Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Labservatives Can't Win Here!

The Lib Dems have just launched a rather clever campaign for the "Labservatives" which urges voters to break the two party domination of British politics.

Now I have a lot of sympathy with this. I think voters should be encouraged to vote for whichever party they want to win, regardless of their electoral chances.

So why is it that the Lib Dems are so keen on dodgy graphs like this?

or this?

Could it be that they're not quite as against the "two horse race" as they'd like to make out?


paul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Duncan Stott said...

I'm not going to try to defend dodgy bar charts. There's no excuse; we shouldn't do it, and it could well come back to haunt us one day.

But in answer to your last question: yes, we are absolutely against the two horse race! We are forced into producing these bar charts and talking up our chances as 'second horse' because we are forced to work within the first-past-the-post election system.

Proportional representation, a long-time Lib Dem policy, would end all talk of "xyz Can't Win Here" and annoying bar charts.

AdamB said...

Spam comment of the week from Paul there.

Duncan - I'm also in favour of proportional representation and I think you're right in saying that it would end most of this "can't win here" nonsense. However that's still no excuse for it.

As somebody who is genuinely undecided about who to vote for (currently torn between Labour, Lib Dems and Greens) this is the kind of thing that really puts me off. I know it's not a major issue, but it doesn't do your party any favours either.

The same applies to the kind of election tactics I wrote about this morning:


Duncan Stott said...

I think your linked example is totally different. Someone there is lying.

But you're saying we should refrain from using the "can't win here" strategy, even when it is accurate and helps get Lib Dem MPs elected?

I think it is useful for the electorate to know who genuinely has a chance of winning in their constituency, so that they don't waste their vote. Labour and the Tories constantly push the idea that the Lib Dems are irrelevant, so it is crucial that we try and counter that idea in seats where we are relevant.

"it doesn't do your party any favours" - The majority of Lib Dem MPs are elected because of this message. We rely on squeezing the "can't win here" votes. It works - that's why the party is renowned for its use of bar charts.

AdamB said...

The Lib Dems are renowned for *dodgy* bar charts which is dishonesty.

I understand your point about the charts generally but it's totally at odds with the Labservatives campaign. Surely all the Conservatives and Labour are doing is putting a giant "Can't win here" sign above the Lib Dems nationally?

Anonymous said...

this is just partisanship isn't it, and I'm careful not to denigrate LibDem partisanship for I have my own.

Political Animal said...

The amusement of Lib Dem bar charts is something I miss living in Greenwich, where the only piece of Lib Dem literature I've seen was Brian Paddick's freepost leaflet (which is now doing sterling service wedging an ill-fitting door shut).

The local Tories do seem quite keen to get in on the act, however, claiming in their latest Peninsula leaflet that the seat isn't really the Labour/Green marginal that it clearly is, but a Labour/Tory marginal, basing this solely on the Mayoral election results. Such chalk and cheese comparisons are as bad as mis-scaled bar charts. After all, on the basis of the 2006 polls, both Labour and the Tories could run leaflets in almost every ward in London claiming 'Lib Dems can't win here'.

AdamB said...

Political Animal - Do you have a copy of that leaflet by any chance?

RO - What is just partisanship?

Political Animal said...

I do have a sligbtly crumpled one. I'll scan it in when I have a chance and email it to you.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I like the Labservative idea a lot, it does sound like some horrid hybrid creature, which is fitting.

The graph lies however, are not so edifying.

AdamB said...

Thanks PA

Anonymous said...

Adam's basic point is sound: if the LibDems want to be perceived as representing a very different type of politics then the dodgy bar chart rather spoils that.

The perception is also spoilt by the populist superficiality of some of the talking points on LibDem leaflets. In my area LibDem leaflets are fiercely critical of the number of cars that the (Labour-controlled) local authority tow away. I think that this is one of the things that my local authority does well: people park illegally, their car gets removed, for once the local authority is efficient. The LibDems' reply is that "it's just a talking point". If they represent a new type of politics they should avoid these poorly thought-through talking-points.


Anonymous said...

The Liberals have form for dishonesty, and are qyite capable og playing the "race" caed when it suits qv "Cheltenham".

For more examples click



Anonymous said...

Lets never forget the tactics of Labour. This is the type of campaign they ran in Downham in Lewisham only last year. Suggesting the BNP would win the seat is completely shameful (they actually came fourth in the end).

It is amazing that they attempted to boost their chances of winning. And why did they run a whole election campaign based almost entirely about flying the Union Flag outside the Town Hall?

Not one Labour councillor in Lewisham has ever distanced themselves from this incredible campaign - including Sir Steve Bullock, standing for election next month as Mayor of Lewisha;m.


From Waltham Forest to Lewisham this is the record of Labour in London.

Rog T said...


As a Lib Dem candidate in the Mill Hill ward of Barnet, who has been doing the rounds canvassing in every spare hour of my life, there are two questions I've been asked time and time again.

a) Who should I vote for in the Council elections in Mill Hill to get the awful Tories out

b) Who should I vote for in the General election to get Andrew Dismore (Lab) out.

In Mill Hill ward, the figures are 44% Lib Dem, 43% Conservative and 9% Lab. We don't have time to explain the dynamics on the doorstep to all 12,000 voters.

How would you suggest we give voters who wish to vote tactically a heads up in a leaflet? If the figures given are wrong then it's fair to say that there is shenanigans going on. If we are purely representing the patterns at the last council election, how can the chart be "dodgy"?

In a perfect world we'd all be competing on a level playing field, but wheras Lib Dem leaflets are locally funded and leaflets delivered by members of the party, we are up against an organisation which can draw on funds provided by people who are millionaires, have no association with the Borough and can print in full colour. They can afford to pay to have the leaflets delivered and they can plaster the Borough in posters. They can afford expensive PR consultants to help draw up policies and leaflets.

The "dodgy charts" you refer to are put together by local activists. There is no big brother organisation helping, just a booklet that you buy for £15 which advises on ways to get messages over in leaflets.

Do part time volunteers ever get it wrong? Of course they do. Would it be better if we had a few millionaires to pay for PR staff to ensure that the leaflets were slick and shiny. The Lib Dems activists have to work ten times harder for every seat. We are often fighting against incumbent councils which we feel are passing measures such as sheltered housing warden cuts, which have devastating effects on the people who are affected.

You may think we should refrain from encouraging tactical voting to save these services. I think most people can make their own minds up. If leaflets are full of crap, they'll soon put off the voters.

AdamB said...

Rog, the charts I've posted are dodgy because they have been manipulated to make the gap between the Lib Dems and the party above them on the chart smaller and the party below them bigger. That's dishonesty and these are just a small sample. I've collected many more that do exactly the same.

And I don't think time and money has anything to do with it. Anybody can produce an accurate bar chart in less than a minute using freely available software.

By all means use the first past the post system to your advantage, but do it honestly and don't complain when other parties do the same to you!

Rog T said...


If you want to start going on about dodgy facts in dodgy leaflets check the latest Tory offerings in my neck of the woods (march 2010 for West Hendon & Mill Hill) - http://www.hendonconservatives.org/index.php?sectionid=12

These claim among other things
that government grants for play areas are somehow due to the local Tory Council, that a problem with shopping trolleys is in some way the fault of local Labour councillors, rather than the Tory administration. They berate TFL decisions about the Northern Line, without mentioning Boris runs TFL. They moan about an increase in Burglaries without mentioning that Boris runs the Met. They moan about overdevelopment at Mill Hill east without saying who runs the council and the planning committee.

I hardly think a splodge being the wrong size will change anyones vote (when the correct figure is printed on it). Blatent misrepresentation of the facts will.

By the way, I checked the local Lib Dems site www.highbarnet.org to see how the Labour 9% was represented. If you look it is approx twice the size it should be. Is this also bullshit and unfair?

AdamB said...

So other parties' dishonesty is bad, but Lib Dem dishonesty is fine?

This is why I've never joined one.

Rog T said...


Ok, let's look at how "honest" and careful you've been in your discussion of the so called "dodgy graphs".

a) I've checked all of these graphs and the figures on them are accurate (according to the election stats quoted).

b) To get any meaning from the graphs, you have to read them so you will be aware of the correct figures.

c) In the seemingly worst case you show - Hackney South & Shoreditch, the Lib Dems are clerly in second place - 7% ahead of the next nearest party (Lab). You neglect to mention that the 21% others is clearly a misprint and wrong. It overstates the "others" vote by 10%. If you add up all of the figures it comes to 110%. It is quite obvious that the "others" should be 11% to anyone who has bothered to check the figures.

So what are the Hackney Lib Dems guilty of? Overstating the "others" vote? Sloppy and inaccurate certainly, but dishonest and deliberately misleading as you claim? I don't think so. As I tried to suggest earlier and you totally ignored, these sites etc are not put together by huge and well financed party machines. Maybe you wish they were, I don't.

If you are going to pull others up for inaccuracy, I'd suggest you do a bit more homework.

AdamB said...

So it's all an honest mistake is it? Come on Rog, the Lib Dems are notorious for doing this. At least Duncan didn't try to deny it.

Rog T said...

Why on earth would the Lib Dems deliberately overstate the "other" vote by 10% in Hackney and Shoreditch?

I don't know who did the chart or why they made the mistake with the figure.

Maybe Duncan didn't bother to check the root data and took it at face value.

Do you think the Lib Dems in Mill Hill are being deliberately dishonest by making the spoldge which represents Labour at 12% in third place bigger than it should be?

If you'd have accused the Lib Dems of being sloppy, I would agree. As I pointed out earlier, the chart on High Barnet pictorially overstates the Labour vote as does the Mill Hill version. There are plenty of other examples, but as these don't fit the story, they are not shown.

That's what worries me. I think that a bit of balance would be fair.

AdamB said...

Am I accusing every Lib Dem campaign of using this tactic? No. Am I saying that it's a common and well known tactic that they use? Yes.

I think your political allegiance is showing on this Rog. I can't see you being so 'balanced' with Brian Coleman if he was caught doing something similar.

Rog T said...

I don't know if it's being dyslexic, but stats/graphs don't really interest me too much full stop. As I see it the numbers are right so it's a complete non issue.

I'm a bit surprised you think I'm unfair to Brian Coleman. Even his £10,000 lawyer failed to make that case :^)

Anonymous said...

In what way are the Lib Dems any different to the "Labservatives"? They support the cuts agenda as much as either of them, are just as racist, etc.

So we get three neo-liberal parties instead of two? Gee, thanks!

- Mellie

Green Gordon said...

The comments here are solid-gold.

"The numbers are right, so who cares about the comparative size of the bars, and by the way, other parties do it.... er... yeah. p.s I don't like charts."

Bang bang bang (is the sound of my head against the desk).

Adam, considered joining the Greens? We do at least try to be careful with our use of stats.

AdamB said...

I've voted Green before but I can't see myself joining any political party to be honest. It's much more fun watching from the sidelines.

Green Gordon said...

It's actually more fun drawing moustaches on Tory billboards.

We do have some journos in our ranks, y'know... (editor of the Guardian weekly... you can do both). But yes, politics would be more entertaining if I didn't have a personal stake in the exact outcome of elections... (well not as personal as a candidate, but you know what I mean).

You really should join Labour though, just for ease of classification.