The brief post-budget bounce aside, Labour now have a pretty consistent lead in voting intention. However, the answers other questions are often rather bad for Labour.

On best Prime Minister Cameron has a 13 point lead over Miliband, on dealing with the deficit the coalition lead Labour by 14 points, Cameron & Osborne have a 9 point lead over Miliband & Balls on general trust on the economy. Ed Miliband’s own approval ratings are mediocre and 47% think he isn’t up to the job of Labour leader.

To put this in context, if we look back at 2006-2007 when the opposition Conservatives had a comparable single-digit lead over the Labour government, David Cameron was pretty much neck and neck with Tony Blair as best PM, the Conservatives and Labour were pretty much neck and neck on who would run the economy well and Cameron had a positive approval rating.

What explains this paradox? Why have Labour got a solid lead in the polls, but comparatively bad ratings in supplementary questions? Or indeed vice-versa? There are two alternative explanations for this – one more comforting for Labour than the other.

Part of the answer is down to the new landscape of coalition politics. People’s responses to poll questions are often very partisan, supporters of the governing party tend to say nice things about the governing party, supporters of opposition parties tend to say negative things. Now we have a coalition government, we tend to get both Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters saying nice things about the government, whereas prior to 2010 only one party’s supporters did. This translates into higher support for the government in secondary questions, but not in main voting intention questions where government supporters are split between Conservative voters and Lib Dem votes.

This shouldn’t worry Labour of course – in fact it’s a reminder of a positive for them. While it is probably wrong to view voting behaviour too much through an ideological prism (models of electoral behaviour these days tend to be more dominated by voters perceptions of compentence, rather than ideology), throughout the 1980s the left-of-centre vote tended to be split between two parties. With the Liberal Democrats reduced to a rump of supporters who are less antagonistic towards the Tories, the right-of-centre vote is looking more split. Certainly the group of voters who think the present government are competent is split between two parties.

However, this does not explain everything, and here we come to the explanation that is less comforting for Labour. A lot of people who say they would vote Labour do not give particularly positive answers to other questions about Labour. Only 63% of Labour’s own voters think Ed Miliband would make the best Prime Minister, only 54% think he is up to the job of Labour leader. Only 69% of Labour voters trust Labour more than the coalition more than Labour to deal with the deficit, 77% trust Miliband & Balls to run the economy more than Cameron & Osborne. 45% of their own voters think Labour need to make major changes to be fit for government. In short, a substantial minority of people who say they’ll vote Labour don’t seem to be very pro-Labour when you inquire further.

My guess is that the reason is that Labour are really the only major opposition party to the coalition and hence many people will be telling pollsters they’d vote Labour as the only mainstream way of voting against the coalition. If that is the case, you wouldn’t necessarily expect all those people to have positive views of Labour – they are benefitting from a negative anti-government vote, not necessarily a pro-Labour one.

But does this matter? Not necessarily – a negative anti-government vote counts just the same as a positive vote when it goes in a ballot box and the evidence from 2010 suggests that a large proportion of Conservative voters were driven more by anti-Labour feeling than support for the Tories. It does become a problem if it is an indication of soft support for Labour, if the government become less unpopular once they have a better economy behind them, if minor parties establish themselves as alternative recipients of anti-government votes or if during an election campaign it becomes more of a choice between two alternatives, rather than a judgement on the incumbent.

I’ve always stuck hard with the truism that oppositions don’t win elections, government’s lose them. The caveat I always add to that is that while oppositions probably can’t win elections, they are quite capable of losing them – it’s arguably what happened in both 1992 and 2005, when the incumbent governments had done plenty to make themselves unpopular, but the public did not see the opposition as ready for government. Right now there are probably four years to an election, so as long as Labour recognise the issue and address it, it doesn’t need to be a problem at all – the best position for them to build up more positive support again is from a position of strength. What they need to fear (expressed rather well by their former General Secretary Peter Watt today) is complancency.


288 Responses to “The paradox of Labour’s lead”

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  1. It looks like the supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the UN recognised President of the Ivory Coast and the one recognised as winner of the disputed 2010 election, have committed an appalling atrocity in Duekoue this week, slaughtering up to 800 of the city’s inhabitants.

    This wasn’t a threatened massacre as in Benghazi but an actual and very bloody one. How will the UN react to this, I wonder? A bloody civil war looms and a humanitarian disaster is about to unfold. Ouattara is probably moving while the world’s eye is distracted on Libya (as are the rulers of Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, I should imagine), but the Ivory Coast is now emerging as a pressing challenge to the world, albeit one devoid of oil security implications.

  2. Maybe plan A is necessary to deliver plan B.

    Any dept given a spending increase goes out of its way to use up the allowance. Any dept given a spending cut, even a cut in a proposed increase, will fight tooth and nail. The efficiency savings/spending cuts announced by GB failed miserably to achieve their targets. There is a gap between what is planned and what is achieved. This is true with our own money and is probably truer with other people’s money.

    If I wanted to achieve AD’s budget plan I would consider starting with GO’s plan and accepting the reality of slippage. Similarly starting with AD’s plan may well have resulted in EB’s plan. EB’s may have resulted in a Barberesque boom.

    All this may make life difficult for GO in the way that Alec has suggested and may provide a rich seam for Labour as Amber has suggested. However if the economy rebounds then what will the electorate think?

    The talk of ‘double dips’ is too simplistic as gdp numbers are notoriously unreliable and deciding policy on the basis of one/two quarters is IMHO foolish. I believe that the most important numbers will relate to the actual real gdp for the economy come the election.

    The high point in 2008 real gdp registered £1.330 trillion, falling to 1.264 in 2009 and recovering in 2010 to 1.287. It requires 3.3% growth in real gdp from now till the election for real gdp to rise above the 2008 level. This would mean that the economy had established a new high.

    The real per capita gdp would be a good barometer of personal wealth and this would require an additional rise in real gdp of about 2.8% over four years to account for population growth. This guesstimate results in a 6.1% increase required in actual real gdp over the period Q1 2011 to Q4 2014 to reach the 2008 level for per capita gdp, or 1.5% pa.

    If GO achieves this then the electorate may not be that bothered about the sublety of structural deficits etc.

  3. Anthony,

    My previous post would have been clearer, had I used the HTML pre tag to show votes cast in 2010 for Brighton Pavilion. If the tag works, I suggest others use it to display simple tables of figures, which most of us wish to do…..

    Brighton Pavilion 2010
    Candidate Party Votes
    Lucas Grn 16,238
    Platts Lab 14,986
    Vere Con 12,275
    Millam L-D 7,159
    Carter UKIP 948
    Fyvie SLab 148
    Kara Cit 61
    Atreides Ind 19
    Total votes 51,834

  4. “the Ivory Coast is now emerging as a pressing challenge to the world, albeit one devoid of oil security implications.”

    No, much more important – a major supply of the wrold’s chocolate is threatened.

    From the reports, it’s not clear that this was one side or the other – the phrases used have been “inter-ethnic” and “intercommunal”, suggesting both sides may have been at fault. I suspect it may simply reflect one feature of human behaviour during a civil war. And for *that*, Gbagbo is absolutely to blame, for refusing to abide by the clear result of the election.

    It shows the futility of establishing the facade of democracy if the underlying economic and social conditions aren’t in place.

  5. Anthony,

    Sorry about the test post just now, but if you (or WordPress?) could enable the HTML pre tag, it really would make posting tabluar figures easier for all. Even the BBC have finally introduced support for it on their blogs.

  6. See here for the Brighton Pavilion 2010 numbers in HTML pre format.

  7. @Robin

    “It shows the futility of establishing the facade of democracy if the underlying economic and social conditions aren’t in place.”

    Quite so. Instead we should establish a good, old-fashioned pro-Western dictator with a brutal security apparatus, that suits the underlying economic and social conditions.

  8. Changing tack slightly, I wondered if anyone had noticed this in the Telegraph on the proposals for a flat rate pension?
    h ttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/8421361/More-than-1.5-million-lose-out-on-universal-state-pension.html

    When the first mention of this policy come forward I posted that I thought it could be Osborne’s ’10p tax moment’, and the article seems to give weight to that.

    The Telegraph is wrong in one of it’s assertions that the maximum total state pension available is currently £200 – I understand the total basic + maximum state second pension is actually £250pw this year. It’s also not clear if the 1.5m who would lose out from the move is based on those currently recieving more than £155 pw or whether it includes those still working who could build up a greater entitlement. in which case the numbers could be much higher.

    While I support the idea of a higher basic pension in general, the difficulty comes if you scrap already built up entitlements to the SP2 that would mean a higher pension than the new basic rate. Ideally, existing entitlements should be honoured, leaving no one worse off, although still restricting the amount that currently working people could get with no subsequent reduction in their national insurance payments.

    It looks like this is going to be an attempted sleight of hand by Osborne to save money while claiming to increase pensions. While there are certainly good points to it, the losers will be precisely those ‘hard working families’ with good work records who could see their retirement incomes falling by £5K a year each with no reduction in their tax bills. As a proportion of the SP2 can also be inherited by surviving spouses it also has potentially greater implications for married couples where one of them has a patchy work record.

    I expect the right of centre press to start playing war with this shortly when they realise what it will involve. A complete slacker who has never worked will get a major pension uplift, while the hard working Daily Mail reader who has diligently paid their stamp every week will be up to £100 a week worse off to pay for it.

    It’s one of those tricky issues where reform is needed, but someone is going to be hurt. I don’t think it will help the coalition if they persist in briefing this as a big increase in pensions. This smacks of Brown’s assertion that no one would lose out from the 10p tax rate abolition. That unravelled in spectacular style, and I suspect Osborne’s natural allies may well be up in arms about this policy before too long as well.

  9. The Other Howard
    “You need to read the following, it will set your thinking straight
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6825383/memo-to-johann-hari-this-government-isnt-planning-to-pay-off-our-debt-rapidly.thtml
    As I said yesterday much deeper cuts in Public Expenditure are required to get the debt down! The NHS is a good candidate after years of falling productivity.”

    I think you’re confusing debt and deficit. Which is what peter Hoskins accuses Johann Hari of.

    But it was an interesting article, thanks. And the way I read it is that it was simply trying to shout down any alternative way of looking at the issue of cutting the deficit (and debt).

    And Peter Hoskins seemed to be selective with his history. Anyway, have a look at the third diagram Figure 2.6) which illustrates the fundamental difference in rate of deficit cuts between the current gov’s deficit cutting plans and that of the prevous gov.

    It may well be that GO has adopted Plan B already but is pretending he’s sticking with Plan A.

  10. MIKEN

    “the issue of cutting the deficit (and debt). ”

    THe two really have to be distinguished as the article emphasises.

    Whilst the GO plan is currently to reduce the Annual Deficit from £157bn ( end 09/10) to £46bn ( end 14/15)-the deficit piling upon deficit through the parliament will take Total Debt from £760bn to £1314bn over the same period
    .
    Annual Interest on Total Debt increases by over 50%-and actually rises as a % of Total Government Receipts over the parliament. It will be £65 bn in the last year of the Parliament.-the equivalent of a major Department.

    AD’s plan would have produced Total Debt of £1.4 trillion by end Parliament.

    Whilst the Deficit is what everyone concentrates on, it is merely the symptom-the disease being the Total Debt.

    At 70% of GDP , if it is not controlled -then reduced, there is a real danger that Debt Interest will spiral out of control-particularly if purchasers of the debt get concerns & push the price up.

  11. @Colin – I agree that the debt really is the issue. Even once we stailise the current position we will be at enormous risk of another recession piling up yet more debt.

    While short term spending cuts can assist the deficit, it’s long term growth that will be the significant factor behind debt reduction, although of course the two are interconnected. The real difficulty is the extent to which deficit reduction spills over into slower growth.

    One big error that is being made is in the reduction of government help for investment and education and research. I’d rather see more pain in short term service cuts to boost these functions now, as this is where we will see the ultimate solution for our problems come from.

  12. ALEC

    Labour never polls well amongst the over 60s but Osborne’s moves on state pensions and pensioners income tax allowances are an open goal for Labour and Ed Balls in particular.

    A Labour campaign to reinstate proportionally the tax allowance for pensioners and pay existing pensioners any consolidated and increased pension in 4 or 5 years time would pay dividends for them.

  13. JAMESW

    Your 2010 Electoral Calculus prediction on the previous page of this thread would, however, make a Lab-Lib coalition a realistic possibility given the non appearance of Sinn Fein in Parliamenr.

  14. Libya – those in favour of arming the rebels need to think again.

    Firstly, Lord Hannay (cross-bench peer, UK’s ambassador to the UN for many years) speaking in the Lords’ debate, dismissed David Cameron’s claim that resolution 1973, passed last month, provided a legal basis for supplying arms to the Libyan rebels. “I don’t find the assertions that security council resolution 1973 in some way overrides or provides a way round the arms embargo … I find those arguments fairly dubious and not very convincing.”

    Secondly, 10 rebels & 2 medical students were killed by a coalition airstrike. They (inadventently?) fired a missile at a coalition plane & it responded by destroying the rebel convoy.

    The rebels do not know how to use weapons or conduct themselves in a ‘theatre of war’. Firing small arms into the air is dangerous enough; to have them indiscriminately firing the heavy weapons that they want ‘us’ to supply them with more of, perish the thought!
    8-)

  15. DavidB

    Oh Goody! To us that hath, yet more shall be given – by a party without principle willing to buy votes!

  16. @COLIN

    Thanks for your last post to Mike N, your response is a more articulate version of what my reply would have been if I had got in first!

    @Mike N

    My overall point is that although the present Governments strategy is better than the last, neither seem to realise how big the real problem is. I hope for much bigger reduction in the Public Sector after the next election because economically I am a Libertarian who believes in small Government but it is really a hope rather than an expectation.

  17. THE OTHER HOWARD

    Thanks-sorry to have gate crashed :-)

    ALEC

    We are in agreement.

    When I saw the proportion of total tax revenues going in interest which RoI is headed for as it’s debt piles up, I was shaken-maybe 25% or 30%.

    When you are in that situation you are no longer in control of your State Spending-it takes second place to paying interest on your debt.

    Obviously we aren’t paying 9% pa-but even a % or two extra makes it very nasty indeed when your Debt is 70% of GDP.

    Even after we reach balanced budgets-whenever that is going to be-there is a whole new set of imperatives to do with paying down the debt.

    Twp parliaments of not much fun-unless Labour get back of course, when debt becomes a virtue & spending unrestrainable ;-)

  18. @Neil A

    “Quite so. Instead we should establish a good, old-fashioned pro-Western dictator with a brutal security apparatus, that suits the underlying economic and social conditions.”

    Pah. We should stop hypocritically complaining about the lack of democracy when our economic, banking and trade policies act directly in the opposite direction.

  19. AMBER

    I broadly agree-which was why I was pleased to hear Hague distinguish between legality & desirability.

    I think the reality has sunk in though. Those guys were never ever going to storm Tripoli.

    THey seem to be persuading the amateurs to stay home & using the army defectors now. The talk is of a push to regain Ras Lanuf & Brega-then hunker down there & leave it to the political pressure to unseat Gaddaffi.

    That makes an awful lot of sense & minimises casualties-though they will be desperately concerned by the plight of dissidents in Misratah-there can’t be much of that place left standing.

  20. @Oldnat – “Oh Goody! To us that hath, yet more shall be given – by a party without principle willing to buy votes!”

    I think understand what you mean, but given the very long term nature of pension planning, one of the golden rules that should be applied to pension reform in my view is that benefits promised to people should be honoured, with any changes applying to future accruals. Personally I’m not wealthy and I’ve worked all my life in low paid work until very recently. I was working on the assumption that my state pension would be around £185pw in total, and if I am to lose £1,800 pa I don’t have the time or the wealth to replace that loss. It’s a difficult issue, but regardless of the rights and wrongs of it, I suspect that the changes as currently mooted are going to cause headaches for the coalition.

  21. @ Colin

    THey seem to be persuading the amateurs to stay home & using the army defectors now.
    ——————————————————-
    And this, too, is a tactical error by the rebels. Once the rebel combatants are military, not civilian, the coalition cannot give them air support because it becomes a conflict between two military factions i.e. a civil war & outside the remit of UNSCR 1973.

    The Transitional Council ought to stop fighting & withdraw to Bengazi, saying they have ceased to prosecute a ‘war’ on Gaddafi – instead they would only be defending Bengazi & Misrata where civilians are in danger from Gaddafi troops.

    This action would win back the political & moral highground for the rebels. Then a proper, political solution could begin & real humanitarian missions to protect & care for the civilians could begin.

    However, if the coalition assist or encourage the rebel uprising to become militarised, the coalition has no mandate to aid them. It is a catch22 that the coalition cannot get around.

    The coalition need not lose face over this. So far, they have supported a popular uprising by all legal means available to them. The time has come to clearly draw a line beyond which the coalition will not go. This will return the ‘moral & legal high ground’ to the coalition, which they are in real danger of losing.
    8-)

  22. Old Nat
    You take protesting too much to a stratospheric level.
    An academic speaker at COSLA produced figures which showed all parties favouring the retired but the SNP as by far the most extreme. This was without consideration of the so-called plans for local income tax which would massively transfer taxation to those of working age

  23. @ Colin

    The talk is of a push to regain Ras Lanuf & Brega-then hunker down there & leave it to the political pressure to unseat Gaddaffi.
    —————————————————–
    Why Ras Lanuf & Brega? Because of the oil, perhaps. IMO, The Transition Council appear more grasping & cynical with every announcement they make. They are setting up banks & oil deals via Quatar (one of our partners in the NFZ) whilst medical students are dying in a hail of (justified) coalition air to ground fire.
    8-)

  24. Interesting quote from an unhappy James Delingpole, clearly not enamoured with the Tory party’s new found softness. He refers to ‘Ollie Wetwin’ and said the following;

    “……..while Cameron is busy grandstanding over Libya, his domestic policies are falling to pieces. Not only is the Coalition under threat, but Cameron’s brand of managerial, Heathite faux-Conservatism too. I still fancy Cameron’s chances because, beneath that plausibly charming veneer, he’s a principle-free thug. That’s why, I suspect, sooner or later he’s going to be forced to do the right thing.”

  25. My pension forecast states that I will receive a state pension of about £97 on 16 June 2015. I have friends who receive much less or in some cases, no state pension at all. So I don’t know how some reckon they will get £180 pw.

    I am praying that GO brings the new rules in before 1 June 2015, any delay and I’ll be stuck on £97 & later retirees will get £150. It’s a brilliant idea & something I have banged on about for years. Pay out a proper pension then you can get rid of all these expensive means tested titbits.

    All pensioners deserve a proper state pension after paying tax all their lives. If you have other private income, well good luck to you for being financially astute. If you do not have other income, stop moaning, you enjoyed spending the money you could have saved during your life time.

  26. Barney

    My comment referred to the suggestion by DavidB that pensions should be promised additional cash – specifically to garner votes for Labour.

    Not that I would ever doubt the total impartiality of every comment you make ;-) but I think I’d rather have a link to the paper you refer to, instead of your wholly unbiased summary. :-)

  27. @Robert – I agree entirely with you. The issue is with the apparent abandoning of the state second pension. Brown increased substantially the benefits from this for working people on low wages, but in effect this is a private pension managed by the state that is dependent on NI contributions already made.

    While I completely agree with the aims of a higher basic state pension, if this is being paid for by scrapping personal entitlements that people have already paid for, there is a case to say the changes should reflect these.

    For example, if I contracted out of the state second pension (SP2) my NI contributions would have been paid into a private pension that the government could not touch or revoke in any way whatsoever. However, if people who chose to remain contracted in to SP2 are to lose their benefits if their gross state pension is above £155pw, that raises a very substantial moral issue.

    I’ve often banged on about the need for a much higher basic pension, with the scrapping of 40% private pension tax relief for higher earners as one of my favoured routes. I’m very much on your side on this, but the scheme is currently complex with a whole range of difficult issues.

    My central point originally wasn’t actually to debate the rights and wrongs of the policy though – I was just thinking that it could well affect support for the coalition if they make certain choices.

  28. @Alec

    I noticed the header for his blog.

    ‘James Delingpole is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who is right about everything’

    Oh well, the rest of us might as well go home.

  29. @Robert – BTW – don’t worry too much. You’re guaranteed to get £133pw anyway under current plans thanks to the minimum income guarantee. If you don’t get any SP2 it means you’ve either never worked, or you’ve contracted out, which means you’re getting your share anyway.

  30. Amber

    4.16pm

    I follow the logic of your first para-and that may or may not be a problem.

    As to the rest of that post.
    They are not “defending Misrata”-they can’t-the UN are trying -and not succeeding.

    The INTC offered a ceasefire -in conjunction with Ban Ki Moon’s envoy-if Gadaffi withdrew his seiges of Misrata & Ziltan. ( 243 dead & 1000 injured in MIsrata so far), and permitted peaceful political protest.

    These two conditions mirror UN 1973.

    Gadaffi refused.

    4.22pm

    I disagree.

    If they sit back in Benghazi they will get nowhere.

    I think they understand their tyrant pretty well after all these years.

    Anyway , after Gadaffi’s son personally ordered the shooting of protesters in Benghazi which triggered the armed uprising, I would want a buffer zone between Benghazi & the murdering bastard too.

  31. @ Colin,

    The interest paid on government debt that pays many private sector & some funded public sector pensions. Public sector debt in the UK rose because there was huge demand for it in the market; & Labour met that demand by borrowing to invest in hospitals, schools, education etc.

    Pensions & banks needed to balance their portfolios with low risk investments. How else was that demand to be met, Colin? The private sector has no enthusiasm for providing low risk, low return, long-term, interest bearing investments. Only governments can meet this demand.

    It’s probably not an explanation that would gain traction with an electorate that has been made to fear the national debt; but a red-book, financially savvy person like you should ‘get’ it, Colin.

    Of course, I am not saying that understanding the demand side would or should prevent Tory politicians & activists emphasising only the supply side. That’s how the center & right of center votes are likely to be won.
    8-)

  32. Cmpletely off topic, I’m afraid, but I c am across this limerick on a Labour blog and thought i was quite good and worth sharing:

    We once thought that old fellow called Vince
    Was, amongst politicians, a prince,
    It’s so sad to observe
    That he’s quite lost his nerve
    And when he opens his mouth we just wince.

    Ann Treneman’s Parliamentary Sketch in Friday’s Times also eflected sadly on Vince’s decline.

  33. @ Colin

    The TNC are also demanding that Gaddafi (& therfore his ‘government’) stand down as a condition of their ceasefire.

    In military terms, the TNC is demanding a surrender from the army which is, by anybody’s assessment, in the best position to prevail. Hardly a reasonable position for the TNC to take. Their offer of a ceasefire is as cynical as any Gaddafi’s government made. It’s clearly a PR exercise.

    The rebels should withdraw to Bengazi. The coalition could enforce a multi-lateral no fly, no drive, zone around Bengazi from the air. They could deliver by air, humanitarian aid & the rebels could focus their efforts on distributing the aid & assisting the civilian population.

    Misrata is a more difficult situation. Both sides appear to be entrenched within the town. Here, the coalition (together with the rebels) ought to be focussing on establishing a safe evacuation route for civilians who wish to leave. A protected, safe & sanitary refugee area must be established for these civilians.

    The coalition – & the rebels – ought to return to the humanitarian mandate sanctioned by the UNSCR & begin making some real effort to achieve that goal.

    A political settlement can be pursued thereafter.
    8-)

  34. Amber

    Yes-of course income from Gilts is important to Pension Funds.

    No one is suggesting zero Government Debt-well I’m not.

    I’m strongly suggesting that 70% of GDP is too high though. We need to return to levels at which Debt interest does not become a potential risk to fiscal control of the State-whilst providing a more normal income stream for lenders.

    as to “Labour met that demand by borrowing to invest in hospitals, schools, education etc.”

    …my understanding is that hospitals & schools -capital spend- were financed by PFI.
    PFI is a separate debt burden on the State represented by 20 years of “management fees”.
    It is over & above Government Debt as discussed & not counted as part of it-because Gordon wanted to keep it off balance sheet.
    I believe it to represent £200bn or so of additional liability-or 12% of GDP

    By “education” I presume you mean teachers’ salaries.
    We shouldn’t be borrowing to pay ongoing revenue expense -should we?

    Anyway-the “investment” in education provided declining standards on international scales, unbalanced educational skills, rising youth unemployment during an economic boom, a majority of new jobs going to immigrants, and the distinct prospect of insipient structural unemployment.

    Any debt interest we are paying for financing that little project is truly money down the plug-hole.

  35. Why Benghazi? The rebels hold Ajdabiya. If there were to be a freeze on the fighting that should be the border.

    Besides which, what reason do they have to think that if they withdrew to Benghazi it would stop the onslaught from the Gadaffists? And do I detect the first bit of support from you, Amber, for coalition military action, even if only restricted to the immediate environs of Benghazi?

  36. Amber

    “Both sides appear to be entrenched within the town”

    As I understand it Gadaffi is shelling the town.

    The citizens are fighting back.

    …like Zawyiah-where a peaceful protest was fired on by the “police”-the protestors fire back-then one of Gadaffi’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of psychotic sons turns up with his tanks & levels the town centre.

  37. “Their offer of a ceasefire is as cynical as any Gaddafi’s government made. It’s clearly a PR exercise.”

    It was approved by the UN Envoy Amber.

  38. @ Colin

    “I broadly agree-which was why I was pleased to hear Hague distinguish between legality & desirability.

    I think the reality has sunk in though. Those guys were never ever going to storm Tripoli.

    THey seem to be persuading the amateurs to stay home & using the army defectors now. The talk is of a push to regain Ras Lanuf & Brega-then hunker down there & leave it to the political pressure to unseat Gaddaffi.

    That makes an awful lot of sense & minimises casualties-though they will be desperately concerned by the plight of dissidents in Misratah-there can’t be much of that place left standing.”

    I think that these rebels have demonstrated their lack of experience, you can see it in photos of them. They’re wearing lofers and sneakers, not combat boots. Their charge all the way to Sirte also indicated a complete lack of strategy, charging ahead without securing their supply lines or securing the areas they had captured. Or even planning an assault on Sirte was done with no strategy (a few of them apparently drove into the town and began talking to people). Not to second guess the strategy of the rebels but I would have stayed in Ajdabiya, waited for a Ghadaffi counter assault and let NATO destroy the crap out of their forces.

    The problem with arming people is that if they’re untrained and don’t know how to use the weapons, they’re going to be completely ineffective. It reminds me of Korean-American shopkeepers who during the 1992 LA Riots went out and bought up every assault rifle and military style equipment they could get their hands on. They ultimately had no idea what they were doing with their new weapons (they were businessmen) and indiscriminately unleashed a heavy dosage of firepower on city streets populated by civilians without actually hitting anyone (I think that more on their side were killed by accidental friendly fire). Fortunately few people died from that. I think if you similarly arm untrained Libyan rebels with tanks, mortars, rockets, and whatever else needed for a military operation, far more people could get killed. So yeah, it may be legal but it’s not neccesarily desireable.

    With that said, I do actually feel a bit more positive about the chance that this won’t become a stalemate. The reason being that ultimately, Ghadaffi is going to run out of ammunition and forces. I think earlier this week, we destroyed something like 40 underground bunkers containing ammunition and military equipment of his. With a no fly zone and a naval blockade, I don’t know how he gets more ammunition. I think the increased rebel organization (a good thing) is driven by military defectors in part because they’re starting to realize that if they follow Ghadaffi’s orders, they’re going to get killed. I think that’s partly why political defections have started.

  39. Amber

    “The TNC are also demanding that Gaddafi (& therfore his ‘government’) stand down as a condition of their ceasefire.”

    I don’t think that is so Amber-have just checked a few press reports-though cannot find the actual text.

    The opposition Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) said the rebels would seek conditional ceasefire. ITNC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said they would agree to a ceasefire if Gaddafi withdrew his forces from all of Libya’s cities and respected the rights of Libyans to choose sides.

    Obviously he assumes they will choose a new government.

    One presumes Gadaffi does too-or he would have accepted wouldn’t he ?

  40. It concerns me that outside politicians like Liam Fox say things like “The Gaddafi regime has no legitimacy”.

    Maybe it has among all/some in Libya, maybe it hasn’t. How would anyone know?

  41. SOCAL

    THanks-yes I agree.

  42. @ Colin

    “As I understand it Gadaffi is shelling the town.

    The citizens are fighting back.

    …like Zawyiah-where a peaceful protest was fired on by the “police”-the protestors fire back-then one of Gadaffi’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of psychotic sons turns up with his tanks & levels the town centre.”

    I agree with your assessment. My understanding is that in a number of these towns, Ghadaffi’s forces control the city by day, while the rebels control the city at night and engage in guerilla warfare. It’s almost like a reverse Vietnam. With the exception of Sirte, it seems like most of the urban populations in western Libya have risen up against Ghadaffi as well, they’ve just been less successful. That might be because of proximity.

  43. “How would anyone know?”

    By having an election?

    AV perhaps?

  44. barbazenzero:

    IRV (also known as AV) is not tactical vote-proof. The Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem proves that any deterministic preferential voting system (that is, a voting system where voters rank candidates in order of preference and where there is no randomness) must either: have a ‘dictator’ amongst the voters can select the winner; or, have a candidate who can never win under any possible combination of votes cast; or, be susceptible to tactical voting (that is, voting insincerely can result in a better result than voting sincerely). For obvious reasons, the last option is preferred.

    Here’s a very possible situation where tactical voting in IRV comes in. Consider the seat of Stoke Central, which at the last election had these vote shares:

    Lab 38.8%
    LD 21.7%
    Con 21.0%
    BNP 7.7%

    Suppose that for the 2015 election, the BNP are able to put up a strong candidate, and are able to capture 18% of the Labour vote. The remaining Labour voters wouldn’t ever countenance voting BNP ahead of the other major parties, so their preferences are:

    1. Lab
    2. LD
    3. Con
    4. BNP

    Similarly, the Liberal Democrat and Conservative preferences are, respectively:

    1. LD
    2. Lab
    3. Con
    4. BNP

    and

    1. Con
    2. LD
    3. Lab
    4. BNP

    The BNP preferences, on the other hand, are:

    1. BNP
    2. Lab
    3. Con
    4. LD

    First, suppose they all vote sincerely. In the first round, the vote shares are:

    BNP 25.7%
    LD 21.7%
    Con 21.0%
    Lab 20.8%

    No candidate has a majority, so Labour are eliminated. In the second round:

    LD 42.5%
    BNP 25.7%
    Con 21.0%

    No candidate has a majority, so the Conservatives are eliminated. In the third round:

    LD 63.5%
    BNP 25.7%

    Hence, the Liberal Democrats win the seat if everyone votes sincerely. Now, the BNP are aware of this: voting sincerely will result in their lowest preference being elected. Suppose, instead, that 20% of the BNP votes are insincere and cast as:

    1. Lab
    2. BNP
    3. Con
    4. LD

    and that 5.7% are insincerely cast as:

    1. Con
    2. BNP
    3. Lab
    4. LD

    Then, in the first round, with BNP on 0% not included:

    Lab 40.8%
    Con 26.7%
    LD 21.7%

    No candidate has a majority, so the Liberal Democrats are eliminated:

    Lab 62.5%
    Con 26.7%

    Labour have a majority, and so win the seat – a better outcome for the tactical voters.

    This example shows off two of the tactical voting options in IRV: ‘compromising’ is where a candidate more likely to win is ranked higher on the ballot than a more preferred but less likely candidate (the voters insincerely giving Labour first preferences are compromising), and ‘pushover’ is where a weak non-preferred candidate is ranked higher than a strong preferred candidate so that the most preferred candidate has an easier victory (the voters insincerely voting for the Conservatives are ensuring that the strong Liberal Democrat candidate is beaten early).

    The IRV tactical calculus is more complicated than plurality voting, and these sort of schemes can backfire (I believe Sinn Fein attempted to organise a pushover in an STV constituency to increase their representation from 1 representative to 2, but the result was that the pushover won and the SF lost their seat). But, as my example shows, minor parties can still split the vote, which I believe is the worst practical problem in plurality voting. IRV is also a non-monotonic voting system, which leads to -very- strange behaviour. These failures mean that I don’t believe IRV is a significantly better system than plurality voting (and, arguably, the added complexity of the method mean it’s a -worse- system).

    There are single-winner voting systems which don’t display scary non-monotonicity and which are also demonstrably better than plurality voting, but which are not being offered to the electorate (not to mention proportional methods, which are also not being offered!). I still don’t know which way I’ll vote on the referendum: ‘yes’ means we’re stuck with a poor system for at least one GE, and quite possibly indefinitely; ‘no’ will set back voting reform for a generation. Regardless of the political fallout of the referendum for the various parties, I think the entire country is going to lose.

  45. @ Old Nat

    “It concerns me that outside politicians like Liam Fox say things like “The Gaddafi regime has no legitimacy”.

    Maybe it has among all/some in Libya, maybe it hasn’t. How would anyone know?”

    I think he’s right here. When you have to use your firepower against civilian populations in order to stay in power, I think you’ve lost your legitimacy to lead.

    You know, watching events in Libya, the Ivory Coast, and elsewhere….am I wrong to still stop all but short of worshipping John Adams?

  46. Alec. OK I see where you are coming from. I was contracted out of the second state pension scheme back in 1970’s when I worked for a bank, (Way before bonuses I hasten to add!)so that element doesn’t apply to me, hence why my state pension is only £97 or so.
    I would quite agree anyone who was expecting to have the top up should have it. As you say, I have the bank pension. How many people would be affected though?

    Of course there are many anomalies relating to state pensions including the one where people who retire abroad (excluding the EEC) never have their pensions uprated for inflation. How unfair is that?
    As you say, it is complicated.

  47. SOCAL

    THere was a tv series called “John Adams” over here a couple of years back.

    It was absolutely superb.

    Its out on DVD

  48. Perhaps having sufficient artillery shells to level a town confers legitimacy?

    In all honesty, though, I agree that statements such as Fox’s are pretty meaningless. I am not really sure what “legitimacy” means, short of a democratic mandate. In which case he’s surely right but it’s a facile observation.

  49. It’s lucky that the American colonists had the right “economic and social conditions” for democracy, I guess.

    (ie they were white and Christian?)

  50. @Robert newark – that’s a relief. I thought I was conversing with someone looking forward to an old age of total penury, but at least you should have e bit more than that to look forward to.

    As you say, complex and difficult.

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