The UK gets a new political party!

by Daniel on February 2, 2005

Nick Barlow has the details on the new political party “Veritas”, launched by former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk (Yanks; kind of like Jerry Springer meets Tucker Carlson, uptown!). I hope he will form some sort of bloc with the Ulster Unionists, simply because I’ve been saving up an “Orangeman” joke for that eventuality for the last three years.

Below the fold I reproduce (with minor editing) an old D-squared Digest post, explaining why these parties are doomed, and why it’s a big mistake for Kilroy et al to extrapolate from their strong showings in European and local council elections to any hope of not getting carted out at a General Election. This analysis generalises, by the way, and that is why (full disclosure time) I have a chunky bet on Oona King to keep her seat in a two-way fight against George Galloway. As and when a spread betting market opens up, I will be a seller of Kilroy-Silk’s chances, in reasonable size.

This post was dated May 02, 2003. It appeared the day after UK local government elections

Oh dear. As a political junkie, I think I’ve hit rock bottom. Last night, Mrs Digest[1] came up the stairs late at night wondering why I wasn’t in bed and found me watching coverage of the (UK) local elections. I honestly think I’d have been less ashamed if I’d been caught watching a porn channel. I have never remotely been tempted to vote in these elections (or indeed to find out whether I could have voted; I’m not sure whether they had them in London), but I’m just addicted to the coverage. I love the fancy logos (the BBC had a particularly good “Vote ‘03” one which frankly deserved a better election), the silly computer graphics of debating chambers, the “results coming in” from places I couldn’t point to on a map, the sheer self-importance of it all. And, of course, the sadist in me loves to see how badly most politicians cope with staying up late at night. (Thinking about it, I seem to remember posting a while ago about how the appeal of boring sports like snooker was that they basically turned on the psychological destruction of one of the contestants. I was also watching the snooker from the Crucible last night, and it sort of segued into the elections. Same appeal).

But although I’m an addict, I’m not so far gone as to believe that these elections matter. In fact, I would support the view that local council elections matter a negative amount; the better a political party does in them, the worse a state it is in. To explain this view, let us consider the makeup of the electorate for these elections. We know (or at least, credibly guesstimate) that of the voting population of the UK:

a) 2% are fascists
b) about 4% are Welsh or Scottish nationalists.
c) 10% are civic-minded souls who will vote purely on local issues
d) A thick 10% are single-issue nutters of one kind or another
e) about 1% are more or less fictional characters because they are the result of ballot fraud.

All of these groups will be voting in the local elections for sure; the fascists and nationalists have to turn out because it’s their only chance of getting anyone elected at all, and the other three groups have to vote by definition. Already, with these groups, all five of which are by any reasonable standard weirdos, we’re up to 27% of the electorate. A further 5% of the population belong to political parties, and about four-fifths of these can be expected to get out and vote. We have now reached 31% of the electorate and turnout was only 36% in the local elections.

The weirdoes have usually made up their mind how they’re going to vote on issues of no relevance to a general election campaign (I include the “civics” in this category, because their assessment of who might be best for parking permits in Kensall Green is a completely random predictor of their actual political allegiance). The party hacks vote the party line. Therefore, when we’re “taking a barometer reading of the nation” in these elections, we are looking at a sample which is made up of fourteen percent regular Joes who just happened to be walking past the polling station, plus eighty six percent cranks, ideologues and hacks. If you’re doing well with that crowd, you’re in trouble.

The problem is that the cranks are the swing voters in local elections. If something’s on the cover of (say) the Daily Mail every day, then you can guess that about eighty per cent of the readership don’t give a fuck, and just turn to the features about Catherine Zeta Jones getting a bit fat and the Fred Basset cartoon. But the more gullible fifth will be foaming at the mouth with rage as directed, and if it’s the Mail, that’s four hundred thousand voters out of a turnout less than 15 million. One party ends up being the beneficiary of this 2.5% swing, and believes that there’s been a massive endorsement of their entire platform. Since one tabloid or another (in fact, usually more than one) is always in the self-righteous rage game, this swing is completely random, and since usually the tabloids are catering to a niche audience (people who need to be told they are right all the time because at some level they realise their views are bizarre), there is a come-uppance at the general election when the population as a whole make up their minds. There are real consequences to this, unfortunately; hundreds of people have quite likely been tortured and killed because the political class of the UK got it into their head that being “soft on asylum-seekers” was an important political issue on the basis of local election results.

Bottom line: “Really popular with nutters” isn’t an election winning strategy, but it can get you a good showing in UK local elections. All of which makes me even more determined to vote Tory next time[3]. I really want to punish Blair for lying to me, and I now know that I can do so without taking any material risk that the buggers will get in. And the frightening thing for Duncan Smith[2] is that my kind of support is probably quite a material proportion of his entire franchise.

Footnotes:
[1]She has asked me to point out that her name is not Mrs. Digest and will not be until I get a chunk of gold on her finger.
[2]I think that Duncan Smith was a politician of the time, but I really can’t remember anything about him, or why I mentioned him in this context[3].
[3]Ahhhh of course, John B in comments jogged my memory. “Duncan Smith” was actually Ian Duncan Smith, who led the Conservative Party at the time, and at the time I was so incensed at being lied to by Labour that I was going to vote Tory. Don’t worry etc, since that post I have found out that my local MP is Frank Dobson, who voted against the war (and also has sound opinions on the real issues that affect real people, like the proposed redevelopment of my local boozer and a parking ticket on my Triumph Spitfire that he sorted out in 1999), so I will be voting Labour, with heavy heart.

{ 13 comments }

1

john b 02.03.05 at 12:44 am

What’re your turnout predictions for this general election? I’m torn between “low because all the players are rubbish”, in which case the maniac strategy stands a chance of success, and “high because everyone hates each other so much”, in which case sanity may prevail.

BTW, I hope you’re living in a they-weigh-the-Labour-vote constituency like mine, otherwise the threat to vote Tory just isn’t funny…

2

dsquared 02.03.05 at 1:18 am

Update duly posted. I thought you were up the Finchley Road? That’s not exactly safe Labour territory; it’s pure 1997 gain, isn’t it?

3

dsquared 02.03.05 at 1:25 am

By the way, CT readers, John “only 15 votes in the Fistful of Euros blog awards” does not exactly come with clean hands to the issue of tactical voting in general, or abstention by people who actually like his blog but couldn’t be bothered to vote for it in particular.

4

jam 02.03.05 at 2:21 am

What really worries me about this post is I left England 35 years ago and Fred Basset is still going.

5

Cryptic Ned 02.03.05 at 3:00 am

I thought Fred Basset was a US comic strip.

It’s way better than Marmaduke, anyway.

6

Giles 02.03.05 at 3:32 am

Good post – as you say, the main role of local elections is to give the nutters a chance to vent their spleen without hurting anyone.

Still you missed the obvious “in vino Veritas” gag. Veritas’s policies are essentially what you get some time around closing time on Thursday night.

7

MyShred 02.03.05 at 4:26 am

Lol, yeah. Heh.

8

john b 02.03.05 at 9:43 am

Working up Finchley Road (Hampstead & Highgate, 1992 Lab gain from Con, but living in Finsbury Park (Islington North, where the Greens and the Tories are fighting for third place…)

9

John Isbell 02.03.05 at 11:22 am

As long as the Raving Monster Loony Party is still up and kicking.

10

des von bladet 02.03.05 at 12:20 pm

Killroy-“Splitter”-Silk and his hilarious Popular Xenophobic People’s Front of Judea, notwithstanding, I vote every time they send me a voting card. My Will to Democracy is strong! (My acquaintance with the issues, however, is usually desultory, although I read two (2) whole manifestoes for the Yoorpeans.)

11

Rod 02.03.05 at 2:47 pm

I saw George Galloway wandering around Oxford last week. Tiny man.

Who’d have thought?

12

JP 02.03.05 at 3:38 pm

Veritas’s policies are essentially what you get some time around closing time on Thursday night.

That reminds me of something. My memory is hazy on this, but I believe that in the immediate aftermath of the fall of communism, some group calling themselves the “Polish Beer Lovers Party” won a sizeable chunk of seats in the new Polish legislature. Perhaps this Veritas has more electoral potential than you think.

13

Yusuf Smith 02.03.05 at 4:51 pm

Sorry for the multi-TB. I kept getting told that the TB attempt had timed out, which is why I kept sending it, until I remembered that putting comments here takes a long time as well.

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