Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The trouble with general elections

Unless you are dead from the neck up, it can't have escaped your notice that we're counting down to a general election. Media coverage is already ramping up, with every pale-faced, sweaty-palmed political manoeuvre scrutinised to the nth degree. Goodness only knows what it will be like by the time the polls open on 7th May.

In the past I've advocated using sites like voteforpolicies.org.uk to help you decide how to cast your vote; basically, this site asks you to choose which election pledges most closely match your views in a number of key policy areas (economy, environment, education, plus some that don't begin with 'e'). At the end of the survey, you're given a breakdown of how your choices match each party, so you might be 22% Conservative, 44% Green, 11% Labour, and so on. Sounds great, doesn't it? I've taken the survey in previous election years and been unsurprised by the results, which probably indicates there's some truth in it. But... There's always a but, isn't there?

You see, I've taken the survey this year and guess what? I'm a little bit of most things (though not BNP at all, fortunately). And I'm not alone; when I checked earlier today, this is how more than half a million responses averaged out:

Policy fit [source]

When I was a kid, back in the Seventies and early Eighties, politics was easy. Yes, the Liberals were floating about but elections were essentially two horse races. You were red or blue. Left or right. Callaghan/Foot/Kinnock or Thatcher. It was straightforward. These days, when I (and everyone else, it seems) is 22% this, 22% that and 22% the other, well, deciding where you put your X is a lot less straightforward. I fully accept how unlikely it is that any single party would completely align with my personal ideology, but none even gets particularly close - there's no majority party in my Vote For Policies result, and I doubt there is in yours either. Is it any wonder, then, when choosing has become so hard, and the electoral canvas is now so broad, that voter turnout falls and falls and falls: the electorate is paralysed with choice. Take a look at this:

Declining turnout [source]

I predict a mild upturn in turnout this time around, not least because half of everyone you meet these days considers themselves an activist. As if sharing a jpeg of some truism (you know, "Bad things are bad", that kind of thing) on Facebook makes you an activist, rather than just, say, a timeline-pollutant. But anyway. A small upturn, probably. But if you're wondering why the turnout at the Scottish referendum was so high (84.59% [source]) compared to UK general election turnouts, as well as being such an emotive issue I would venture it's partly because it was a straight yes/no choice. A two horse race, again.

You can expect more political posts from me over the next few months, I'm afraid, but don't despair, they'll still be heavily outnumbered by posts about music, film, television, books, the usual. I may even get around to writing my own personal manifesto, so you can all decide that you are 22% like me.

All that remains is to link, as I always do when I write about national votes, to the film Election. It's brilliantly funny and comfortably bears repeated viewing... unlike most of our politicians. It gets my vote, et cetera.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Nous sommes tous Charlie, mais...

I'm not sure what I, in my informed yet still inadequately informed position, can meaningfully add to the reams that have been written following events in Paris last week. It's complex, and the more I think about it the harder it becomes to see how a radicalised, extremist minority are ever going to be content playing nicely with a largely secular, social, democratic majority. I don't see a happy ending, is what I'm trying to say. That's depressing, I know, but I can't help it - Marvin the Paranoid Android has nothing on me.

Instead, let me point you to some interesting blogging on the subject, specfically: Tim Footman's immediate reaction on his excellent blog, Cultural Snow, makes a lot of points I would like to make, but more succinctly and in better prose; and Andrew Collins' take, a week on, which has some interesting background on the roots of this most terrible of problems.

Interestingly, it was also Andrew's blog that recommended Windows On The World by Frédéric Beigbeder, a book of astonishing power that I finished reading over Christmas and cannot recommend highly enough. Its post-9/11 theme seems depressingly relevant after Charlie Hebdo and all that followed.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Time travel

Ben Goldacre recently tweeted to the effect that everyone over 40 is the same age. And he's right. What's more, somewhere along the line, I drifted into that category - I got old. But before the passing of time, and all of its sickening crimes, starts making me sad again, let's indulge in a spot of time travel. Go back twenty years or so and this song was on the jukebox in The Jolly Sailor. Whenever I went there with The Man Of Cheese, which was often, we would put this on and, quite often, sing tipsily along with the daft lyrics.

I can't tell you much about The Presidents Of The United States Of America. I can tell you it's my first jam of 2015, a year in which I will attempt to be less parochial by jamming less Morrissey, Smiths, Pixies and Radiohead. I can also tell you I love this song, and that the last minute of the video is solid, well, if not gold then at least bronze. Enjoy.