamentally ineffective here this time is not always going to be the case.
When it does work, evidence of what they are doing will be diffusely spread throughout the nation’s election leaflets, but it will only be detectable if we choose to monitor it.
And it could be monitored for a very modest fee as well as an easy PR campaign to get people to upload leaflets. The measure of success of a PR event will be instant.
Why not use ElectionLeaflets.org as a place to experiment on tactics that work in the UK instead of yanking in half-baked cargo-cult techniques from across the Atlantic that don’t? It would be small change. And actually achieve something lasting.
I was out yesterday morning putting this leaflet out around the parts of the St Michael’s Ward that actually turned out to vote. I believe boxcounts were noted during the overnight count to provide more granular information than at the ward level.
You can see the breakdown in performance below. The LibDem vote utterly collapsed here as in so many other places across the Merseyside region.
The turnout has dropped from a general election to a local election year. Nevertheless the green vote went up. Clearly they took some of the 1600 LibDem votes that were going spare. Where did those votes go?
The Labour votes went down too. There’s no reason for them to have converted to Green votes (or they would have voted that way in 2010), so that’s at least 400 Labour voters that didn’t turn out. Some of those 2011 Labour votes must have been picked up from the LibDem collapse, so there is likely to be even more missing Labour voters who didn’t come to the polls this year.
It’s easy to imagine at least 600 votes available for the Labour party to call on to come out to the polls, if they so choose (by motivating them with the right campaign). And under this brutal FPTP electoral system it won’t matter how consistent and strong the Green party support is from year to year. They will be swamped.
What this means is that the Labour Party on the council could call on the Green councillor’s support if they needed it by threatening to deploy a serious campaign in this ward at the next election. The numbers make that threat possible.
The voters can be counted on to act like a bunch of cattle, to be herded from field into stockyard, without the slightest comprehension or interest in the strategic numbers in the game.
If you all go stand on that weigh-bridge there it will tilt the scales just right to open this door for me. Pay no attention to the game that’s going on. Just keep munching the hay.
In this particular case no deals are likely to be called on because the Labour party has such a huge majority on the council now that they can ignore all the smaller parties and let them get on with their business.
Over in Southport, which I reported on earlier, the Labour party campaign succeeded in flipping a LibDem seat into a Tory seat.
As you can see, there is, was, and remains no reason for the Labour party to deploy any resources into this ward for the purpose of winning. The numbers are crystal clear: a strong Labour campaign in this ward can lead directly to a Tory party victory over the LibDems. It is entirely up to them to do it or not do it.
Because the voters are — as usual — fundamentally unaware of the critical calculus that is played at this level with their votes and intentions.
In another year or two the real business is going to start happening for all the exposed MPs in the Westminster Parliament.
For example, specific LibDem MPs may do deals with the Tories to cover for some outrageous and otherwise inexplicable position in return for the free ride they need at the next election depending on their specific circumstances.
If we wanted to we — the public at large — could tell from the poll numbers who was exposed to this type of threat. And then examine evidence from the campaign on the ground in terms of leaflets and literature whether they got a serious campaign or not.
And if they received a disproportionately weak campaign we could then challenge them in the hustings to explain what deal they made.
But this would require a proper public election campaign monitoring effort involving research, education, detectivework and conferences. Not some tiny frayed piece of shoestring like we have here at ElectionLeaflets.org.
Thanks to all who uploaded leaflets! Keep them coming! It’s all good stuff!
I cannot put into words how pissed off I am with the FPTP electoral system which requires me to choose between wasting my vote on the candidate I like, or casting it for the second most disagreeable candidate on the ballot sheet knowing that it will be counted as an endorsement for every rotten policy they stand for.
For me, the Alternative Vote referendum was a brief ray of hope before it was buried under a land-fill of lies — not helped by the mind-blowing incompetence of the Yes campaign whose organizers and paymasters (who chose those organizers) should hunted down and pilloried.
I am so disappointed.
I thought to myself yesterday: “Sod this. The FPTP system offends me so much I am just going to vote as though I had an alternative vote by numbering my preferences on the ballot form.”
Then I’m going down to the overnight Count to see what the Government does with my vote.
I thought I was going to be the only fool in the country to carry out such a stupid idea.
Turns out loads of people had done it. There were ballots with numbers on them in the spoil tray for every single ward across Liverpool City. I don’t doubt it was the same everywhere else in the country.
None of the pro-AV campaigners noticed this until I dragged them over to see. None of the party workers cared either, because if a vote doesn’t count it doesn’t matter to them.
But I do care. Because I did it and I’m going to carry on doing it.
My vote never counts in my particular ward or Parliamentary constituency anyway — ever — because it is a safe-as-a-brick-privvy Labour seat. The only election where my vote ever mattered was in the European Parliamentary election, because it was proportional.
What does the law say?
Well, the Electoral Commission — among all the other stuff they don’t do — produces a plethora of large-font guidebooks that lays out the rules.
Here is the page from Dealing with doubtful ballot papers — Supporting local government elections in England and Wales:
The ruling is Cornwell v. Marshall  75 LGR 676 DC from the following list of precedence.
Oh well. So it’s case closed then. Because thirty-five years ago some old dude in a wig with a wooden hammer said if you dared put numbers on your ballot sheet then they were going to throw it in the bin. Even though your first preference vote “One” was absolutely clear.
What the heck is this from Page 6 of Dealing with doubtful ballot papers — Supporting UK Parliamentary elections, then?
(5) Where different numbers have been written by a voter on a ballot paper apparently as a vote in a sequential order of preference, and the ballot would otherwise be rejected under this rule, the ballot shall be treated as a vote for the candidate (or in the case of a regional ballot paper, for the individual candidate or registered party) against whom the number 1 appears.
So, what gives? The court case simply doesn’t matter. To count your votes all they have to do is insert this sentence into the Rules for England, and it’s done.
But they’re not going to even consider something so simple as that.
Because the deal is if you don’t cooperate fully with their crappy electoral system that enables those elected to misappropriate your tactical vote as an endorsement for their agenda, then you can piss right off.
And that’s how it goes.
PS: Keep uploading or sending in those leaflets to ElectionLeaflets.org. No honest person will regret having them for future reference.
It’s election day, so I set my alarm for 4:30am this morning.
There’s a big job to do for party volunteers.
And this big job is to remind voters that there is actually an election going on.
I was delivering this leaflet:
I couldn’t believe. The LibDems had already got there before me.
Numerous batches of these cards could be seen in the hallways of every house. Had Warren Bradley been hard at work at three in the morning completing his life’s work of attempting to rid the city of all vestige of the Green Party?
My delivery round took me past a vacant house with a huge mound of rotting post spilling out the door, which enabled me to score a fine sequence of election leaflets that I spent the morning scanning in:
Interestingly, there was one particular leaflet that was missing from this archaeological timeline.
It was this one, which is an extremely petulant excuse for an apology to the Green Councillors as part of a court settlement over one of their earlier leaflets.
Here is the excerpt from the court settlement:
Politics in this electoral system is a bitter struggle that brings out the inner childishness of anyone who plays it seriously.
Is it possible that this forced apology was placed on an exceptionally crappy leaflet and delivered only houses of the known Green Party members and sympathizers?
Oh, yes, it probably is.
But don’t worry. The great British public seems to tolerate an unseemly amount of messing around with the democratic process, probably because they don’t know it’s there, they’ve never been told it’s there, they don’t get involved in order to find out it’s there, and there is essentially no referee in this game to ensure that it is fair and in any way representative of what we want.
You can lie and steal the votes of the inattentive. And no one ever gets infuriated.
See you in the morning after I’ve woken up from a night at the count.
There is going to be electoral reform in this country one day, maybe 10 years, maybe 20 years in the future. And ElectionLeaflets.org may be one of the few places people will be able to find facts on the ground from the campaign. And these facts will be used to beat over the heads anyone bidding to run the pro-reform campaign so they don’t come out like such an unprepared pack of numpties like this lot have been.
The First Past the Post system produces a brutal, cruel electoral calculus for the voters as well as the campaigners.
Here, for example, is the news from the Cambridge Ward of Sefton (in Southport).
What I hear now is that Labour are suddenly — in this election cycle — campaigning very hard in Cambridge Ward, a place where they most recently scored 8% of the vote.
Here are some leaflets from the last week. I am told there are more, including street posters, and no doubt door-to-door canvassing.
Remember, the Labour Party has never existed in this ward before. But this year they are really going for it.
Now they are not to going to come close to winning. But what they are trying to do is split the LibDem vote.
According to the numbers, if they can peel 800 votes from the LibDem result from last year, then — according to the First Past the Post system — the Tory candidate is going to take the seat.
Why is it an advantage for Labour if they can convert a LibDem seat into a Tory one?
Well, it’s all about going after vulnerabilities. The Tory vote is generally very hard (there are people who are genetically programmed to vote Tory no matter what happens).
The only tactic open to the Labour party is to take down and demoralize the LibDem party and ultimately replace them as the second party in this area.
Making more Tory councillors in the borough is a perfectly acceptable result in the short term while they move the second place party aside and make room for themselves — within the game rules of the electoral system.
Meanwhile, the voters are simply ignorant pawns in this game who don’t know what fools they are being taken for.
Looking at it from the simple approximation of the ideology, you have Labour on the Left, Conservatives on the Right, and LibDems in the Centre. Now the LibDems and Conservatives have formed a coalition which is somewhere close to the average of the two in the Centre-Right. And Labour, calling for some of the Centre-Left-minded LibDem voters to move their vote over to Labour on the Left, knows and intends for this to produce a further to the Right result.
So, essentially, the outcome moves in the exact opposite direction to what the voter intended.
This electoral gaming plays all the way through the system up and down the country, wherever the First Past the Post systems is applied. If voters really knew about it, they wouldn’t stand for it, because it is very much like being knocked around the table like snooker balls.
But there’s no way the public at large can form an understanding of the system. It’s not taught in schools. Journalists, who won’t research how party organizing works, can’t report it. And politicians aren’t going to give away their secrets.
In fact, as we have seen with this AV campaign, they generally favour a system can be played against the public in this way.
Twas ever thus. For more, read about Electoral fusion. which was the practice in America for third parties to make an influence without wasting their vote — until it was banned because it was too representative.
In among all the slick word bites and centralized gut feeling generators, you sometimes get a some good old fashioned leaflet which reads like a CV. With information that says, you know, what kind of job the candidate could do if they got the job.
I fix fences, get the memorial garden spruced up and make the roads wider.
I like this because it has it all, from presentation of a perceived problem to an utterly counter-productive remedy.
Vincent Mullen says he and his neighbours in Royston were left shocked following a murder on their street. Strathclyde has seen a 50% increase in knife murders this year alone.
Vincent woke to find a crime scene at the end of his road. “This is a quiet street with families and pensioners and we were stunned. It isn’t the first time this has happened and we don’t feel safe in our own beds any more. People just want a peaceful life, but we get crime on the streets all the time,” he said.
“That is why I am backing Labour’s tough policy of ‘carry a knife, go to jail’. The SNP are too soft to back the plan. They actually scrapped short prison sentences meaning thousands of people who carry knives escape jail altogether.”
Who is Vincent Mullen and where does he live? Is he a taxi driver? Is there a rough pub with cheap alcohol at the end of his street?
Evidence suggests that the Scottish Labour Party are putting this single issue at the centre of their election campaign and are showing up on the telly with fabricated figures such as £500million per year is spent on A&E fixing knife wounds which, if they have their way, will instead be spent on thousands more jail places for warehousing kids who get stopped and searched at random by the police — because there will be no more knife crime.
Jail, as we know, provides young people with the opportunity to educate themselves about all other types of crime they could instead commit, as well as a hardened criminal record that makes them virtually unemployable in civil society for the rest of their lives.
In the past few years politicians both north and south of the border have steadily increased the penalty for carrying knives, but Richard Garside said there was no evidence tougher sentences act as a deterrent.
Garside’s Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has published some very extensive international research about Young People, Knives and Guns, which involves actual surveys and comparisons of many varied policies across jurisdictions that do give a sense of hope.
Clearly, if Mr Kerr or Mr Mullen actually gave a damn about reducing knife crime in Strathclyde they would begin with the evidence presented in this report and work forwards from there.
But no, their game is to throw the whole lot out, actively and maliciously dis-inform the public on the policy choices in order to get elected. And once elected they will no doubt carry out their wrecking procedure on the current complex and informed policy — because the promised to do so.
And it’s the only damn promise they actually made!
Life goes on.
Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.