Looking for Nigel

Mary Turner does an excellent job of using her photojournalistic skills to show just how Nigel Farage and his team touched almost 4 million to get them to vote for UKIP. They connected to people on a grass roots level. Very eloquently written and visually engaging.

‘I know what you want, you want a book.’

‘Umm, well…’ I started to say.

But standing in front of me on this unexpectedly sunny day in January, with the UK election still seeming a distant mirage, was Gobby, legendary former BBC producer for 30 years, lesser known as Paul Lambert and now Nigel Farage’s ‘Director of Communications’. And as countless heavyweight political leaders have found before this small photographer – when faced down by this man, it is generally best not to argue.

SmallNigelPics_0016Unravelling flags with Beryl, Cliffsend Village Hall, March 31st 2015

I agreed that having spent the previous few months spent photographing migrants in Calais I was an unlikely candidate to be asking to document the UK Independence Party and their leader Nigel Farage’s 2015 election campaign, but it felt important to me to try and understand their point of view. One way or another they said yes. We…

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The Day After. What Happened?

The people have spoken, and they want the Conservatives (Tories) in the House of Commons.  Scotland overwhelmingly wants the Scottish National Party (SNP) to represent their interests, and Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are left crying in their pints and nibbling on their Twiglets.

The PG Tips monkey likes Twiglets during his benders.
The PG Tips monkey likes Twiglets during his benders.

So what happened?

Like an American who hasn’t lived in England for 20 years is able to tell you this?

I realize I don’t know everything, but from what I read and from the outside looking in, it seems several factors were involved:

1)  Labour did not make their case effectively.  It wasn’t enough to put their campaign promises on a huge limestone tablet like the Ten Commandments.  Their manifesto was vague.  The voters did not trust that they had the skills to handle the economy, especially with talk of going back to the borrow/spend model.  Ed Miliband did not come across as leadership material.  Even though they increased about 1.5% of the vote, they lost 26 seats.

2)  To piggyback on #1, Scotland has traditionally been Labour-ruled but completely lost all of their seats to the SNP.  Only one Scottish constituency did not vote SNP, and it voted Tory.  The Scottish people are obviously tired of playing by the rules of the parties established in England and want to do things their own way.

3)  The voters took more of their frustrations out on the Liberal Democrats.  The Lib Dems started out with 57 seats and are now left with 8.  After the university funding debacle, it was obvious that Nick Clegg and his crew were sitting ducks in Parliament.  Everyone knew they were going to lose seats, but this was devastating.

4)  The “shy Tory voters,” as the media has dubbed them. Evidently, there are branches of Tory Supporters Anonymous that I am not aware of.

“My name is Trevor, and I am a Tory voter.”

“Hello, Trevor.”

There were plenty of voters who were undecided or did not want to say that they were voting Conservative.  So when it came time for the undecided to vote, it was easier to “pick the devil you know”.

5)  Some of the pundits on the BBC last night discussed the Tories’ scare tactics in the campaign.  Be afraid of immigration.  Be afraid of a Labour/SNP coalition.  I don’t know though.  Aren’t scare tactics standard political strategy?

The Boffin summed it up by saying that the losing political leaders are basically left like this.

So what are your thoughts?  What am I missing?

It’s Election Day!

There isn’t much more to say than what the Boffin and I said in our three election primer posts earlier this week.  All I want to tell the British voters is I hope your candidate wins.  And if he or she doesn’t win, I hope the winner has better hair and more tact than the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

This is usual look.  I'm serious.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
This is his usual look. I’m serious. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

An American Primer to the U.K. General Elections – Part 3

To get up to speed, feel free to read parts one and two. Meanwhile, here is the Boffin’s take on what actually happens during the election.

Becoming the Prime Minister is not like becoming President.  While there is a first past the post system, it is the number of seats in Parliament which your party has that is important, and you don’t need to get past the post in order to be Prime Minister.  Confused? You will be!

The system is based around a simple premise that in order to hold onto power as Prime Minister, Parliament needs to have confidence you can get the job done.  While there isn’t a drinking competition to prove your ability to govern, there is a useful tool called a ‘Vote of No Confidence’.  In such a case, the members of the House vote on whether they think that the Government is a bunch of wankers.   If they get a majority of votes, then the Prime Minister has to go to the Queen and apologize for being a dickhead and resign.  The Queen can offer the opportunity to create a new government to anyone else.  Usually they don’t want to, and, instead, the opposition rub the nose of the previous government in it by forcing a General Election.

Therefore, the game of a general election is to get yourself in a position where you will survive a vote of no confidence.  The best way, of course, is to win more seats than everyone else put together, so you can sit around like the smug bastards you are knowing that, unless you have an internal revolt, you are safe.  However, this is not the only way.  One option, as we had recently, is to go into a coalition where one or more other parties get keys to the executive washroom and act as if they didn’t believe in anything they said during the last election about how bad you were.

Another way is to convince another group of bastards to not vote against you, then you can be the proud leader of a ‘Minority Government’.  In this case, the smaller party finds itself with all the power [Insert evil laughter].  They don’t have to vote with the government like they would if they are forced into in a coalition, instead they do it out of the kindness of their heart [More evil laughter].  First they only ask for small favors, so that they are seen to have done something in return.  Then they ask for a bit more, and then a bit more.  Finally, the government decides it’s better to go see the Queen than wonder whether the smaller party will be asking for your underwear next.  Minority governments don’t tend to last long.

So while the other parties just try to fuck it up for the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives go into a general election with the goal of getting a majority.  Having played the game dozens of times, they are quite good at the tactics.  At the end of the day, it is less about beating the other party and more about stealing his wallet, kneeing him in the nuts, and slashing his tires.  You only care that, when the votes are counted, you have more seats than everyone else put together.

So how do you win an election?  With 650 seats in play, how do you walk away with the magic 326 (or 323 because of those nice Irish lads).  First of all, Labor and the Tories come to the starting line with at least 165 safe seats.  These are seats where your candidate could be Genghis Khan, and he would still be elected.  There are 16 seats in Northern Ireland that are ignored, and the other mainland parties have 34 safe seats.  So while you think you are looking at 650 seats, the real number is about 270 seats which matter, and if you are one of the two major parties, you need about 160 of them to win a majority.

Now you start your tactics.

  1. First you figure out where the other party is weak.  If it is your candidate who is second, then you don’t go after the first party’s voters, you go after all the other votes.  Because a seat is won not because you have the majority of the votes, just the most, you can try to bundle up the other voters in order to get ahead. Phrases like ‘A vote for the Liberal Democrats is the same as a vote for the Labour Party’ are very common.  It is a weird tactic, but it works.
  2. Now in the case that your candidate is third, and has no hope of amassing enough votes, you strongly consider pulling out or at least capitulating. Whether they learned this from studying European political tactics during WWII, I am not sure. However, it has merits. Basically, as your secondary goal is to prevent your main opposition from also amassing a majority, you have an opportunity to screw things up for them. You start playing up the strength of the second place candidate so that your votes go to them and not the bastards in the lead. Of course, this is not done unilaterally. Instead, you may agree with another party to do the same in another seat at the same time. That helps you with your #1 strategy.
  3. This is probably the most diabolical tactic out there, and only works if you are Labour or the Conservatives.  In some areas, there is a vote ceiling. Here, you might have incensed the majority of the voters due to your policies, something your leader said, or just because you’re a bit suspect. The result is that there is no way most of the people will vote for you. You’ll never get a majority in the constituency, but you will come a very strong second, as there is no way your voters would vote for anyone else. Therefore, strategies #1 & #2 will not work. If these are the only weapons in your arsenal, you might as well go down the pub and make stupid faces. However, if the third place candidate is also strong, then you play your ace and start ensuring that they do well. It sounds like they’ve already been down the pub, but hear me out. If due to your cooties you can only get 40% of the vote, then by de facto, one of the other parties could get 60% and wipe the floor with you. However, in a three party system you can try and ensure that the people not voting for you are evenly split amongst your opponents. As long as neither of them has more than 40% when the counting is done, you win. In this strategy, you attack the stronger party in a way that some of their votes go to the third place person. (Remember, they will never vote for you.) You might suggest that the two opposition parties are really the same, and there is very little to distinguish between them. Finally, you might even talk up the third place bastard and explain that they have better ideas than the other party. Remember, your sole intention is to have the voters not voting for your candidate fairly evenly distribute their votes amongst the opposition candidates, so that neither of them have more votes than your candidate.  As long as you can make this happen, then your job is done. If you are really good, then you can win a seat with only 34% of the votes (with your opposition each having 33%). Add in a 4th party like UKIP, and you might even get yourself down below 30% and still win. This is British politics at its finest.
  4. Finally there are a few seats, not many, where it is a two horse race, and you have to get in the mud and throw it.  Generally, you will pick a pit bull candidate who rip the jugular out of their opponent and piss on his remains.  With only 6 weeks, this is a street fight and only one person will come out standing. Oh, and you do it in the old fashioned way by knocking on doors and talking to people.  There are campaign finance limits in the UK, with the result that each local candidate is limited to about $50,000 in total spending money. After you’ve printed off a load of leaflets and hired someone to make the tea, you don’t have much left.  Therefore most fights are done in the streets, door-to-door, actually talking to the voters during a national campaign. Now there’s a concept.

Karen here.  Did you get all that?  I thought so.

For what it’s worth, it is all going to be over come Thursday, and the Britons will be watching the results on the telly.  We will be tuning in through our proxy server and VPN, and I am looking forward to seeing the Swingometer in its cool 21st century computer graphic form and not the Monty Python version that most Americans know.

I would like to end this on a serious note though.  My wish is that the U.K. finally have relief and resolution and get a government that truly serves the people’s needs.  They deserve better than what they have been getting.

An American Primer to the UK General Election – Part 2

Part one gave an overview about how the election works.  Now, with the Boffin’s help, I will go over the parties.  This ain’t like American system where we have the Republicans, the Democrats, and the marginalized weirdos.  They each have their own respective brands of ridiculousness that I will be happy to address as the 2016 presidential election plays out.  Don’t say I am not an equal opportunity critic.  But it’s the Britons turn right now.  Lucky them.

One thing the parties do at election time is publish manifestos.  These are things that they promise they are going to do, if elected, and then proceed not to do once they are.  And the other parties can throw the ruling party’s manifesto in its face in the next general election.  I have attached hyperlinks to the manifestos of each party to their names, so you can see their platforms for yourself.

The Conservative Party (aka the Tories, aka the Heartless Bastards) – Naturally, like it says in the name, this is the party that purports fiscal and social conservatism, although the Americans would find their policies closer to that to the Democratic party. So some of you might look at their manifesto and scream, “Oh, my, Lord, what a bunch of pinkos!” Relax. Go back to a political science class. Re-learn your terminology. Everything will be OK. They are the party of Prime Minister David Cameron, the Establishment, the fox hunting crowd, Margaret Thatcher, and Jeremy Clarkson. You know, the really mellow and easy crowd with the hang-loose lifestyle that the Britons are known for. In the last government, they were in coalition with…

The Liberal Democrats (aka The Lib Dems, aka The Clueless Bastards). In Europe, being a liberal does not mean that you think Lenin was too right wing for your taste. Instead, they are the centrist party. Where they usually want government involvement is in places like education, healthcare, and social services. Give the people the tools to improve themselves, and after that, government can piss off. Generally, they act as the moral conscience, so, naturally, they get ignored. The leader of this bunch is Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the last Parliament. During the 2010 election, the main promise this party made was that the government would not raise university tuition fees. Of course, two years later, because the Lib Dems did not have any real power to do anything in the coalition, the Tories hiked up the university fees. And Mr. Clegg went to airwaves to apologize.

The Labour Party (aka Labour, aka the Half Heartless/Half Clueless Bastards) – This is the party that arose from the trade unionists and have been traditionally socialists. Things have really changed under Tony Blair and New Labour and now their policies are closer to that of the Conservatives. If they win, their Prime Minister would be Ed Miliband. His claims to fame are looking a lot like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit, being a Red Sox fan but willing butt heads with us regarding U.S. foreign policy (He has lived in Massachusetts at various points in his life, including doing a teaching stint at Harvard.), and having two kitchens in his house.

You be the judge. Photo courtesy of the Independent

The Scottish National Party (aka the SNP, aka the Scots Bastards) – What you see is what you get with this party. They want Scottish independence, and it nearly happened in September with the referendum in Scotland. Scotland elected to stay in the U.K. but managed to gain a few verbal concessions from Westminster. The SNP is campaigning for parliamentary seats to make sure the House holds up its part of the bargain, not that England has any history of screwing over Scotland or anything. With the estimation of snagging about 56 seats, this could be the party to form a coalition with. But the Tories and Labour don’t want to do it. Nicola Sturgeon, the party leader, has become the Icky Girl with Cooties on the school playground.

“I’m going to breathe on your packet of crisps during lunch, David.”

For most elections, it really comes down to either the Conservatives or Labour being in power. However, as with most parties, there are always those people who you wonder how they got invited and whether they brought anything of value, like Doritos and amyl nitrate.

The United Kingdom Independence Party (aka UKIP, aka the Xenophobic Bastards) – I am sure, if you heard anything about the General Election, it has been about this party. Led by Nigel Farage, a Minister for the European Parliament and Really Neat Guy, its main platform is for the U.K. to leave the European Union. Farage basically wants to put himself out of a job and look like a tool in the process. Now, it would be OK if UKIP actually presented sound economic arguments about how the U.K. would be better off on its own. But no. That would be sensible. Instead, UKIP likes to talk about the foreigners coming over taking over British jobs, being a drain on British benefits, and how Britain has no room because of all this freedom of movement within the European Union. This is the U.K. party equivalent of the cranky old uncle at Thanksgiving dinner bitching about the Mexicans. But let’s be fair to your uncle. He only complains about the illegal immigrants.

The Green Party (aka the Greens, aka the Hippie Bastards) – An earnest party led by Natalie Bennett that is all about environmental reform, social equality, and creating a utopic, post-modern secular world. Basically, in their minds, we would be petting bunnies all day and trying to make everyone feel better about what we are trying to do rather than actually accomplishing anything.

Plaid Cymru (aka Plaid, aka the Welsh Bastards with that Really Nice Lady as Leader) – Holding 3 seats in the previous Parliament, this is the Welsh national party led by Leanne Wood. Like the SNP with Scotland, Plaid Cymru is pushing for Wales to be an independent nation within the European Union. Wood gained some popularity points by giving Farage a nice verbal bollocking for chiding foreigners with HIV receiving free treatment on the National Health Service.  At least, with all of Wales’s economic problems, they scored a publicity stroke.

Sinn Féin – (aka the We Used to Blow You Up Bastards) The old political wing of the IRA who have recently tempered themselves enough so that you can have a reasonable conversation with them. However, that will never happen in Parliament because, while they win seats, they won’t swear and allegiance to the Queen, and, therefore, don’t sit. I think they could still go into the viewing galleries and make faces.

The Democratic Unionist Party – (aka DUP, aka the Self-Hating Irish Bastards) The Northern Ireland party founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley. It’s the “We are Protestant, proud, and up the British government’s arses” party. They have toned down in recent years, literally since the death of Paisley, but listening to them used to be like hearing your same cranky uncle bitch about the coaching of your local football team after Thanksgiving dinner. (And why does Mom keep inviting him every year?)

Social Democratic and Labour Party – (aka SDLP, aka the Kiss Me, I’m Irish Bastards) The more traditional ‘We hate the British and want to be Irish’ party. They do sit in Parliament, but generally keep focused on one thing…Irish reunification, but doing so non-violently. So that makes four parties with policies based upon separating from England. You would think English parliamentarians would get the hint by now.  Maybe they should try deoderant.

George Galloway (aka, the Respect Party, aka the Lonely Socialist Bastard)– Leader of and the only MP for the Respect Party. If you want to see what socialism is, read this guy’s manifesto. Prior to Tony Blair, this is what Labour used to be like. Now he stands like the last dodo bird.

In the next post, the Boffin will explain how this election can play out, because it is certainly beyond me at this point. I need my own Scottish referendum with some whiskey after thinking about all of this.

An American Primer to the UK General Election – Part 1

First of all, I have to give a huge thank you to the Boffin for making these next three posts possible. There was a lot that I forgot, didn’t understand, and didn’t explain well until he jumped in and saved the day.  And if you don’t like it, you can blame him too.

For those who are not keeping up with European politics, the citizens of the UK will be voting for new Members of Parliament (MPs) in Westminster come Thursday, May 7th. For those who are living in the UK, you are well aware of this, sick to death of it, and want the election to be over.

Now, I have to explain something important to the Americans. We are used to the constant campaigning of politicians in one form or another. We have the presidential elections, the mid-term elections, the primaries, local run-offs, student council elections, American Idol voting, selecting pizza toppings when you are hanging out with your friends etc. Constant streams of Grade-A American Bullshit on the Campaign Trail is the norm. We usually handle it with aplomb by labeling each other as “conservative” and “liberal” with mutual contempt and complaining about commercials “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Sen. Beaufort Pratt” interrupting the Bears game.

I developed an immunity to politics by eating Tea Party leaflets.
I developed an immunity to politics by gradually eating Tea Party leaflets

However, most of the time, a General Election is called six weeks ahead of time when the Parliament is officially dissolved. This election was an exception because the Coalition government elected in 2010 made it clear that they were going to serve their maximum term of 5 years. Ergo, everyone knew when the blessed election was going to take place, so everyone had time to strut around with their goolies hanging out for months beforehand. Meanwhile, the British people are cracking like Lois Griffin after Stewie is done with her.

Another very important thing to mention is that the British people are just as disillusioned with their national system of politics as we are with ours.  However, the MPs have a closer relationship with the people they represent than the U.S. representatives have with theirs.  Many constituents know their MP personally, especially since many were local councillors before moving on to London.  So while many Britons may be dissatified with Parliament as a whole, they may be quite satisfied with the way their individual MP is representing their local interests.

So in that context, let me give the Reader’s Digest version of how this all works.

First of all, elections are run on a party-based system, not a candidate-based system. In other words, no one elected David Cameron of the Conservative Party as Prime Minister. No one elected Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats Deputy Prime Minister. Let’s be honest. No one would voluntary want to. The members of the parties elect their leaders.  How they do that?  I don’t know.  Probably a Morris dance-off.  Regardless, the parliamentary election process doesn’t work that way.

Basically, the country is divided up into voting districts called “constituencies”. Each constituency elects its Minister of Parliament to represent it in Westminster. In a straightforward election, whichever party holds the majority number of seats in Parliament wins the election. So, right now, there are 650 seats in the House of Commons. A powerful party like the Conservatives or Labour would need 326 seats to win the election. But since Sinn Féin cooperates with everything connected to the British government the same way a toddler cooperates during bedtime, they don’t fail in this regard. Their five parliamentarians refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen and won’t take their seats, so the official majority number is 323.

Bear in mind, not every constituency runs a candidate from every party. There could only be one candidate from one party in a particular constituency, even though the last time that happened was 1951. For example, some constituencies could only run a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat candidate. Since the main platform of the Scottish National Party is Scottish independence, they have little reason to run candidates in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is not like the States where there is a 99.9% chance that the main candidates are Republican and Democrat no matter where you live.

On top of that, there are also no options for write-in votes, nor do they hold things like local elections on the same ballot.  You can’t just abstain from voting from the general election and vote for the judges or other offices. Either you vote for someone, don’t bother to vote, or “spoil your ballot.”  Spoiling your ballot could just be putting more than one “x” down, writing “none of the above,” or drawing a huge penis on it.  It’s a very different system.

A sample UK ballot paper.  Courtesy of Anthony Burgess from Wikimedia Commons
A sample UK ballot paper. Hard to find a place to fit the penis.  Courtesy of Anthony Burgess from Wikimedia Commons

As far as this election goes, the likelihood of a clear majority happening is the same as the Kardashian women joining a Carmelite order. Chances are, it will be a repeat of what happened in 2010 when two parties got together and formed a coalition to create the majority needed to reform Parliament. But the race is too close to call right now.

Tomorrow’s post will be all about the parties and the major cast of characters.