Trump’s election: a bigger picture

In the closing stages of the US presidential election, Trump was describing his advance as “like Brexit but more”. That catches my sense of shock when it happened — though I wouldn’t want to take the parallel as far as he does. Shocked messages from friends in the US sound uncomfortably familiar.


Perhaps the system will right itself. Perhaps he won’t be as bad as I fear. Perhaps he will be as bad as I fear, and be forced from office (the civil case for rape that should have been heard in December was withdrawn shortly before the election, with the claimant citing threats against her). As I write this, attempts are in progress to persuade the Electoral College not to chose him.

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Witney could be a turning point for the Lib Dems

The result in the Witney by-election was a substantial swing to the LibDems, jumping from fourth place on 6.8% to second place on 30.2%. Liz Leffman and her team did an outstanding job, and the party was clearly ready to rally to the cause.

Over the next few days there were speculations about what that would mean if replicated at a General Election, with estimates of the number of seats likely to switch from Tory to LibDem put between 26 and 51. The statistician in me is wary of those extrapolations: there are lots of unknowns at by-elections, and British politics is especially turbulent at the moment.

On the other hand, political parties usually spend a long time building up profiles of voters. Lots of volunteers flooding in at the last minute is not a good substitute for that prolonged work, so there is more to the surge in Witney than simply the number of people who came to campaign. In fact, it will be far easier to win back people who voted LibDem in 2010, now they are able to see the difference between the Tories on their own and the Tories in coalition with LibDems.

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