The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'election'
The results are mostly in on this Thursday's round of elections across the UK, but the dust is yet to settle.
A big upset was Labour losing a byelection in Hartlepool, giving the Tories the seat for the first time in 62 years. Which they had been bracing for, though the size of the winning margin was still shocking. Keir Starmer, Labour's post-Corbyn leader, initially accepted blame for the loss, claiming that Covid restrictions cramped his ability to get his message across, and/or blaming the lingering poison of Corbynism. (As one wit said, Jeremy Corbyn should do the decent thing and resign as ex-leader.)
Labour did well in other places; winning the first directly elected mayoralty of Liverpool, making gains in Wales, holding Greater Manchester, and so on. In all those cases, the victories seemed to be on the strength of a left-leaning grass-roots localism. Hartlepool, though, was a test of Starmer's Westminster policies, which have recently been tacking rightward to win back the “Red Wall” seats in the north of England; former working-class strongholds, now populated largely by the retired, their populations stereotyped as spiteful reactionaries, who, nonetheless, decide elections; hence stunts like posting St. George flags to voters in lieu of pamphlets. While it is conceivable that a chastened Labour could pivot towards presenting a sweeping social-democratic vision for building back better, it is more conceivable that they will come to the conclusion that they were insufficiently gammony, and move to aggressively remedy that. (One claim to look for is that Starmer hasn't won the people's trust because he has not yet sufficiently repudiated his past as a human rights lawyer, and every Daily Mail reader knows that human rights lawyers are very much not on their side.) Early signs bear this out; Starmer has sacked the party secretary Angela Rayner, a leftwinger, in what could be the opening salvo of a redoubled purge of Corbynista holdovers.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP made gains, and while falling short of an outright majority, has one jointly with the equally pro-independence Greens, with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, vowing to push for a second referendum in the coming term. Westminster has already ruled out any such referendum, so the question may end up in court, or somewhere messier (possibly a Catalan-style standoff, or direct rule imposed), unless one side blinks. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond's rebel pro-independence party Alba (who, unlike the other two, oppose rejoining the EU, and also hitched their wagon early on to the reactionary side of the culture war, such as an anticipated groundswell of anti-transgender sentiment) fizzled, failing to win any seats.
And in London, Labour's Sadiq Khan has been returned as Mayor; the Tories did respectably, especially given that their candidate, Shaun Bailey, appeared to be clueless on a lot of issues. The plethora of protest/novelty/crank candidates who piled up at the bottom can console themselves with more hits for their YouTube channels and/or publicity for other projects (such as a mask-free pub serving only British food and hosting right-wing comedians). This may be the last London mayoral election held under the current system, as the Westminster government has made noises about replacing it with first-past-the-post.
In other news, today was the Australian federal election, and another Labor landslide that dissolved into thin air upon contact with reality, with a terminally unpopular conservative government romping home to a resounding victory. You can almost set your clock by them.
One can ask a lot of questions, and a lot of questions will be asked: were Labor too radical, alienating the Silent-Majority-Of-Suburban-Battlers who love their big cars and cheap coal-fired electricity and can't stand lefty ratbags from the inner city telling them how to live their life, or too timid, not giving Australian voters a Whitlam-scale vision of change to get behind? Was Labor leader Bill Shorten a terminal black hole of charisma? Did the traditionally left-leaning Fairfax papers' new ownership shift the balance? Did the conservatives cross the line by doing a preference deal with out-and-proud racists, or have they always been where they are? Was there ever a time when the quiet part was not said out loud? And so on.
One question that should be asked though is: why is it that, in Australian federal politics, the ALP is constantly poised for a barnstorming victory, except on the actual electoral night when it collapses like a sandcastle? At this stage, the pollsters, pundits, commentators and betting markets have successfully predicted the last four out of one ALP federal election victories. Is this just the ”shy-Tory” phenomenon, of everybody wanting to pose as a high-minded altruist whilst keeping their tax bill down and their negative gearing profits coming in? Is it something more culturally specific, perhaps the larrikin/wowser dynamic at the heart of the Australian psyche, an innate blokey conservatism coupled with a desire to watch their betters ritually sweat and squirm in the face of potential defeat? Are elections, and the Labor Party, little more than a sort of ritual psychodrama, a festival in which the King is put on trial by the court jester and everybody gets to let off a bit of steam before getting down to the next three years of no-nonsense conservative governance? (Repeat until climate change obliterates all life on Earth, unless of course climate change is Marxist propaganda.)
Continuing on from the previous post about Australian Senate how-to-vote cards and who really is preference-swapping buddies with whom, I have spent some time playing around with the D3 web-based data visualisation library, and have managed to build an interactive visualisation of the Senate voting sheets (and, more specifically, the various parties' affinities for each other).
As such, I present to you: the Australian Senate Preference Navigator:
As the Australian election approaches, the ABC has published the various parties' and groups' Senate how-to-vote cards, i.e., the order in which your preferences are distributed to other parties if you can't be bothered to vote below the line and, instead, tick the convenient box by the party's name at the top and hope for the best. Though whether one can be bothered to fill in the hundred or so boxes or not, knowing how each group distributes its preferences can be very telling about their philosophy and world-view and/or what deals they hammered out in lieu of having a philosophy. So, I decided to examine the numbers more closely.
I wrote a small Python script to go through the parties' tickets, calculate the average preference each party gives to any other party, and then rank them in order from most- to least-preferred. Soon, patterns started showing up: clusters of left- and right-leaning groups soon made themselves evident, and parties with seemingly neutral names showed decided slants.
To further simplify the classification of the parties, I decided to analyse them on where in their preferences they place a handful of marker parties: the three major parties (Labor, the Liberals and Nationals), the Greens and, as a proxy for the far right, the One Nation party (now largely ineffectual, though once seen as the bête noire of the racist fringe). Soon, a handful of fingerprints made themselves visible.
Conventional thinking places these five parties on a linear scale from left to right: the urban progressive Greens on the left, followed by the ALP (managerial centrists with a trade-union socialist heritage, which can also appeal to those of a populist bent), the Liberal Party (pro-business centre-right shading into DLP-influenced social conservatism), the Nationals (a largely agrarian God-and-Country party) and, finally, One Nation. (This isn't the entirety of the Australian political spectrum; the line extends further, with Trotskyists on the far left and white supremacists and conspiracy theorists on the far right, though those parties are on the fringes.)
- Parties which, from the basket of five marker parties, chose a left-to-right progression (Greens, ALP, the two Coalition parties and finally One Nation) were mostly left-wing and progressive issue parties: the (pro-privacy, anti-censorship, anti-surveillance) Pirate Party, Bullet Train for Australia, Socialist Alliance, Future Party, the Secular Party of Australia, and a few groups of independents.
- There were considerably more strongly right-leaning parties going the other way, preferencing One Nation above the major parties, then the Coalition, the ALP and finally the Greens; these included various religious parties (Fred Nile's Christian Democrats, Australian Christians, the Democratic Labour Party, the Pentecostal anti-Muslim Rise Up Australia and internet-censorship wowsers Family First), as well as lifestyle groups such as Smokers Rights, Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens), Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party, the Climate Sceptics and Bob Katter's Australian Party. Also showing an unbroken right-to-left pattern were the Building Australia Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Non-Custodial Parents' Party and something called the Australian Voice Party. The Shooters and Fishers were also among this group, though put the ALP ahead of the Nationals. Meanwhile, the Carers' Alliance put the Nationals and Liberals first, followed by One Nation, the ALP and the Greens.
- A few parties chose a populist bent, preferencing One Nation, the ALP, the Coalition and then the Greens: these were the Australian Protectionist Party, the Bank Reform Party and the Australia First Party.
- Similarly, a few parties went from left to right, albeit promoting One Nation above the Coalition: the Voluntary Euthanasia Party's preferences followed a GRN➡ONP➡ALP➡LIB➡NAT path, while Help End Marijuana Prohibition's went ALP➡GRN➡ONP➡LIB➡NAT, clearly seeing the Coalition as more hostile to the rights of pot smokers than One Nation. The other drug-issue party, Drug Law Reform, seems to differ in their assessment, casting their preferences GRN➡LIB➡ALP➡NAT➡ONP.
- The various personality-led parties that have cropped up stood in various places; Bob Katter's party, as we have seen, took a right-to-left path. Nick Xenophon's group did similarly, albeit putting One Nation last. And eccentric mining magnate Clive Palmer's party threw a curveball, putting the Nationals first, followed by the Greens, the Liberals, One Nation and, finally, the ALP.
- Of other random parties: Senator OnLine (who apparently promise to vote as instructed to by voters on the internet) went ONP➡ALP➡LIB➡GRN➡Nat (so, vaguely populist then?), the Australian Democrats (who were sort of like a primordial, rudderless version of the Greens) went GRN➡LIB➡NAT➡ALP➡ONP (i.e., vacilliating between left and right, as in the old days). Perennial candidates the Citizens' Electoral Council (followers of American conspiracy theorist and convicted tax fraud Lyndon LaRouche) put One Nation first from the basket, followed by the ALP, the Greens and the Coalition parties. Meanwhile, the Animal Justice party (could their name be a Brass Eye reference?) went ONP➡GRN➡LIB➡ALP➡NAT.
- And then there were the anomalies: the (ostensibly ultra-liberal) Australian Sex Party putting One Nation ahead of the others, Wikileaks putting the Nationals first (though they seem to have disintegrated since), and, most perplexingly, the Socialist Equality Party putting the two coalition parties first. Perhaps they're hoping that three years of Abbott will bring about a revolution or something?
Recently, there was an election in Sweden in which the votes were electronically counted. Write-in entries had to be hand-written, but that didn't stop wiseguys trying to pwn the election by pulling a Bobby Tables-style attack:
R;13;Hallands län;80;Halmstad;01;Halmstads västra valkrets;0904;Söndrum 4;pwn DROP TABLE VALJ;1Or, indeed, attempting (unsuccessfully) to pwn the browsers of anyone looking at the results (thwarted by the transcriber entering the wrong type of bracket):
R;14;Västra Götalands län;80;Göteborg;03;Göteborg, Centrum;0722;Centrum, Övre Johanneberg;(Script src=http://hittepa.webs.com/x.txt);1It's not clear whether they expected to succeed or were just aiming for a laugh from the geeks of the world.
And we have a hung parliament. The Tories are the largest party, but have nowhere near enough seats to form government, either alone or with the Northern Irish sectarian parties. The Lib Dems, oddly enough, took a caning, actually losing seats; they could still hold the balance of power, but only have the option to enter into coalition with the Tories or force an early election. The Tories have offered them, as a slightly contemptuous sweetener, a promise to pretend to think about electoral reform (something they vehemently and absolutely have opposed until now), or more precisely, to punt it to a committee which will formally say no. Meanwhile, it seems that numerous voters have been turned away from polling stations, which opens the prospect of legal challenges and byelections. It's not clear whether there was any sort of pattern to this.
All's not bleak, though; the Greens have won Brighton (though the Tories won Kemp Town, the gay centre of Brighton; explain that one), George Galloway got kicked out of parliament, and word has it that the BNP got a thrashing in Barking. And if you're a lefty not relishing the prospect of Tory rule, you can console yourself with these facts.
Could the Lib Dems win the UK election outright? This commentary from a psephologist says yes:
Much attention has been paid to the way Britain’s voting system is biased against the Lib Dems: they could end up with more votes than Labour or the Conservatives – but win half as many seats. What is not appreciated is that the reason why this is so is also the reason why, once the party passes a threshold – around 38% - it starts to garner seats in massive numbers. With 40% they would probably have an outright majority, With 42% they win by a landslide. The main reason is that with, say 30-35%, they come second in a vast number of seats, but first in only 100 or so. But as they approach 40%, these second places start converting into first places; each extra percentage point yields them a barrow-load of seats.The answer to the question "are the Lib Dems likely to win outright?" remains at "Probably not". The Lib Dems' best chance is to become the linchpin in a coalition government and demand a replacement of the first-past-the-post system with preferential voting or even proportional representation, and hope that the other parties don't decide it's preferable to hold their noses and form a Labour-Conservative coalition to keep the status quo.
(via David Gerard)
I have so far mostly refrained from commenting on the Australian election campaign. In short, it has looked like the Opposition would win by a landslide—much as it has in the previous two elections, in which they got caned. However, now it's looking like the real thing; the much vaunted "Narrowing" of the polls has failed to materialise (the opinion polls, both public and private, have hovered within a margin of error of the 55-45 mark for some months). Even the ABC is biting the hands of its despised master, seemingly confident that the punishment will not be forthcoming.
The Tories, it goes without saying, are panicking. All the rocks they've thrown at the Rudd juggernaut have failed to derail it. It seems that they have been unable to manufacture a "children overboard" or pull any rabbits out of a hat. So now they are resorting to desperate tactics, such as printing pamphlets from a fake, if ominous-sounding, "Islamic Australia Federation" urging people to vote Labor, because of "its support for Muslim causes", such as, say, the Bali bombings:
"We gratefully acknowledge Labor's support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings," the pamphlet says.
"Labor is the only political party to support the entry to this country of our Grand Mufti Reverend Sheik al-Hilaly and we thank Honourable Paul Keating for overturning the objections of ASIO to allow our Grand Mufti to enter this country."Did you see what they did there? It's not even a dog whistle. They could have hardly been more gormless if they threw in a mention to Labor's multiculturally-correct support for the practices of gang rape and honour killing or somesuch.
The trail for the pamphlets appears to lead straight back to various Liberal Party volunteers, who have been sacked. If anything, it's a sign of their desperation that they couldn't wait to get one of their once-removed black-bag outfits like the Exclusive Brethren to do it.
On the other hand, the election is not over. There is still the possibility that Howard will get back in (or that the Tories will get back in while he'll lose his seat). Granted, it's a lot less of a possibility than before, though if anyone can pull off a dirty victory from behind, it's Howard, the Voldemort of Australian politics. I won't be celebrating his demise until I read his concession speech.
The Republicans got a caning in the US midterm election, with the Democrats seizing the House of Representatives; the Senate hangs in the balance.
Would it be too cynical to suggest that, if Congress becomes too difficult (i.e., by refusing to pass whatever follows the abolition of habeas corpus and legalisation of torture), all the Whitehouse has to do is allow a major terrorist act to take place on US soil (perhaps by strategically blocking various investigations or programmes) and blame it on Democrat recalcitrance, after which no-one will vote Democrat for a generation?
Well, it turned out much as expected; Labour got back in, although with a severely reduced majority down by about 100 from 165, giving rise to speculation about Blair's leadership. The Lib Dems gained about 8 seats, going up to 59, though hopes that the Tories may wither away to third place were dashed, as the bastards got the lion's share of Labour's losses. One of the biggest swings against Labour was in the Welsh seat of Blaenau Gwent, where the Labour party machine tried to impose a centrally-selected candidate on the electorate, only to get trounced with a 49% swing by the now-independent MP. On a more ominous note, the we-are-not-neo-Nazis British National Party doubled its vote, and odious Stalinist-turned-Islamofascist George "I never met an anti-Western despotism I didn't like" Galloway took Bethnal Green.
The election results are trickling in; Labour have retained a number of seats; the Lib Dems are getting significant swings (5-10%), though they're all falling short of unseating Labour. So far, Labour have lost two seats: Putney to the Tories (interestingly, Putney is an area popular with South Africans, who, as Commonwealth citizens, are entitled to vote, and who are said to be conservative on racial issues; I wonder whether this was a factor), and a Welsh seat to an ex-Labour independent. Exit polls say that Labour's majority may be slashed to 66 or so.
The BBC's election coverage seems quite similar to the ABC's Australian election coverage (the computer-generated bar charts and swingometers are there), though there's a carnival atmosphere that the Australian elections don't have, with elements of silliness and irreverence, such as a George W. Bush impersonator at the BBC's election party, and a computer-generated mockup of the party leaders racing down Downing St.
Security guru Bruce Schneier turns his professional paranoia to the Papal election, and looks at how vulnerable it is to fraud or rigging. The answer: not very. There are a few minor flaws, though much of the mechanism is quite robust.
What are the lessons here? First, open systems conducted within a known group make voting fraud much harder. Every step of the election process is observed by everyone, and everyone knows everyone, which makes it harder for someone to get away with anything. Second, small and simple elections are easier to secure. This kind of process works to elect a Pope or a club president, but quickly becomes unwieldy for a large-scale election. The only way manual systems work is through a pyramid-like scheme, with small groups reporting their manually obtained results up the chain to more central tabulating authorities.
And a third and final lesson: when an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple thousand years, you end up with something surprisingly good.
A handful of "liberals" in America have been claiming since November that the Presidential election was stolen. Now, the big news is that Presidential candidate John Kerry may be among them; Kerry is allegedly planning to retract his concession and launch a legal challenge against the election results on the ground that the election was fraudulent. As opposed to the Democrats having lost for having run the most inoffensively uncharismatic candidate, and/or because 51% of Americans really believe in their heart of hearts that gays have it too easy.
For all I know, this could be wishful thinking. Then again, if it does happen, I wonder how far it'll get, especially given that most of the Democrat-voters seem to have acknowledged that Bush won it fair and square. Perhaps we'll see a replay of the recent events in the Ukraine, with liberals, secularists, progressives, gays, lesbians, atheists, humanists, polyamorous pagans, Burning Man attendees and the kinds of Americans who own passports and read books other than the Bible and Ann Coulter camping out in the streets of Washington DC under blue banners, soon to be joined by red-banner-waving counter-demonstrations of Pentecostals, ultra-patriots and Nascar fans.
Then again, it may not get to that; given the state of free speech in the Bush Era, the blue rally are likely to be herded into "free-speech zones" miles away from anywhere, ignored by CNN/FoxNews and their efforts unknown to anybody but a handful of liberal bloggers, with those who resist facing the full brunt of "Miami-model" anti-protest ultraviolence.
It's offical. The Lesser Evil has conceded, and we're about to see just how much darker this night can get. Expect increasing authoritarianism in the US, and quite possibly a full-scale world war, with mass conscription and those nifty mini-nukes BushCo are developing, Real Soon Now.
Oh dear, it doesn't look too good does it? Mind you, Ohio's still up in the air, though how much that amounts to is uncertain.
How to rig an election using the voting machines popular in the U.S. (and often manufactured by Republican-controlled companies). Apparently the things are riddled with back doors, allowing well-placed officials to make strategic adjustments and cover their tracks seamlessly. You'd think that if democracy was taken at all seriously, they'd ensure that the voting machines were open-source and open to scrutiny by any concerned members of the public.
Surely enough, the Greens take Cunningham, their first lower-house seat, and set their sights on the balance of power in Victoria (which they could well get, with the two major parties being what they are right now). This was a kick in the gut to Labor (the first opposition party to lose a byelection in half a century), not to mention to the Democrats (who tried, and failed, to win lower-house seats on many occasions).
Election-related sites: The ABC is running an election weblog, linking to election-related articles everywhere, for all you political trainspotters out there. Speaking of trains, a group called Public Transport First want to get the politicians to support public transport, rather than just building more freeways.