Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn on the Beach : Why a Man who Just Got Elected is Unelectable

I've noticed that most of the people I know seem to have found the whole 'Jeremy Corbyn' thing much more surprising than I did.

Similarly, many of them seem to have become convinced that it signals a leftward shift in British Politics.

The Daily Mash, as always, hit the nail on the head with the delightful 'Man Who Just Got Elected Definitely Unelectable':

I've even managed to get a couple of people to take bets on the question 'Will Jeremy Corbyn be the next British Prime Minister?'. I think not, but a number of people have been prepared to put their money where their mouth is for the other side, which to my mind means that they actually anticipate this as a likely outcome. I'm certainly not saying that's impossible, but I do think that the chances of it happening are considerably less than 50%.

If anyone else wants a piece of that action do let me know. If we can find some way of making the bet enforceable, then I'll accept for any amount I can afford.

At any rate, I'd like to explain my model of how politics works, and how it explains what just happened to the Labour party, and why it's a disaster for them.

I would like to point out that I rather like Jeremy Corbyn. He's transparently a good and honest man, who says what he believes and believes what he says. I wish that all politicians were like this. His politics remind me of my own teenage ideals.

If he promised to prosecute Tony Blair for treason over the Iraq War, which I think he might like to do, I would (will) vote for him myself. [0]

Unfortunately it's only in a certain kind of 'Mary Sue'-type science fiction story where an honest man goes into politics, only to find that everyone loves and respects his innovative new approach and he rides the breath of fresh air to an amazing victory and uses his honesty and openness and clear thinking to put everything right.

That's not how democracy works. It's amazing to me that it works at all. I think it does work reasonably well, and certainly much better than all the other systems which people have tried, but not really for the reasons everyone thinks it works.

Here's a very simple model that shows how I think democracies work:

Consider a beach:


Everyone on the beach likes ice cream. They'll go to the closest ice cream stall they can see to get one.

Say you want to set up an ice cream stall. Where do you put it?

It really doesn't matter. Say you put it in your favourite place. It's got the best view, maybe:


Profit! Everyone comes to you to buy an ice cream.

Now, pretty soon someone else is going to notice the good thing you've got going on, and set up in competition.

Maybe they don't want to be too in your face about this, or maybe they just like the other end of the beach.


Even so, they're going to take some of your customers. Nobody shops around for ice cream on beaches, and you're probably charging the same sort of price anyway. People just go the the closest stall.

This shows the flow of customers:


You get:


and your competitor gets:


What should you do?

Suppose the next morning you move your stall towards the middle of the beach.


Where do the customers go now?


You've got:
| >>>>>>>>>>>>>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< |
and your rival's got:
| >>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<< |

But your rival can move too. Maybe he'd prefer to be out on the left, but he's more interested in getting as many customers as he can:

So the next morning:


|>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>*<>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< |

And you're splitting the customers pretty much in half.

This really happens! If you go to a beach, the ice cream stalls are in the middle. [0.5]

This is obviously a bit of a pain for everyone involved. The beach-goers have to walk further than they'd like for their ice cream. And both you and your rival would probably prefer to be a bit further apart anyway.

Now, politics.

First of all, we'll have to assume that 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' actually mean something. [1]

And then we'll have to assume that everyone can be put on a line, with the most right wing people on the right, and the most left wing people on the left.

The normal state of British politics is that there are two main parties.


Their supporters look like this:

|>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>*<>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< |

This is the Labour party:


Almost all its members and supporters feel that the Labour leader/manifesto, is to the right of their position.

This is the Tory party:


Almost all its members think that their leader/manifesto are to the left of their position.

Everyone in the country thinks that the two party leaders and their policies seem indistinguishable. This explains the constant complaint that 'They're all the same', even though if you actually know any members of either party, it's pretty clear that they have serious philosopical differences.

This is why our form of representative democracy works.

The voting system forces the two parties to choose leaders and manifestos that are roughly in the middle of the British electorate. Half of the population think that their government is too right wing, and half think it's too left wing.

So after every election, whoever wins, centrist things get done. No one can get away with doing anything too crazy without first persuading a lot of the population that it's a good idea.

The mistake that Labour just made was to not understand how its own leadership election is supposed to work.

The idea was that the Labour MPs, who are all interested in getting elected, because if they don't get elected they don't have a job any more and certainly can't influence British politics, get to do almost all the choosing of who is going to be Labour leader. They pick a number of Labour MPs as candidates, all of whom are supposed to be electable.


Then the Labour members get a completely pointless and illusionary choice between the four identical candidates, which leaves the party looking like this:

| >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>*< |

Almost all the power is in the choice of candidates. The votes of the party members count for almost nothing. [2]

But some Labour MPs ( I think 36 or so.. just enough anyway ) either didn't understand the system, or deliberately sabotaged it, by nominating a fairly left-wing MP, as well as the identikit clone candidates.

Now, when Labour held its leadership election, it looked like this:

| >>>>>>>>>>>>*<<<<<<>>>>>>>>**** |

And Jeremy Corbyn got most of the votes, while the 4 identical 'electable' clones ended up sharing out the few votes of the people who are Labour party members but who aren't particularly left-wing.

So now the Labour party looks like this:

| >>>>>>>>>>>>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<  |

This is a great result if you're a Labour supporter. Finally you've got rid of the lying right-wing weasels who took over your party in the eighties, and elected a leader who really represents what Labour stands for, the great current of socialist thought that brought your party into being.

Unfortunately that means that the next General Election looks like this:

|------------*------------------*--------------------------------- |

And the voters split like this:

|>>>>>>>>>>>>*<<<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>>>*<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< |

An absolutely thumping Tory victory.

Now, obviously, this model is very simple, and doesn't explain all sorts of features of British politics, like the existence of more than two parties, the effect of the constituency system, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and so on.

It's actually much more like the system for electing the President of the United States. [2.5]

Neither does it model the fact that members of the electorate can actually change their minds. [3]

But nevertheless, I claim it's good enough model to tell us roughly what's going to happen in the next election. We can add more bells and whistles to make a more complicated model that better accounts for what actually happens in British Politics.

But the Corbyn Effect is so strong that I just have trouble seeing how the bells and whistles can possibly make a difference.

Within this model, Corbyn has literally no chance of being elected Prime Minister.

All the uncertainty is in the correspondence with reality. I'll be conservative and say that I'll give him a 20% chance of getting in because of some effect that I haven't captured in this model.

[0] Obviously Tony Blair is a traitor. He lied to the parliament in order to take us into an illegal war that has killed hundreds of thousands of completely innocent people, (including a few British soldiers, which is the bit that makes it treason).

Equally obviously no British court is going to convict him by the 'beyond reasonable doubt' standard. I'm cool with that. I don't believe it beyond reasonable doubt myself. It's possible that the lying snake believed everything he said. I find that even more worrying, and either way I'd like to watch the bastard squirm.

[0.5] In between, there are donkey rides. The Buridan franchise, usually.

[1] I'm not completely convinced this is true. Some of my political thoughts are left-wing. Some are right-wing. I'm usually happier when the Tories are in than when Labour are in, but I can usually see where they're both coming from.

In fact I think that there are three strands of politics in the UK, there's the social conservatives, the classical liberals, and the lefties. The social conservatives and the classical liberals are in an uneasy alliance called the Tory party, and cordially dislike each other but pretend not to. The lefties, who seem much more of one mind to me, are the Labour party.

My heart is with classical liberalism, but I prefer the lefties to the social right.

[2] In fact this is also true of the general election. Almost all the power is in the hands of the political parties themselves. There was an old anarchist T-shirt that said 'A lifetime's supply of democracy:XXXXXXXXXX'. That's about right. The genius of the system is that it forces the political parties to use their immense power to pick people who represent the people as a whole, even though the actual input of the people is very small.

[2.5] Where it, plus the assumption that the candidates are dishonest, handily predicts that before the primaries, all the candidates will appear to be extremist fucknuts, whilst after the primaries they will all appear to be centrists who appeal to the whole nation. You can tell an honest presidential candidate by the fact that he either loses the primary, or the election. You can only become president by tacking violently so as to win both.

[3] This effect is negligible except over geological time.