Saturday, 30 April 2011


In order to spare the regulars on pb1, I've put the Q & A on AV that I've written below. I've tried to make it as objective as possible - obviously complete objectivity is impossible, but I've tried to address where and why AV differs from FPTP, what the arguments are (and why both official sides have come up with crap arguments) and why I came to the conclusion to vote Yes. It's long, but there have been many questions raised and much debate about the whichness of what, and what "is" means, so it would be rather a challenge to make it shorter without ducking some of the issues.

Q - What is AV?

A - AV, or Alternative Vote, is the common name for Instant Runoff Voting. We’ve all experienced runoff voting, even if not under that name: In an election or contest, the last placed person is eliminated and another round is run, until the winner gets the majority of the votes in that round.

Q – Why is Runoff voting ever used, then?

A – To prevent what’s called “vote splitting”. If there are more than two candidates, it’s likely that at least two of those standing are going to be more similar than the other(s). They’ll be “fishing in the same pool” for votes. But your vote can only go to one of them, so even if their stance is agreed by the majority, they’ll probably lose. And the winner could well be someone who would lose against either of them individually. So improving choice in this way would mean reducing the democratic result – not good.

Q – So why not restrict the lineup?

A – Because that restricts your choice. There’s plenty of complaints already that Westminster MPs and their political Parties aren’t in touch with what you want. Is it really a good move to restrict the scope of candidates to what they consider worthwhile?

Q – Okay. Any other reason why runoff voting is good?

A – Yes – the “wasted vote” argument. You’ve all seen the leaflets: “If you vote for the SNP, you could get Labour”. “The Tories can’t win here”. “Only Labour can beat the Tories here”. “It’s a two horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats”. Each and every one of those is appealing for you not to support the candidate you want for fear that your positive vote will result in someone you really want to avoid getting elected from winning. Smaller parties like UKIP and the Greens are squeezed out immediately. Independents have an incredibly difficult task to leap into contention. Under First-Past-The-Post, it’s horrifically obvious that if you vote for what you want, you stand a very big chance of getting what you detest, so you are encouraged to vote for what you don’t really want but could probably put up with. And in the next election, as your votes went for these “I could probably put up with them” candidates, the alternatives languish without hope.

Q – What’s “First Past the Post”?

A – The existing system. Add up the number of votes that people get and whoever is in the lead – regardless of what the final score is – wins.

Q – So where’s the post? And what happens if you get past it second?

A – There isn’t one. You can lose with 49% of the vote or win with 26% of the vote (and both have happened). And it doesn’t matter when you finish counting your votes either.

Q – So why do they call it First Past the Post?

A – Search me, mate. I didn’t come up with it.

Q – So – you can win with 26% or lose with 49%. Why the difference?

A – It depends how many candidates are standing, whether your main opponents are sufferi ng from vote-splitting or not, how many people have bought your arguments on wasted votes, and so on.

Q – And that’s supposed to come up with the right winner? It’s supposed to be fairer?

A – Well, it’s certainly very simple. And the Big Two parties are almost always in one of those top two positions so they can use the wasted vote argument, so they like it. And it makes it a lot harder for large chunks of their support to wander off to a new smaller party or an independent or a splinter of their own party who may be closer to your views. The “nowhere else to go” argument.

Q – It’s very, very simple and some politicians like it because it makes their lives easier isn’t really the best selling point. Is there any way to find out how they really feel about it?

A – Yes. The Leadership contests for the Parties.

Q – And what do they use? First Past this non-existent Post?

A – Ah, no. The Tories use “Exhaustive Ballot”, Labour use straight AV within an Electoral College and the Lib Dems use something called STV.

Q – Doesn’t help me.

A – Might help if I say that each and every one of them is a runoff voting system. No FPTP for them.

Q – Ah. There’s a hint. So why do they use Runoff Voting?

A – To ensure that the winner has a broad range of support without risking someone unpopular from getting in due to vote splitting.

Q – Sounds familiar. So why’s it good enough for them but not us?

A – Because they benefit from the existing system.

Q – Haven’t we used the existing system for time out of mind?

A – The existing system of one person one vote for one member per constituency under FPTP has only been in its current form since 1950. Before that, university graduates got another vote under a more complicated multi-member version of AV called STV, and owners of businesses got an additional vote where their business was. And from 1945 backwards, more and more constituencies had multiple MPs. And the rules on who could vote changed repeatedly over time as well. Interestingly, back in the 1930’s, Parliament passed a Bill to require the use of AV for Parliamentary elections.

Q – So why wasn’t it used?

A – Collapse of Government. And then a World War came along and voting reform rather dropped off the bottom of the priority list. And after World War 2, the Big Two parties found out just how much they benefited from FPTP and, curiously, didn’t seem to want to change the system.

Q – Funny, that. Well, runoff voting sounds good, but running round after round is going to take ages and be very costly. Is it worth the hassle?

A – That’s where it turns to “Instant” Runoff. If the candidate you want to win makes it through every round, who will you vote for?

Q – Well, the obvious answer is “my candidate”, but I might change my mind. How do you cope with that?

A – We can’t – it’s all down to your preferences at the Instant you fill in your ballot. To be fair, you don’t get to change your mind under FPTP when you walk out of the ballot booth.

Q – Well yes, but if there were multiple rounds, the candidates could give more speeches and change tack a little and my preferences would change. Isn’t that unfair?

A – Well, it would definitely be unfair on the candidate who just got eliminated and therefore never got a chance to try to change your mind, certainly. And if we did it that way, we’d run into the cost and time issues, just to allow some of the candidates to change their appeal and others not. The method of crystallising your preferences at the instant you fill in your ballot does seem fairer all round.

Q – Okay, say you can assume that my vote for my preferred candidate sticks with him (or her) throughout all the counting rounds – I can go with that. What do you do if and when he (or she) is eliminated.

A – You have to tell us – in that instant you fill out your ballot – where you’d like your vote to go in the runoff if and when your candidate isn’t there. You do this by putting a “1” by your first preference – the candidate who you most want to win, a “2” by your second, a “3” by your third preference, and a “4” by your …

Q – Fourth preference. I get it. Hardly rocket science is it?

A – I’d agree. Some politicians apparently consider it far too hard for normal people like you and me, though.

Q – Aren’t you being a bit snarky there?

A – No, some really have explicitly said that it’s too complicated.

Q – Do I have to list a number by every candidate? What happens if I genuinely no longer care?

A – Stop writing numbers at that point.

Q – People have said that it gives you multiple votes. Is that true?

A – No – your vote only counts once in every round, just as for any other runoff voting. Only the highest preference left in the race is looked at – lower preferences are ignored. If your candidate gets all the way to the final runoff, your preference of who else you’d vote for in the final runoff if your preferred candidate doesn’t make it is ignored.

Q – Now you’re just stating the obvious, aren’t you?

A – Again, you’d be surprised.

Q – So – under First Past the Nonexistent Post, the “winner” can be someone who only got their due to a split vote or by pressuring enough people to forget about who they’d really want to vote for, it gives you nowhere else to go but the big parties, it stops independents in their tracks … and it’s not good enough for politicians themselves. That’s accounted for most of the No2AV arguments I’ve seen. What about this “It will cost £250 million” leaflet?

A – Oh that’s easy. Add up the price of all these leaflets, add up the price of running the referendum, and if you assume that we’d need to buy loads of voting machines, you get that figure.

Q – But everything but the voting machines is also a cost for not changing. Why do we need voting machines, anyway?

A – We don’t.

Q – So why does this leaflet say we do?

A – All’s fair in love and politics. We don’t need them, but if you believe it, it means the story’s worked.

Q – What’s this about BNP voters getting multiple votes? Do the BNP support AV?

A – No they don’t – they’d find it harder. Under FPTP, they might win on 26%; under AV they’d have to convince a lot more people to vote for them at some stage of the process. The argument is that the BNP are a minor party and their supporters are more likely to have their candidate get knocked out, so their vote would transfer, whilst that of a major party might not.

Q – But that just means they’re not getting a shot in the final runoff, but the supporters of the big parties are. Why’s that a bad thing? And it’s the same for UKIP, the Greens, the Campaign for an English Parliament, Mebyon Kernow …

A – If you say it quickly enough it sounds dodgy. All’s fair in love and politics, remember. They’re also saying that the winner might need those lower preferences, and that votes from BNP supporters are yucky.

Q – But not from the other parties? How do they know they’re not getting votes from BNP supporters already?

A – They are, and they know it. Some parties print leaflets aimed at BNP supporters already, trying to pressure them to swap their vote completely under the “wasted vote” argument. In others, there are no BNP candidates, so how do you know who the BNP supporters are voting for?

Q – Well, maybe there are no candidates there because there are no BNP supporters. Have you considered that?

A – Doesn’t work – that there are BNP supporters in 338 constituencies with an average of 3.7% support in those 338 even after the wasted vote pressure, but absolutely none in the other 312 constituencies doesn’t really add up. Rather more likely that the BNP run out of money for deposits.

Q – Will AV mean that we automatically end up with perpetual Hung Parliaments and Coalitions?

A – No.

Q – I was kind of hoping for a bit more. Can you expand on that?

A – Okay – critics claim that AV would end up with perpetual hung Parliaments because the top two Parties would no longer have such strength. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark to rerun previous elections as if they were under AV, but the British Election Survey – of tens of thousands of people every election, carried out by academics, has got second preference choices for elections since 1964. If you assume that first preferences equate to the votes cast and second preferences are as given, two elections that had majority Governments end up Hung – 1964 and 1974 (October). Both had majorities of 4 (ie 2 MPs past the finish post) under FPTP, so you’d need a knife-edge result to shift it. All others result in the same winner as before, or were hung under FPTP anyway.

Q – Seems fair enough. So it won’t cause much change then?

A – Again, we can’t say. Those assumptions are dubious – in the best study, it was found that a fair chunk of people had different first preferences to how they cast their FPTP vote, and running hypothetical scenarios is always risky. So – we don’t know, but what evidence there is, is that there would be only a very marginal effect.

Q – Only 3 countries us AV and one of them - Australia - wants to move away from it. Why should we move towards it?

A – How many countries in Europe use FPTP? Just us? When we were putting our monarch under the rule of law with Magna Carta, how many other countries had done so? Does that worry you, or do you think that we should care less what others do and more what we should do. And with respect to Australia, the unrest there is – according to more specific opinion polls – because it’s compulsory to put a preference against everyone, regardless of whether you care or not.

Q – How does that help democracy? If you don’t care, you’re just putting random numbers down.

A – It’s worse than that – the parties, knowing that you probably don’t care too much beyond a certain point, issue preference cards to recommend how you vote. So a system which should give power to the people, gives it back to the politicians at the last moment. Polls giving the choice of “optional preferencing” versus “compulsory preferencing” versus “anything else at all” come up with a landslide for “optional preferencing”.

Q – A friend of mine said “It will lead to the tyranny of mild preferences”. I’m not really sure what he meant, but it sounded impressive and not the kind of thing I’d like to see. What did he mean?

A – He means that he assumes that people won’t really care much what happens after the first – or, at most, second – preference, so will put down mild gradings of support. So someone who is fervently for one party is cancelled out by someone who kind-of-just-about prefers one party over another between fifth and sixth preferences.

Q – Well, that sounds like a fair criticism! Isn’t it?

A – Think about it a bit more. Firstly, many people say that between their third and fourth (or lower) preference is where they really start to care. If they think that two or more parties are very similar in a way they like, they’ll put them in order but would like a way to signal that they really, really don’t want party number four. They can’t, but it’s not really appropriate to call that a “mild preference”. And if you think about it, practically all of the party election campaigns are based around mild preferences. “Your preferred party can’t win, you mildly prefer us to them, so vote for us!”. “You wouldn’t normally vote for us, but we’ve done some things you might like, give us a try for once”, “You kind of like us but would probably prefer not to bother voting today – please vote anyway” are what most of them boil down to (very few are “You hate us, but please vote for us anyway” or “We know you’re going to vote for us so we’re wasting money on a leaflet to ask you to do what you’re going to do anyway” ). And they do it because it works. All campaigns are down to maximising “the tyranny of mild preferences”. AV beats FPTP because it allows you to honestly go with your strong (positive) preference than aim to avoid your mild (negative) preference.

Q – I’ve seen claims that it would stitch up the system to lock the Conservatives out. Is it true?

A – These are based on the theory that there is a “centre-left majority” in the UK which only results in Conservative Governments due to vote splitting on the left. Only trouble with that theory is that it’s rubbish.

Q – How come? If the Lib Dems are on the left, then it makes sense – remember your points on vote splitting earlier.

A – Because in election after election, Lib Dem voters turn out not to be a monolithic bloc of “left wing voters”. In 8 of the elections since 1964, they (or their predecessor parties) had a net preference for the Conservatives, as against 4 where they preferred Labour – albeit the preference for Labour in 1997-2001 was far greater than any previous such preference. Recent polls indicate that the remaining Lib Dem voters again prefer the Conservatives.

Q – Won’t the politicians who truly believe this be rather disappointed then?

A – My heart bleeds.

Q – The Yes2AV people also say that it would get rid of safe seats. Is that true?

A – Um – let’s just say it’s a considerable exaggeration. If a candidate gets over 50% - or even pretty close to 50% - of the vote today, or has a very healthy lead over the second placed candidate, it’s not going to be appreciably less safe. We may, after people are freed to vote how they want rather than how they fear, find in the long run that some seats aren’t quite as safe as they were, but overall, not really.

Q – Would it have stopped the expenses scandal or made MPs work harder.

A – I can’t really see any way how those would have happened, either. Sorry.

Q - They also say that it ensures that whoever wins gets over fifty percent of the votes. That’s true, isn’t it?

A – Kind of yes and kind of no. In any run-off vote, to win you need more tan half of the vote – in that round. But with some people choosing not to preference any further down than the level where they don’t care any more, the winner may well get just under half of the number of all votes cast in the first round. So it’s arguable.

Q – Some actors say I should vote yes and some sportsmen say I should vote no. Should I take any notice of them?

A – If you can’t think for yourself, sure.

Q – If I want a different form of change – say list PR, STV, AV+ or AMS, how should I vote?

A – Vote as to whether you think AV is better than FPTP. But if you’re wondering which result is most likely to bring about further change, I’d suggest that the rejection of a preferential runoff system would damage the case for any other preferential runoff systems in future (like AV+ and STV). Many people believe that if AV fails, the pressure for a larger change will become irresistible, so – if AV+ and STV become less likely and pressure continues to build for a change and is not alleviated by a potential move to AV, then it would be logical that the chances of a move to List PR (like the European elections) or AMS (like the Scottish Parliamentary elections) would become significantly higher.

Q – I heard that there’s a way in which AV breaks down – if your vote increases, you can lose. Is that true?

A – Yes. Every voting system has some fundamental flaws – it’s been proven that it’s impossible to have one that’s perfect. That is AV’s biggest flaw – if supporters of a candidate who otherwise was going to lose anyway move another candidate from last to first, it can change the order of eliminations and change the winner such that the one they are now voting for loses. It’s called “violation of monoticity”

Q – That’s a bit convoluted and unlikely, isn’t it?

A – Well, yes, but it has happened in the past. Admittedly, it is rare enough that it’s worthy of note whenever it happens, and it’s implausibly difficult to bring about deliberately. In comparison, FPTP’s key flaws are that the winner could easily be the loser in a head to head with ANY of the other candidates, and the addition of choice similar to one existing candidate can mean that the candidate who should win, doesn’t. And these are common enough that they have become the focus of much of the efforts of the parties in each constituency – to convince you that if you don’t vote for them, the above will happen to your misfortune. If you want to know the technical names, they are “violation of Condorcet Loser” and “violation of Independence of Clones”.

Q – Actually, I didn’t really want to know the names. So, to sum up the arguments against: that the FPTP loser can win is not a valid criticism, as the only way the result changes is if the FPTP winner only got there due to vote splitting. And the parties themselves use runoff voting to ensure that that scenario doesn’t happen for them anyway. Everyone only gets one vote in every round and it’s the same for all of the voters, the claim of it costing a conveniently specific high price is pretty much made up, the argument on BNP voters relies on “we don’t explicitly see it happen under the current system so we can pretend it doesn’t happen” and ignores the fact that all the other voters put together are a much, much larger influence, the idea of a permanent stitch up against one of the parties is rubbish, and the perpetual Hung Parliament argument is baseless – but there is, as with every voting system, at least one flaw and for AV it’s this “monoticity” thing, which is fairly rare and improbably difficult to deliberately cause?

A – Yup.

Q – And positive reasons to vote for are that it produces a result that isn’t distorted when you vote for who you actually want – because vote splitting won’t be a problem, that minor parties, independents and different flavours of opinion within the big parties which happen to march with your actual views could more easily be represented, and the party leaders can’t take you for granted anymore because you will now have somewhere else to go without fear of disaster. If you get to vote for who you actually want and they can’t produce leaflets to try to scare you into voting for them even if you don’t really want to in order to avoid a worse fate – because of these rather common flaws of the FPTP system – what will they produce instead?

A – Don’t know, but I’d enjoy finding out.

Monday, 25 April 2011

F1 2011 season, after 3 races

Well, we should have had 4 by now but Bahrain was axed. It may return, though it seems a little unlikely. A shame to lose a race but if we had to lose one then Bahrain is not the hardest blow to bear.

I’m going to take a general approach rather than looking at each race specifically, as there are already post-race reviews up.

Red Bull clearly have the best car. It’s the fastest and in most regards it’s highly reliable. Well, for Vettel. Webber has faced some sort of reliability failing at every race and has done well to score good points despite this. Vettel, in stark contrast to 2010, started with near perfect reliability and performance and deserves his massive lead. However, Red Bull is not invincible. Its KERS breaks down frequently and has a problem with overheating, and Webber usually needs an extra pit stop per race due to tyre mangling.

McLaren made an enormous, staggering leap forward from pre-season testing, when their car was as magnificent and impressive as Crassus’ performance at Carrhae, to the season itself. Their car is in a strong second place, close enough to challenge Red Bull for podiums and, with fortune/superior strategy, wins. They’re also a cut above the likes of Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes. McLaren’s job now is to stop Red Bull running away with the title. Hamilton may well be Vettel’s closest rival this season, though it’ll be interesting to see how Button does.

Ferrari did the exact opposite of McLaren. They seemed ultra-competitive in testing, perhaps even better than the Red Bull, only to be a bit lacklustre in the season. The car just isn’t quick enough. On the plus side, Massa’s got his head screwed on right and has beaten Alonso twice out of three attempts, aided by Alonso ramming Hamilton in Malaysia. Ferrari have less than half of Red Bull’s points (50 to 105), highlighting the task they have. But, things looked impossible for Alonso last year and he came within a whisker of winning the title.

Renault have produced a cracker of a car which has delivered 2 podiums in 3 races. It’s a great shame that Kubica was not able to drive for the team, and here’s hoping he recovers fully and gets back for 2012. Heidfeld and Petrov seem to veer from the ridiculous to the sublime, scoring either no points or standing on the podium. Their car is very tasty, with a superb start, but is a bit off the pace in qualifying. The title is out of reach but they are doing well in their bid to beat Mercedes and become the 4th team (32 points to 16).

Mercedes are still not living up to the memory of the Brawn team. The car is just not fast enough and they’ve had some bad luck, with both drivers victims of misfortune in Australia. However, it is a very good car in a straight line and Schumacher’s been starting brilliantly. It was great to watch him and Alonso duelling in China. If they don’t develop some pace soon, Rosberg will probably seek a faster team.

Sauber have made a good start, and only failed to score in the first race due to a silly technicality which meant they broke the rules without gaining any speed advantage. Kobayashi seems to have been passed more than expected, but Perez is doing very well in his first season, though he could perhaps tone down the aggression a touch.

Likewise, Force India have a class act in di Resta, who is punching above his weight with the car and keeping his team mate, Sutil, honest. Toro Rosso are also doing alright, without setting the world alight.

The lowest three teams, Lotus, Virgin and HRT, are still way off the pace. I hope they’re able to up their game. Personally, I’d be quite happy if HRT and perhaps Virgin were axed.

So, how are the rule changes working?

KERS is back, and works the same as before. Recycling energy used when braking, it affords a brief 80bhp power boost to promote overtaking or defending. It works pretty well, though the system can break, leaving a car lumbered with a hefty weight and no performance boost.

DRS is a new, simple, cheap system which allows a car to basically go faster in a straight line when within 1 second of the preceding car, on a specified straight. It produces a bigger advantage than KERS and the two can (and often are) used at the same time.

I like KERS. And I like DRS. But I think having both is a little over the top and would prefer DRS to be axed.

However, both of the above pale in comparison to the impact brought about by the new Pirelli tyres. Pirelli were given a brief to increase degradation so that strategy and tyre management became critical, as in Montreal last year. Excepting that instance, 2010 saw highly durable, reliable Bridgestones which almost always meant that teams opted for a single stop. Pirelli have given us something new, a fantastically exciting Chinese GP and put strategy ahead of qualifying in terms of importance.

I do wonder how the race in Montreal will go, given that even the granite-like Bridgestone tyres needed multiple stops.

I’m also glad the 107% rule has been reintroduced. It was breached by both HRTs in Australia, and they were not permitted to start the race. Quite right too.

The next race starts on the 8th of May, and is in Turkey. This may well be the last race at the circuit, which is one of the better new ones. Let’s hope my rubbish betting improves somewhat.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 23 April 2011

In search of the Braggites: a tale of three counties

Last summer, I looked at how the Labour vote in Conservative/Lib Dem marginal had fallen to far lower levels than occurred to the Lib Dem vote in Labour/Tory marginals or to the Conservative vote in Lib Dem/Labour marginals:

I concluded that if this was as a result of tactical voting for Lib Dem candidates by Labour supporters, as recommended by Billy Bragg, the Conservatives could look forward to substantial numbers of seat gains at the next election if Labour voters decided not to continue with their tactical voting.

The critical question, therefore, is to establish just how much tactical voting of this type was taking place, and then we might be able to assess how much unravelling we could expect. Easier said than done. PB superstar Andrea suggested to me that I might look at the overall vote tallies in whole counties at successive elections and this is what I have done.

Andrea suggested that I looked at Devon. At the 2010 election, there were 12 constituencies in Devon. 601,300 voters made their way to the polling booths and 85,556 of these cast their vote for a Labour candidate: 14.2% of the vote.

No two general elections are exactly comparable, but 1992 is probably the easiest election to compare with 2010. The Conservatives weren't too far ahead of Labour and, importantly for our purposes, the Lib Dems were new on the scene so a culture of tactical voting would not be as mature as it is now. How have things changed?

There were 11 seats in Devon in 1992. 638,104 voters cast their vote and 122,854 of these voted Labour: 19.3% of the vote. Evidently, there has been a decline in the Devon Labour vote in that time – but of course, Labour polled better nationally in 1992 than in 2010, so that doesn't prove much. Labour polled 29.0% nationally in 2010 and 34.4% nationally in 1992. Making the appropriate adjustments, we could have expected the Devonwide Labour vote to have been 16.2% in 2010 if there had been no additional tactical voting. Since it was in fact 14.2%, that suggests that there might have been some additional tactical voting, but it's hardly overwhelming evidence.

What if we strip out those seats where Labour was out of contention? Labour's vote in Devon is very efficiently distributed. On its puny vote share in 2010, Labour managed two MPs out of 12 (by comparison, the Conservatives tallied 16.7% of the vote in Scotland and managed one MP out of 59). Labour was a reasonably close second in a third seat. Nicely done.

In 1992, Labour had one MP and finished a reasonably close second in three other seats. Not quite so efficient, but then it had to overtake the Lib Dems in all four of those seats. A pretty good effort really.

The numerate will have realised that means that Labour's performance elsewhere in Devon was at joke party levels. In the remaining nine seats in 2010, 463,633 voters cast their votes, but only 36,280 of these were Labour votes: 7.8% of the vote. Labour was pushed into fourth in two of these constituencies by UKIP. This sounds strongly indicative of tactical voting. Was it?

In 1992, there were seven Devon seats in which Labour finished third. It gathered 55,221 votes out of 431,028 cast in those seats): 12.8% of the vote. So it should be noted that Labour was already performing dismally in rural Devon, even then. If we make the same adjustment to the vote share to allow for the differential performance of Labour nationally, we would have expected it to have got 10.8% of the votes in these constituencies. This suggests that an additional 3% of Labour's vote has been lost to tactical voting – not as much as I originally might have expected to see.

Of course, Devon is just one county, so I thought it worthwhile to look at Dorset and Somerset. In Dorset, Labour didn't take a single seat in either 1992 or 2010. In 1992, Labour took 54,613 out of 407,472 votes (13.4% of the votes), while in 2010 it took 47,594 out of 391,111 votes (12.2% of the votes). Allowing for its relative performance at these two elections, Labour actually did better in Dorset in 2010 than it did in 1992, and this remains true even if you strip out the 2010 result in South Dorset (where Labour previously held the seat in 2005). Billy Bragg's appeal for more Labour tactical votes appears to have fallen on deaf ears: a prophet without honour in his homeland.

Somerset tells a different story. Labour was neither first nor second in any seat in Somerset in either 1992 or 2010. So you might expect to see more evidence of tactical voting here. And you do. In 1992, 38,561 Labour voters dutifully wasted their vote out of 297,857 voters: 12.9% of the vote. In 2010, this shrivelled to 22,163 out of 286,279: 7.7% of the vote. You would have expected to see 10.9% of the voters going red in 2010 if national trends had been followed. The Lib Dems now hold four seats out of five in Somerset, where in 1992 they held one. It seems reasonable to conclude that tactical voting has increased.

What can we conclude? First, that Labour have polled appallingly in these three counties (outside Plymouth and Exeter) for a generation. There comes a point where a Labour tactical voter is indistinguishable from a lifelong Lib Dem voter. Secondly, that there has been increased tactical voting, at least in Devon and Somerset, but that it has been on nothing like the scale that some, including me, have assumed. Maybe 10 Lib Dem seats nationally are at risk to the Tories from an unwinding of the increased tactical voting, but to lose more, the Lib Dems would have to lose long term Lib Dem voters as well as reds in yellow clothing.

Which leaves one further question: just who are all these Labour supporters who claim to have voted tactically for the Lib Dems?


Sunday, 17 April 2011

China: post-race analysis

Since Malaysia:

Both Alonso and his best friend forever Hamilton got slammed with 20 second time penalties (the former for ramming the latter, who got his for apparently moving around too much on track to stop the Spaniard passing him). This made no difference to Alonso, who stayed 6th, but put Hamilton 8th, behind Kobayashi.

Here’s the analysis from Brundle:

Qualifying Summary:

The most exciting and unpredictable session so far, at the back of the grid anyway. Webber remains assailed by dire luck, lacking KERS, suffering a pre-qualifying electrical failure and then having the team put him out on hard tyres which saw him qualify a staggeringly rubbish 18th.

Renault continues to veer from the ridiculous to the sublime. Heidfeld, fresh from a podium in Malaysia, qualified a pitiful 16th. Petrov got a great Q2 lap time but then his engine died on track and the result was that he’s 10th and 11 drivers were on track all at once to try and qualify for Q3. In Renault’s favour is their ultra-brilliant start and their very good raw pace, so the race may not be an utter disaster.

Schumacher continues his rather lacklustre qualifying performance in 14th, but his young gun team mate got an excellent 4th. I’m sure Rosberg will be keen to leapfrog his elder colleague, who has 2 points to Rosberg’s 0.

The Toro Rossos and di Resta did very well. I must say I’m tremendously impressed with the rookie Scot, who has outqualified Sutil at every race so far and matched him for points. However, I suspect they may prove easy prey to Petrov off the line.

During Q2 I thought it might be a close three way battle for pole, and was quietly hopeful of my 5.4 tip on Hamilton. Then I saw Vettel mercilessly crush his rivals, yet again, and felt a bit moronic. I think I’ll revert to only offering pole tips post-P3. Vettel’s 0.7s margin of victory is enormous. It also shows what a disaster Webber had. 1st and 18th for Red Bull. I think the key is the combination of Vettel and the car. It is a very good car, but he’s the best driver on the grid and together, they’re seemingly unstoppable.

One important factor that the commentary team highlighted was the possibility that lower temperatures, as well as decreasing tyre degradation generally, help Red Bull especially. This may be related to the car generally and also the specific heating problems with KERS. Vettel was fast enough to easily get pole, even without KERS (worth around 0.3s per lap), but if it fails during the race he’ll have all the weight with none of the performance, and the McLarens just might be able to make it a contest.

Race Summary:

Betting-wise, a disaster. This was mostly because I wholly misjudged the start and didn’t realise Webber could have KERS mended. Neither Renault got a great start, Petrov made up only a single place and rarely looked like getting in the top 6. Webber was poor for the first half of the race but then raced through the field to get a fantastic 3rd. Vettel had his worse start yet, dropping to 3rd from the line but recovering well to get a 2nd. My supposition in backing 10 plus seconds for the victory margin was Vettel staying first and steaming into a big lead.

I also, rather less than brilliantly, forgot to try hedging the bets, though I suspect only the Webber one may’ve been hedgeable at probably poor odds, so it probably didn’t make much difference.

The start was very exciting and at odds with my predictions. At the sharp end, both McLarens zoomed past Vettel, who had a dire start. He was also, briefly, passed by Rosberg but regained the place swiftly. A little further back, Massa overtook Alonso, and Schumacher had another staggeringly good start. Neither Renault made up much ground, and nor did Webber.

We then entered a very complicated race as teams went for differing strategies, with most opting for 3 stops but a few (including Vettel) trying just 2. This was further complicated by the fact that a few drivers (Hamilton, Petrov and Webber) had 2 sets of new soft tyres (Hamilton had deliberately only used 1 set in qualifying for this reason, Petrov and Webber did not participate in Q3, hence saving their tyres).

At various points of the race numerous drivers and teams looked like possible contenders for the win or a podium spot. Massa’s early pass on Alonso, backed up by some good driving thereafter, saw him return to some better form after his crash two seasons ago. He briefly led, and in the end got a good 6th. Alonso never really looked in contention, but did have quite a few entertaining jousts with Schumacher, the pair ending up 7th and 8th. Schumacher made up 6 places from his starting position, and Rosberg got 5th to secure Mercedes best race result this season.

Renault had a poor race. Petrov did make up a place, but Heidfeld did not get into the points. Disappointing from a team that previously had a pair of podiums. Toro Rosso also had a rough ride, with neither driver staying in the top 10 after an excellent qualifying.

So, what about the big boys? For a time a 1-2 for McLaren seemed possible, but Webber’s fresh tyres and raw pace enabled him to overhaul Button and nab 3rd, a stunning result from 18th on a grid, especially given his KERS didn’t work for part of the race. McLaren got their first win with Hamilton surviving a pre-formation lap scare when his car wouldn’t start, and 1st and 4th is a decent result. Vettel was compromised by a combination of a start slower than a Super Aguri in quicksand and the wrong strategy (2 stops rather than 3). Ironically, Webber’s higher tyre degradation and extra softs probably made certain his 3-stop strategy which paid huge dividends.

Something for both McLaren and Red Bull to feel thrilled about, and for Vettel and Button to rue.


Turkey is next, but there’s a three week hiatus, so I’ll probably write an interim article about how the season’s shaping up and how the various rule changes are working out and affecting things.

The qualifying failure was mostly me being daft and betting pre-P3, which I shall not do again. Racing failure was just a huge misjudgement and a little bit of bad luck (namely Vettel choosing now to finally have a bad start).

Forget qualifying. Strategy is now the king of F1. Hamilton really did learn a trick from his Malaysian misadventure, and his cunning plan to save a set of softs and slightly sacrifice grid position was inspired. But, this can also work, accidentally, for a chap out of person such as Webber. We ought to watch out for this in the future.

I am a bit displeased with a 0 from 4 for this race. However, it is early days, we’re just 3 races into a probably 19 race season (still no word for certain on Bahrain). The next set of races are European, so P3 should be at a decent time, enabling, hopefully, some green qualifying sessions.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 16 April 2011

“A choice between having cancer and AIDS” : Mario Vargas Llosa

The Peruvian Presidential Election 2011

On Sunday 10 April 2011 Peruvians went to the polls to elect their new president. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote a second round of voting involving the top two candidates will take place on Sunday June 5th. Under the Peruvian constitution current President Alan Garcia is prohibited from seeking successive re-election.

With about 93% of the vote counted (the final results won’t be known for a few days due to the logistics of counting votes from the Atacama desert across the Andes to the Amazon basin) the results are:

1. Ollanta Humala Gana Perú* (Populist Left) 31.7%

2. Keiko Fujimori Fuerza 2011 (Populist Right) 23.5%

3. Pedro Pablo Fuczynski (PPK) Alianza por el Gran Cambio (Centre Right) 18.7%

4. Alejandro Toledo Perú Posible (Centre Left) 15.5%

5. Luis Castaneda Solidaridad Nacional (Right) 9.9%

* The party labels used are an umbrella term for a coalition of parties eg Gana Perú is made up of the (Partido Nacionalista Peruano), the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista), the Peruvian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Peruano), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Revolucionario) and the Political Movement Socialist Voice (Movimiento Político Voz Socialista).

It is clear therefore that the second round runoff election will be between Humala and Fujimori. This should be interesting to say the least – Humala came to prominence in October 2000 when as a then Lieutenant Colonel he led a military uprising against the President Alberto Fujimori – the imprisioned father of Keiko. To say that there is bad blood between the two would put it mildly!!

In the 2006 election Humala recieved 30.6% of the first round vote before losing in the second round to Alan Garcia gaining 47.4%. The slight improvement in his vote and the divsions amongst his opponents lead me to believe that Humala will win the second round.

Looking at a breakdown of the vote we can see where the election was won and lost. Of the top three Humala succeeded by winning big in his heartland of southern Andean Peru stacking up 55-60% of the vote in Cusco and Puno for example and a massive 86% in Moquequa, whilst ensuring a steady spread across the rest of Peru. Fujimori was the most consistant candidate gaining 18-27% pretty much everywhere and leading in the Lima exterior and Ica regions of central Peru. PPK´s support was limited vitally entirely to Lima and essentially the upscale districts of San Isidro, Miraflores, La Molina etc. Outside this heartland his performance was dire. This upscale vote can be expected to swing behind (reluctantly) Fujimori. The second round battle will be decided in, what I call “middle Peru” – the forgotten, dusty towns like Ancash, Iquitos and Cajamarca.

An analysis of the campaign

With his second place in 2006, high profile and populist credentials it was certain that Humala would stand. Demonised as a Peruvian Hugo Chavez, who would kick all gringos out of the country, steal your pension and nationise the Banks thus destroying Peru´s booming economy, Humala played a very savvy, understated campaign. Allowing the others to exaggerate and caricature him as an extremist he maintained centre stage whist appearing calm and collect. This culminated in the final and most watch TV debate held on the preceding Sunday 3rd April at the Sheraton Hotel. In this debate he calmly avoided answering any questions and behaved in a calm almost boring manner. This had the desired effect. It made opposition claims that he was some kind of baby eating Gaddifi / Chavez love-child seem absurd, calmed fears and resulted in a stunning surge in the opinion polls. From being in the high teens and low twenties at the end of March in the days following the debate he hit the 30% becoming the clear front-runner. He has managed to maintain this calm and mild exterior through-out the campaign until the last minute of his post-election address outside the hotel Sonesta El Olivar in San Isidro where he couldn´t resist climaxing with a few viva socialism chants – whilst not quite in the league of Kinnock at the Sheffield Rally in 1992 if I was his opponent I would be using that over and over against him.

Keiko Fujimori ran the most impressive campaign. A Congresswoman since 2006 she broke through achieving national prominence during the trial of her controversial father and formal president Alberto Fujimori. His imprisonment for the maximum 25 years for human rights abuses, corruption and bribery was the foundation for her Fuerza 2011 campaign. The most well organised campaign though, perhaps, least impressive candidate she was the first to actively campaign. This was well rewarded with a pretty consistent 20-25% across most of Peru. Will she be able to achieve 50% plus? This I doubt. The left and centre-left will not forgive her father for his abuse of power, human rights abuses and the Grupo Colina death squad responsible for the murders of many.

Without doubt the most charming of candidates was Pedro Pablo Fuczynski. A former Prime Minister and co-Chairman of the First Boston bank he was the darling of the Lima elite. Yet in spite what the establishment felt was his qualifications for the job he was a lacklustre candidate. Outside Lima city he vote share was pitiful and his campaign can best be encapsulated in a moment of utter farce. Walking through the shanty towns of Lima he was regular accosted by locals, apparently as a result of local superstition about white people, wanting to touch his genitals!! While he smiled and “handled” the situation genially it nevertheless was illustrative of how different and out of touch he appeared to most Peruvians.

As for the other candidates: Alejandro Toledo, convinced that his name-recognition as a previous president and early poll leads would see him to victory led a lazy and moribund campaign which only came to life in the last days; Luis Castaneda, former mayor of Lima, had perhaps the worse campaign imaginable going from 75% approval ratings and first position to fifth less than 10% of the vote.

Anyway I hope you find this all an interesting diversion and if you have any questions please feel free to ask or email.

Macchu Picchu

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Horseracing – A Dangerous Game

Peter the Punter on the Grand National

It was as a young boy standing by the rails at Tattenham Corner, Epsom, that I witnessed my first horseracing accident. A horse stumbled and fell coming down the hill. Both horse and rider were trampled by those behind and the jockey was kicked into the timber and concrete running rails. He was stretchered away, unconscious, an arm hanging limp from one side. The hand bore the unmistakeable mark of a hoofprint in crimson where the flesh had been torn from the bone. He no doubt survived, though I doubt the horse did, but it taught me then that horseracing is a very dangerous game.

The lesson has been repeated countless times since, most recently whilst viewing along with several million others the TV coverage of this year’s Grand National. No matter how thrilling the race, the loss of brave and beautiful animals casts a gloom upon the occasion. The two stricken horses in last Saturday’s race were shown unusually clearly by high camera shots as the remaining field sped past the dolled-off fences. Perhaps it was this graphic portrayal of death-at-the-races intruding into the afternoon’s entertainment that prompted stronger than usual calls for the event to be banned. Understandably and predictably, the calls reflected more passion than reason.

The Grand National is not an especially dangerous race. It is extreme, in that it is the longest race in the calendar and the obstacles are unusually large and testing, but these are not the main reasons why jump racing is so risky. Ginger McCain, trainer of three-times Grand National winner Red Rum, nailed it when commenting after the race “It is speed that kills.” Steeplechases run over the minimum trip of two miles are probably the sport’s most dangerous events, since they require precision jumping at high speed over stiff fences. If you really want to eliminate the riskiest races, you would probably start with these and then work your way up through the distances until you get to the longest races, such as the Eider Chase and finally, of course, the National.

Hurdling illustrates the same principle. There are fewer fallers – about one every fourteen runs as opposed to one every seven in steeplechases – but the speeds are generally much faster and the falls therefore more serious. Again, it is the shorter, pacier races which are the more dangerous, rather than the marathons.

There was an unusually high number of finishers in this year’s National - nineteen as against the more typical dozen or so. The winner’s time of just over nine minutes was very quick. The unseasonal warm weather and dry conditions no doubt played their part and probably contributed to both fatalities too. They occurred early, when the horses were travelling at their fastest, as McCain’s dictum might have predicted. Each year the jockeys are warned to take it steady early on but the instruction is not so easy to follow. Racehorses love to race and forty of them gathered before a noisy throng are only too likely to defy the restraints of even the strongest professional jockeys and set too fast a gallop.

Like other dangerous sports, such a motor racing, horseracing has done much over the years to improve safety – for example, the introduction of plastic running rails, vastly improved vetinary and medical facilities, and the redesign and resiting of fences, including the National fences at Aintree, which though still awesome enough are not as tough as they used to be. The reduction in size and difficulty has doubtless contributed to fewer casualties over the years, but it does also to some extent cut the other way. Because the obstacles are easier, the horses take them faster, again increasing the risk.

You cannot get away from it. Horseracing will never be entirely safe. So do you ban it? If you do, you would have to ban all horseracing to be consistent. Fatalities on the flat are commonplace too, although a high proportion occur in training away from the public gaze. And if you ban all horseracing, what about other equine sports and pastimes, such as Eventing, Arab Racing, Pony Trekking or Sunday afternoon cross-country hacking on a tired old nag? None of these activities are particularly safe for man or beast, as participants will well know. And once all these dangerous activities have been banned, what about others where animals regularly suffer death or injury, such as greyhound racing, pigeon fancying and fishing?

Logic and consistency in this matter leads one to some extreme conclusions if you start from the premise that the death of two racehorses is in itself grounds for banning a race. A more practical, sensible and ultimately humane approach would be to continue the process of making it safer and fairer. Knowledgeable followers of the sport will be familiar with the kind of thing. You could for example reduce the length of the run to the first fence, thereby forcing the horses to slow sooner. Greater watering of the course would help too. And field sizes could definitely be reduced.

These are only some suggestions. There are no doubt others which could be introduced without destroying the unique character and appeal of the race. Banning it would serve little purpose however, except to appease certain lobbies and some once-a-year race watchers who wear their heart on their sleeve and their brains somewhere entirely different.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Malaysia: post-race analysis

Since Australia:

The Saubers were found to have been in breach of some finickity regulations regarding their rear wings. This led to both being disqualified, so, sadly, Perez did not get his deserved points finish. However, this did mean the Briton Paul di Resta scored a 10th place and 1 point in his first ever race.

There was musing from some that KERS would matter more for Malaysia, and a suggestions that the Red Bulls would need to sort out their heating issues and fit the system to do well.

In a new and presumably regular feature, Brundle’s done a brief but informative analysis video of the Australian GP. Well worth a look:

Qualifying Summary:

Well, I didn’t see that coming. My view, after P1 and P2, was that Red Bull were a dead cert to take pole, and that, as such, Webber was too long, especially given his previous poles at the circuit. So, I tipped him at 4.3.

But, qualifying was very different to expectations. In Q2 and Q3 both McLarens were very, very competitive, and really challenged for pole. It looked as if Hamilton was to cause an upset, and at the last moment was himself beaten by a perfect lap from Vettel.

The margins were very tight, and the pole-sitter regularly fails to win or to even enter the first corner in the lead. The start tomorrow will be phenomenally exciting. The heat may play havoc with Red Bull’s KERS, tyre degradation will be high and there’s the possibility for showers (though earlier forecasts indicated these may not occur and may be light).

The dominant Red Bulls and McLarens are followed by the substantial slower Renaults and Ferraris, with Rosberg 9th and Kobayashi 10th. For anyone but the top four to get a podium spot will be dependent on either reliability issues or extra pit stops (due to degradation and/or changeable weather).

Race Summary:

In betting terms, a good race. I tipped No Safety Car at 2.52 (it actually went as long as 2.9 or 3 pre-race) and it came off. My reasoning was that Malaysia has had very few safety cars, just 2 races from 11 (including today’s) feature such an occurrence, and the weather forecasts were for light showers (which is what we ended up getting). For those interested, I use and when considering race and qualifying weather.

My decision was heavily influenced by a handy article ( on the official F1 website, and I intend to look at a similar bet in Hungary. If you backed both the single qualifying and single race tips then you’d be ahead overall (hedging made no difference as Webber never got to short enough odds and I did not advocate hedging the race bet).

Now, to the race itself. The start was electrifying, and provided useful confirmation of a few things seen in Australia, but which required a second race to prove were not simply flukes. The Renaults take off like bloody rockets, Vettel had a good start and so did Schumacher. Webber’s dire start was due to a combination of a long opening straight and his total lack of KERS due to a reliability failing.

There was plenty of overtaking and the numerous pit stops made it sometimes difficult to tell who was where precisely. Button will be thrilled with a deserved second after Hamilton suffered first a slow pit stop and then poor pace, and then needed another pit stop.

Webber had a topsy-turvy day of good and bad luck. First his KERS failed and he got passed by every man and his dog on the opening straight. But, he managed to fight back, after a prolonged duel with Kobayashi, and get himself into a decent position. Then Alonso attempted to break the laws of physics and instead broke his own front wing, necessitating pit stops for both himself and Hamilton. But for that, Alonso could’ve gotten the third podium spot.

Vettel’s KERS also broke, midway through the race, but somehow he managed to stay competitive and maintained a small but comfortable lead over Button in the latter stages.

The race saw the McLarens and Red Bulls fairly evenly matched for pace, with Vettel’s blistering first few laps providing him with a lead that ultimately meant Button had no chance to overtake him at the end. The Renaults were competitive in the race itself, though their qualifying pace seems to paint them as merely the leading midfield team. They scored a second consecutive 3rd, although Petrov failed to finish after his efforts at flight proved unsuccessful.

Ferrari ended up with 5th and 6th, though it could have been 3rd and 6th. Excepting his inept attempt to pass Hamilton (which he was certain to do, given time) Alonso drove a very good race. The car really isn’t fast enough but the drivers seem to be punching above their weight. If Ferrari can get a grip and produce some upgrades Alonso could yet be a title contender. [Although that would require someone to beat Vettel, at some point].

The tyres did indeed degrade faster than in Australia, with most drivers (barring those afflicted with accidents) opting for 3 stops, but Webber needed 4. I cannot see him having a realistic shot at the championship if this continues. In the colder than expected Australia, a part-time street circuit, he needed to stop 1 more time than Vettel, and the same happened in the hot, humid, purpose-built racetrack in Malaysia. It’s early days, but he cannot give his team mate 20 seconds plus every race and hope to win.


The next race is in China, which is tasty for McLaren. It’s also just a week away, minimising any opportunity for upgrades and redesigns.

The Red Bull KERS needs work. It failed pre-race for Webber and mid-race for Vettel, who drove brilliantly to offset any loss in pace. This could compromise the team and drivers if they can’t get it sorted, especially as China has a bloody big straight.

Renault are rubbish at qualifying but tasty in the race, especially at the start. This ought to be remembered for future races.

The Williams has, I think, a 0% completion rate. I’ll try to remember to check the lay odds of being classified, and likewise for HRT.

I imagine China will be broadly similar to Malaysia in terms of qualifying and race pace and the overall result. It’s got a super long straight and occasionally rains, though I’ll check the weather forecast nearer the time (we still have sod all idea about Pirelli wets and intermediates in terms of both grip and durability). Unfortunately P3 is from 4am to 5am and qualifying starts at 7am, so I’m not sure if I’ll offer any qualifying tips.

Morris Dancer