The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


Martin Schulz: "I refuse to imagine a Europe where lorries and hedge funds are free to cross borders but citizens cannot"

15 August 2017
Not Dogs

A fast food restaurant in Birmingham Bull Ring.

Hot dogs, but not as you know them. Instead of a piece of dead pig in the middle, they use a special Quorn sausage. Eight inches of non-meaty sausage, wrapped in a plain bun.

The good news: these sausages are a special order. Not the normal bland Quorn sausage, these have some spice and taste. Good news for vegans, as the range is entirely free of animal produce (assuming you don't put cheese on top...) Service is fast - it was less than three minutes from order to service.

We got the version with ketchup, cheese, mustard, and caramel onion. Not sure this was the best choice: the sweet onion was the dominant taste, and we didn't much enjoy it. It overpowered all the more subtle flavours, as we confirmed near the end of the dog. A less-seasoned topping might be the way forward.

Also got the waffle fries, a generous portion size. Served without salt (good), but the ones we got proved more soggy than ideal. We like our fries to be crisp, and our onion to have some crunch; Not Dogs lacked the firmness we craved.

The meal is just over £8: somewhat more expensive than mass-market meaty burger places in the Bull Ring, but cheaper than most posh cafes there. For what it is, it's filling, and we have the glow from supporting a local business on ethical lines.

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12 August 2017
Ali CRONIN - Skins The Novel

What the second class got up to on their summer break.

Cronin has a good understanding of the characters. As an official publication, she's got access to their innermost thoughts - what makes them tick, how they would react to stressful situations.

Our problem: Cronin doesn't have their voices. All of the diary entries have a similar style, there's only a superficial attempt to replicate the inner monologues. Only Effy's unconscious seduction of Aldo moves beyond exposition. There's no effort to explore why Katie would seek out Effy; last time they met, Effy banged Katie over the head with a rock.

The action is unremarkable. Cook and Freddie have a sex contest, with JJ appointed judge. Emily and Katie are taken off with their family, and have a row. Pandora and Thomas grow up, and Naomi has her doubts.

Did this foreshadow anything in the main series? Aldo is directly mentioned in passing, Katie's increasing desperation and Naomi's unease resonate. But our main takeaway is that Skins again kills off an interesting character for kicks.

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20 July 2017
Why we're leaving the Yougov panel

To our surprise, this blog has been on the panel for pollsters Yougov since 2004. After cashing in our points, we've decided to leave the panel.

Yougov is an internet pollster, it sends us surveys every so often, asking us what we think about this and that. As an inducement to complete the survey, we're offered a token reward. The pay works out at about £3 per hour, well below minimum wage. We have a feeling that we've been asked to do more work for less pay, and that our insights are worth more than minimum wage to the clients.

The site has been plagued with technical problems, its javascript runs inconsistently and often breaks. Very often, we need to refresh a page or come back to a half-completed survey. Sometimes, we've had to abandon our work halfway - so we don't get paid, just grumpy.

The content of the surveys has been problematic. From the start, Yougov has had a slightly skeezy reputation, telling the clients "whatever you want, guv". We've come across questions that assumed outside knowledge, or that were so impenetrable that we could not understand the question. Once or twice, our honest answer was rejected as "logically impossible". We can honestly believe a product is both luxurious and cheap, but the makers do not accept this.

Yougov makes assumptions that are, frankly, a load of bullshit. Every month, we're invited to take part in the "Brand Index", a rolling survey that asks us about labelled products. Yougov does not consider that we may buy products for their intrinsic qualities, because we like the chocolate recipe or because that deodrant doesn't crack up our skin.

(More: Opinion polls require knee-jerk responses from a limited diet, and mislead everyone.)

By making decisions in a bad way, we get bad decisions.

Fundamentally, we find ourselves arguing against opinion polls. They appear to be democratic but are not. We are limited to a pre-selected diet, while in a true democracy we would be able to put forward any response we wanted. The poll speciously limits our actions, the real world allows us to have two clashing ideas at the same time.

Public opinion is much greater than anything Yougov can measure. Public opinion is much greater than any binary choice.

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5 July 2017
Workfare13: a reminder from history

KP asked after a 2013 vote to retroactively legalise penalties against people who refuse workfare schemes. Labour suggested that its MPs did not take part in this vote. Was this a major cause of Corbynism?

There is an argument that the 2013 vote was to correct a drafting error, and Labour had already lost the substantive argument, so had no business opposing the cleanup. Except the correction was itself incompetent, it didn't meet human rights. Proper scrutiny at the time *may* have revealed this deficiency, but we cannot be certain.

The tone of conversation at the time was huffy. Owen Jones went on about "Labour Party was founded to give working people a voice," in a way he claimed Ed didn't.

But Workfare13 hasn't been mythologised by the Huffy Left, in the way Student2010 and Benefits15 have been. Perhaps it doesn't fit the Huffy Left's narrative.

Student2010 is a charge against the Lib Dems, and against graduates paying a contribution for any benefits from their education. Benefits15, where interim leader Harriet Harman ordered an abstention, was uppermost in minds when voting for that year's leader.

Workfare13 has not entirely been forgotten, but nor is it mythologised. Could this be because it wasn't an internal Labour struggle, and the party didn't have all the opposition? Lest we forget, the DUP voted against Workfare13. Does the Huffy Left want to remember when it shared the lobby with a far-right money laundering operation?

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26 June 2017
Press Ganged

What happened to the press? The newspapers didn't swing the election.

Mail readers voted Conservative. Mirror readers voted Labour, as did Guardian. Sun readers didn't vote, as usual - but it's the first time this century the majority of readers didn't vote. FT split equally between the parties. This last is very unusual: even in Blair's landslides the FT gave a Tory lead in the high teens.

Everyone has noticed that the papers have become more shrill and hectoring. This is Paul Dacre's doing, ever since he took over the Mail in the late 90s, he's used the front page to peddle a party line.

A third of those polled in 2017 said they had no newspaper. This blog would be amongst them - our papers of choice, the Independent and Irish Times, have both left the newsstand in the past year.

Broadcasters - particularly the BBC - need to look again at the privilege they accord the dead tree press. Once upon a time, the press "set the agenda". That hasn't been true for years, and now it's clearly not happening. We don't agree with the entirity of Jim Waterson's implicit claim that hyperpartisan web sites won it, but his broad point is correct.

The agenda is set by all of the mass media. Yes, that includes the daily press, and magazines, and mainstream web sites. It includes the hyper-partisan web: not necessarily to convince, but to shine light on dark corners. Democracy is served by talking about the whole media, not just the printed word.

At this point, we might bring in Paul Mason's reflections on impartiality.

We don't necessarily agree with everything Mason says, but this appears to match our observations.

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19 June 2017
Modernisation times

Last week, we mentioned how the current mess was re-toxifying the Conservative brand. Let's dwell on that a little longer.

Ever since William Hague became leader in 1997, the Conservatives have felt the need to "modernise" themselves. Vague started off down this path, declaring "Compassion is not a bolt-on extra to Conservatism, it's at its very core." But to win the 1999 Euro-elections, Vague allowed the skinhead tendency to rise again. Two years later, he was buried beneath a landslide.

Michael Portfolio offered a hardcore modernising agenda in the 2001 leadership election. MPs blocked him from putting this to the party membership, inflicting Iain and Duncan Smith on the party. (A great what-if: Portfolio puts his case to the party...)

Michael Howaerd took over the leadership in 2003. He claimed to want a new politics, where his party would "preach a bit less and listen a bit more". But by 2005, he was sounding the dog-whistle on immigration - perhaps opening the floodgates to the 2016 result.

Dave the Eager Young Space Cadet had many photo-ops: huskies, hoodies to hug, green gubbins. His party pushed through useful social reforms, settling the principle of same-sex marriage forever, imposing the international aid target to much chafing from critics.

Some of the old guard defected to Mudkip, they did not recognise the equality of same-sex couples. To staunch this flow, and to distinguish his party from the Lib Dems, Dave tolerated the regressive voices. But this is a fool's errand. The old guard overwhelmed him last year. His party, shorn of Dave's charismatic leadership, has fallen further back.

Modernisation is a job best done on the sly. In Scotland, Ruth Davidson has changed opinions about the Conservatives, by changing the emphasis. She's open, inclusive, honest about the party's shortcomings, and willing to learn. Foxface is none of these things.

Foxface is barely a Conservative. The party's tradition is we can keep things ticking over and not make a fuss. Not this time. Every major party - with the possible exception of Plaid - offered some form of risky change. The Tories had the most risky change of all: rip up the rulebook and write a new one.

Hugo Rifkind concludes, it may be years before the Tories grasp just how cheaply their intrinsic advantageous edge - of economic deference, of that firm handshake with the bank manager - was squandered on the side of a bus.

Labour needed its own modernisation project: after the charisma of Mister Tony Blair came the sclerosis of The Soup Dragon, and lift music from The Ed Miller Band. Corbyn played a cacophony this year, but it's worked wonders. Voters aren't humming the dreary drone of Mister and Soupy, and can look at Labour in a new light.

The Lib Dems? Should have played a new tune of their own, but got distracted. The Radical Association, a ginger group within the party, urges them to stand up for something. Iraq was a lynchpin, a point to place the party. It was a bold policy, and it turned out to be right. Every year since, the LDs seem to have gotten a bit more managerial, a bit more timid.

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15 June 2017
Turnout and constitution

What else can we say about last week's election? Two topics today.

Who voted?

The demographics are interesting. Young people voted, in a way they haven't done recently. Initial reports of a 70% youth turnout have proven misleading, but lots of young people did still make their mark. What's interesting: turnout amongst the elderly was down.

The young were overwhelmingly Labour; the reds get a plurality of voters at all ages under 45, and only the old farts broke to the Conservatives.

This has consequences for both parties. Labour will need to offer reasons for the young to vote. The Conservatives chose to shaft their greying core vote, and these people didn't vote at all.

What happens next time, when the Conservative platform doesn't inflict a dementia tax? What happens when elderly voters come out in their usual numbers? Will the grumpy grandpas turn out for the Tories again?

And what happened amongst the middle-aged? 2001 was a dull election, and turnout plummeted. The cohort who voted in 1997 but not 2001, and perhaps never since, are now aged around 40. What enthused them to break the habit of decades and vote? Will they only vote when they think they can make a difference and oust the Tories?


The constitution is what the government can get away with. Public pressure matters.

For instance, Foxface said, "If I lose six seats, I won't negotiate". Foxface lost six seats, but still proposes to negotiate. Once again, Foxface speaks bullshit.

The people were asked to give Foxface a mandate for her negotiation. She did not receive that mandate. We the people can say that she does not represent us, and that we will not be bound by any purported "agreement".

We mentioned the Salisbury Convention earlier, where Lords allows the winning party to advance its manifesto programme without opposition in principle. But that only applies to a clear winning party; the 2010 coalition relied on the Coalition Agreement as a substitute manifesto. Right now, the C-DUP agreement will not be published. As a consequence, Lords will have no "manifesto", and nothing to enforce the Salisbury Convention against.

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14 June 2017
Fighting talk

This was a comment to Jennie's piece about the Lib Dems needing every ounce of backbone. On some things, a compromise may be in order. On this, there can be no compromise.

The approximate speech I'd like to hear from Tim or whoever succeeds him:

"We, the people, spoke in 2016. We gave our government permission to investigate leaving the European Union.

The government went far beyond its mandate. We, the people, said investigate and report back, them in government chose to leave.

Then the government said they want a bigger mandate. And we the people said no.

We, the people, said no.

No to this plan, sketched out on the back of an envelope.

No to this policy, we want to think again.

Did them in government listen? Did they heck!

We, the people, say this to Mrs. May:

You asked us for a mandate. We said no.

No means no.

Withdraw your "article fifty" letter and think again.

You do not negotiate on our behalf.

You do not speak for us.

There will be no exit. Not on my watch."

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