Evesham Traffic

Evesham Civic Society is having a meeting this evening to discuss various proposals for improving the traffic flow in the town centre, and in particular restoring two-way access from Workman Bridge to/from the High Street. I can’t be there, as I have another meeting to attend at Wychavon, but I thought I’d stick my oar in anyway with some comments on the suggested solutions.

You need to read these in conjunction with the PDF created by the Civic Society. Since the suggestions aren’t otherwise numbered, I’ll refer to them by the names of the proponents in the order they appear on the PDF.

Alan Pye

This makes Swan Lane and Mill Street two-way and reverses the flow in Oat Street and Chapel Lane.

The main problem with this, as with any scheme which seeks to restore two-way traffic on Swan Lane, is that doing so would almost certainly mean losing the on-street parking. That’s not going to be popular with local residents who don’t have anywhere else to park. It also has two exits onto High Street, one from Swan lane and one from Oat Street, in very close proximity. That’s unlikely to be practical, especially as these locations won’t be suitable for mini-roundabouts. There are also questions about whether the hill section of Mill Street can take two-way traffic, although that could potentially be addressed by a priority system.

On the other hand, it has the advantage of keeping two lanes of traffic onto High Street, albeit on two different streets. That’s important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Anthony Dowling

This system simply reverses the flow of Swan lane and Oat Street, with Mill Street being made two-way. It has the advantage of not needing any changes to on-street parking, and is one of the most commonly proposed solutions on social media.

However, it still has the issue of two exits onto High Street close together, as Avon Street will still be there. More importantly, it halves the capacity of the exit from the east onto the High Street. At the moment, there are two lanes of Westbound traffic in Swan lane, meaning that when the lights are green, two vehicles at once can exit the junction. From Oat Street, only one at a time would be able to do so. That’s either going to mean longer delays for High Street traffic, or longer tailbacks in westbound traffic, or both. As things stand, the tailbacks in Swan Lane reach Chapel Street at peak times. If all that traffic had to use Oat Street, it would reach much further back.

Schemes involving two way traffic on Swan Lane and/or reversing the flow in Oat Street could work if the parking issue was considered unimportant, and if the volume of vehicles leaving the zone to the west (over Workman Bridge) was high enough to significantly mitigate the loss of eastbound capacity. But I suspect that neither of these would be the case.

James Fleck

This system retains the existing one-way flow in Oat Street, Chapel Street and Swan Lane, but makes Mill Street two way. As such this is by far the simplest suggested solution, and avoids all the gotchas inherent in changing Swan Lane and Oat Street.

My main caveat for this is, again, the hill section of Mill Street. I have a feeling it may not be easy to create a road layout that allows two-way traffic here, especially if buses are still allowed to use this route (and banning them would significantly affect route patterns).

I also think that a mini-roundabout at the Bridge Street/Mill Street junction wouldn’t work, as the junction there also has to cater for Monks Walk which is somewhat offset from Mill Street. However, traffic lights would work well enough here, so that’s not a problem.

James Powell

This is just plain barking.

Kate Gardner

This is, effectively, the same as Alan Pye’s proposal, with the exception that it allows two-way traffic on Chapel Street.

As such, it suffers from the same issues as Alan Pye’s scheme, but with the added disadvantage that the bus stop and parking on Chapel Street would also need to go!

Mark Goodge

This is my suggested scheme. Rather than go into it in detail here, you can see the full article elsewhere on my website.

Phil Cooper

This is much the same as James Fleck’s proposal, with only minor differences at the junctions. The main difference is making the entrance to Rynal Place one way, presumably in order to prevent the use of Lancaster Grove as a rat run. I suspect that this would be unpopular with residents of the Rynals, though, as it would force them to go out onto the High Street in order to head west.

None of these schemes are perfect (not even mine!). They all have drawbacks of one form or another. Which is one of the reasons why all of them are impossible to implement without detailed traffic data and computer simulations. Fortunately, that data collection is now in progress, so we should have some idea in the not to distant future of what is and is not practical. Let’s just hope that some solution to two-way traffic between Workman Bridge and High Street is on the cards after the computer has done its stuff.

The next Prime Minister

Nominations for the Conservative Party leadership election – and, by extension, the internal election for the next Prime Minister – open today and close on Friday. Conservative MPs will whittle down the contenders to a final two, who will then be voted on by the membership as a whole. The precise timetable after that depends on the number of candidates, but we should know the winner by late August or early September.

As a party member, I will have a vote in the final ballot. I’m not going to say who I’ll be backing until I know who I have to choose between. But these are some of the principles which will guide my choice.

Firstly, it needs to be someone who can unite the party and the country.

That may sound like a meaningless platitude which will be uttered by every candidate. But it isn’t, and it matters. We’ve just had a very bruising referendum contest, and it’s important that the new leader is someone who can work with both sides. Someone who will appoint ministers on the basis of ability, not cronyism and patronage.

David Cameron has won two general elections by appealing to the centre ground of British politics. That, too, is an essential attribute of his successor. We need someone that the floating voter is comfortable floating towards. It isn’t enough to rely on Labour’s shortcomings to win an election. We need to be able to offer a positive choice to the ordinary, non-political voter. More than ever, a post-EU Britain needs a one nation government.

Secondly, we need someone who appreciates and encourages the work of grassroots Conservatives at association and branch level.

The new leader of the Conservative Party won’t just be responsible for the parliamentary party. It needs to be someone who recognises that politics doesn’t just happen in Westminster, but in county halls, town halls and civic centres across the country. Someone who makes it easy for me and my colleagues to be proud of what we stand for.

The timetable for any possible hustings will be short, but I want to see the final two candidates making a strong effort to reach out to ordinary members and telling us directly why we should vote for them. That’s another reason why I’m not backing any specific candidate yet. I want to hear what they actually have to say to us.

Finally, I want someone who I can trust with the things that matter to me.

Obviously, every party member will have their own priorities which will reflect their own experience and circumstances. But my choice will be influenced by the things that I care about: a strong commitment to civil liberty and freedom of conscience, an understanding of technology and the value to the UK’s economy of an open Internet, a bias towards evidence-based policy-making, and a preference for localism over a one-size-fits-all approach.

The decisions we will make over the next few weeks will have long-lasting ramifications.

Under normal circumstances, party leadership elections are held at on a timetable intended to give the new leader time to settle in before any really difficult decisions need to be made. That won’t be the case this time.

The incoming Prime Minister will need to get straight to work on our negotiations with the EU. An early general election is also on the cards. That makes it all the more important that we in the party think long and hard about who we want in that role. The potential difference in outcome between the right and wrong choice could not be more stark.

Two tribes go to work

Following the EU referendum, there are, broadly speaking, four groups of people in the UK:

Group A – Hardcore Remain voters, who are not only unhappy with the result but are unwilling to accept the outcome and insist on either flinging insults at Leave voters or actively trying to overturn the result (or both).

Group B – Moderate Remain voters, who are disappointed with the result but are willing to respect the outcome and now want to ensure that any negative effects on a post-EU UK are minimised.

Group C – Hardcore Leave voters, who see this as an opportunity to gloat at their opponents, who don’t care about reconciliation and want to take this opportunity to impose their will on a post-EU Britain.

Group D – Moderate Leave voters, who are pleased to have won but recognise that they only have a slim majority, that there are a lot of people who disagreed with them, and that those views should still be heard.

Whichever way you voted in the referendum, I hope it’s obvious that the B and D “moderate” groups are the ones acting in the UK’s best interests (and, for that matter, the EU’s). Sensible, intelligent people need to cooperate to make sure that the UK’s relationship with the EU is renegotiated to provide the best possible outcome for all parties.

If you’re a Remain supporter, that’s obviously going to be sub-optimal to staying in, but it’s still possible to make the most of a less than ideal situation. If you voted Leave, then compromising on some of your ideals will be worth it to ensure a smooth transition to a post-EU Britain.

It’s time for the two sensible tribes to work together. Ignore the ranters and ravers, the xenophobes and anti-democrats, and concentrate on the future rather than the past. Our future depends on it.

After the referendum

This time tomorrow morning, we will be voting in the EU referendum. By this time the day after that, we should know the result.

So, what happens next?

Obviously, that depends on what the result is. But this is what I want to see, for both options.

If we vote to Remain

Firstly, it’s essential to bear in mind that voting to stay is not voting for the status quo. Nor is it an endorsement of every aspect of the EU and everything that it does. The EU is horribly broken and dysfunctional in very many ways. If we are staying in it, we need to take the lead both in highlighting the problems and coming up with ways to address them.

Secondly, a choice to remain is not an endorsement of the Remain campaign. Some of the ad hominem attacks on Leave campaigners have been truly appalling. If the Remain campaign is victorious, more than anything it needs to follow this up by being gracious.

A vote to stay is not a rejection of the need to change. It just means change in a different way to leaving.

The long term future of the EU needs to work for everybody, not just those who wholeheartedly buy into its vision. That means taking the criticisms of the EU levelled by the Leave campaign seriously, and seeking to address those from within the structure.

If we vote to Leave

A vote to leave is a step into the unknown. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a leap in the dark. The key priorities of the government over the weeks, months and even years that follow a decision to leave will be about how best to secure the long-term interests of the UK.

There are many possible routes forward if we leave. Some of them are as different as the choice between leaving and remaining. And even if we leave, the opinions of those who voted to stay are still relevant in that debate.

A leave vote means a majority want out of the EU. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a majority want out of free trade, or free movement of people, or cross-border consumer protection.

Voting to leave isn’t the end of a process. It’s the start of one. The start of a new Europe that better serves the needs of all the countries in Europe, whether in or out of the EU.

Whatever we choose

No matter which vision for our future wins, both sides have to accept the result.

No carping, no complaining about the other side taking liberties with the campaign. No conspiracy theories. No accusations of ballot rigging. No subtle (or unsubtle) undermining of the will of the majority. No grudges.

Whatever happens, we have to move on. This has been a deeply unpleasant campaign, with very little to be proud of on either side. It’s time to put that behind us and make a commitment to making this decision work. For all of us.

Referendum musings

It’s just over a week to go to the EU referendum, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

To begin with, let me say what this post is not. I will not tell you how to vote, or try to persuade you which way to vote. And I will not tell you which way I will vote.

There are, however, a number of things which need to be said.

Lies, damned lies and the battle for your vote

The first is that, by and large, the conduct of both sides has been utterly appalling. That doesn’t apply to every individual involved in either campaign, and very many of the grassroots activists on both sides – of which I count many, again on both sides, as friends – have been doing their best to argue their cause in a reasonable manner.

But, still, many of the headline claims made by the leaders of both sides are, at best, pure speculation dressed up as fact or, at worst, outright lies.

We’re doomed, I tell you, all doomed

On the Remain side, the increasingly shrill warnings of economic disaster, rise in terrorism and imminent collapse of civilisation simply do not ring true. By all means, consider a worst case scenario. But a description of the most extreme possible outcomes has to go hand in hand with a realistic assessment of the risk.

If it rains hard enough for long enough, my house could be flooded. We are on the edge of the “thousand year” flood zone. But, realistically, that is very, very unlikely to happen, at least in my lifetime or that of anyone I eventually sell the house to.

The same applies to predictions of what might happen if we leave the EU. It could, theoretically, result in economic disaster. But just saying that it could is insufficient information. To be useful, that has to be part of an overall risk assessment with outcomes ranging from best case to worst case, and with informed and expert predictions of how likely all the various possible outcomes are.

It doesn’t add up

On the Leave side, the repeatedly bandied figure of £350m a week paid to the EU is simply false. And arguing that that’s the right figure to use, because it’s what we would pay if it wasn’t for the rebate, is meaningless. That’s like saying that if I buy a shirt from M&S at 30% off, I should still assess the cost on what I would have paid without the discount. My accountant would laugh at me if I did that.

It’s also simply wrong to say that, whatever we pay to the EU, we could instead spend it on the NHS if we left. That disregards all the money that is currently spent by the EU on things within the UK. The absolute most we could spend on the NHS if we left is the total net cost of EU membership – which is a heck of a lot less than £350m a week. But even that disregards the possibility that leaving the EU may incur other costs which also have to be met. Realistically, this is simply an impossible promise.

Little Britain and Big Brother

The Remain argument that the UK would have to adopt something like the “Swiss model” or the “Norwegian model” to get access to the benefits of the single market if we leave is equally specious.

The UK has a population of 64 million, and a GDP of $2,768 billion (measured in USD as that’s the common unit of comparison). Norway has a population of 5 million, and a GDP of $513 billion. Switzerland has a population of 8 million, and a GDP of $685 billion. In other words, the UK has a population nearly five times that of Norway and Switzerland combined, and a GDP more than double their combined total.

If we leave the EU, we will not need either a “Swiss model” or a “Norwegian model” in our relationship with the remaining EU. We will have a “British model”, negotiated to take account of our economic and population strength. We can’t say for certain what this will look like, but we can be sure it won’t look like anything which currently exists.

Our only goal will be the western shore

On the other hand, leaving the EU will not solve our immigration “problem”. Quite apart from the fact that it is far less of a problem than many people believe – there is absolutely zero evidence that immigrants are squeezing local-born people out of the employment market, for example – the reality is that EU migration is still lower than non-EU migration.

Given that many EU migrants would, if we were not part of the EU, fall into the same categories as the non-EU migrants allowed to come here and would therefore continue to be allowed to come in the future, the idea that we could make a sizeable dent in immigration by leaving is laughable. And that’s assuming we won’t negotiate an agreement with the EU which includes free movement of labour anyway. I strongly suspect we would, because overall, it would be beneficial to us to do so.

The face doesn’t fit

If we disregard the guff from both sides (and there’s an awful lot of it to disregard), though, what are we left with? Can we, as some suggest, make our decision based on the identities of those arguing for either option?

The answer to that is “no”. I’ve previously argued that, when it comes to a general election, you can’t just vote for policies – you have to take account of the perceived competence of those who will implement them as well. But a referendum is the complete opposite. No matter what we decide, we will still have the same government the day after the referendum as before, and we will still have the same options at the next general election.

Voting Remain because you dislike Nigel Farage, or Leave in order to snub David Cameron – or vice versa – is the worst possible reason for making your decision. Voting Leave will not put Ukip in power. Or Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter. Voting Remain is not an endorsement of the current government. The decision we collectively make on 23rd June 2016 will have an effect long after all of us currently active in politics have retired or died. Casting your vote now on the basis of which set of faces you like the most is one of the most mind-numbingly stupid things you could do. So don’t do it.

Making either choice is a decision based on what you, after giving the matter careful consideration, honestly believe is best for the UK in the long run. At least, I hope it is. And that means cutting through the dodgy headlines and looking beyond the faces to try and find the facts.

I’m not, in the space of this article, going to try and give you the facts, beyond those I’ve obliquely referred to already. But I am going to make a few observations.

Break point

After my comment on the behaviour of the campaigners, the second most important thing which must be said is that the EU is badly broken in a number of areas. That fact is, I think, beyond dispute. A full list would be far too long, but the economic sacrifice of Greece on the altar of the Euro and the mismanagement of the migrant crisis are two obvious examples. The question is not “Is there anything wrong with the EU?”. The question is “Can we fix it?”.

In this context, I disagree with the criticism of Jeremy Corbyn for seemingly being lukewarm over the EU, or with Boris Johnson for dithering before coming out for Leave. In both cases, these are the actions you would expect of someone who recognises that there are strong arguments for both options, but that ultimately you have to make a choice between them. I’m not telling you which of Johnson or Corbyn you should vote with, but both of them make a better role model here than those who adopted a knee-jerk position for either Remain or Leave right from the off.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

The reality is that there are some very good arguments on both sides. Anyone who doesn’t recognise that simply hasn’t thought about the issue in any great detail. Equally, there are some very bad arguments on both sides. And the tragedy is that the campaign has seemingly focused on the bad arguments rather than the good ones.

The EU is, as I’ve said, badly broken in many respects, and if it continues down some of those broken pathways it has the potential to do a great deal of harm. But it has also been extremely beneficial in very many ways, and the UK has gained a lot from our membership. Again, I will say that anyone who does not recognise the truth of both these statements has too little understanding to make an informed choice.

Questions, questions

Ultimately, everyone’s decision has to be their own. I’m not telling anyone how to vote, or how I intend to vote. But I will pose a set of questions that will inform my own choice. Hopefully, they will be helpful to others as well. Those questions are:

  1. Are the EU’s structural flaws beyond repair, or can they be fixed?
  2. In the long term – not just the next few years, but for the next generation – which option offers the best prospects for our economic security and freedom?
  3. Is a decision to leave influenced by the “grass is always greener” fallacy?
  4. Conversely, does a decision to stay reflect the sunk costs fallacy?
  5. Which decision will I be most proud of explaining to my children, and why?

I’ll leave it to you to answer those questions for yourselves, or to pose others. I may come back after the vote and explain how I answered them.

Christmas creativity needed

I was in Morrisons this afternoon, and noticed that they’ve already started playing Christmas songs. Modulo the usual complaint that the third week in November is too early, it occurred to me that we really need some new Christmas songs. It’s OK to be playing all the traditional favourites, but the problem is that all we seem to have are the old traditional favourites. The Christmas single used to be a staple of the musical season, but bands seem to have largely given up on them in recent years.

Personally, I blame Simon’s Karaoke Show. By creating a guaranteed Christmas number one that’s there on the back of pure marketing hype, not merit – or even unpredictable random popularity – it’s put other artists off trying to aim for the traditional year-ending chart topper.

Maybe the forthcoming demise of the show – it’s widely rumoured that this year will be the last, and not a moment before time – will open up the opportunity for a genuine battle for the Christmas number one, just like we used to have. If so, then maybe there’s an opportunity there for some of our current best-selling artists to come up with something suitable festive.

I’ve got nothing against the likes of Slade, Wizzard, Jona Lewie or Ella Fitzgerald, but they’re hardly contemporary. I reckon that Ed Sheeran or Adele could come up with a cracking Christmas tune. Heck, I’d even put up with something by Justin Beiber or One Direction, if it’s at least original and fresh. So come on, musicians, how about taking up the challenge for Christmas 2016?

An unpleasant encounter

I’ve been at the Conservative party conference this week. As you may have seen reported by the media, there’s been a group of protesters outside the venue most of the time, although they tend not to be there earlier in the day and have usually dispersed by early evening so I haven’t encountered them at close quarters all that much. And, despite some of the media stories, I personally hadn’t seen anything that I would say crosses the bounds of acceptability.

This evening was different. And possibly instructive.

It’s been raining most of the evening, and I managed to miss out on the canapes at the Tech Central reception, so I decided that instead of walking straight back to my hotel I’d stop at the Subway just across the road from the venue and have something to eat there.

I wasn’t alone in that. There were several other conference-goers in the cafe, plus a group of protesters as well as regular, non-political customers. Initially, there wasn’t any problem. But then something happened to change that.

I’m not entirely sure what the trigger was, because I was fiddling with my phone (tweeting about the rain!) rather than following the conversation around me. But it suddenly kicked off between a group of female protesters and a man sitting at the next table, and before I knew it there was a full-scale shouting match going on.

It turned out that he was one of the staff at the conference, and took exception to being labelled “scum” when, as he pointed out, he’d done exactly the same job at the Labour and Lib Dem conferences and would next be off to Scotland to work at the SNP conference.

The protest group were not placated by that, and instead condemned him for being a class traitor for daring to work for us Tory scum.

At this point, and possibly somewhat unwisely, another conference-goer (aka, “more Tory scum”) intervened, asking everyone to just calm down a bit and let people eat their meals in peace. As you might expect, this didn’t work. Although a man who had been part of the group of protesters muttered “Actually, I agree with them on that”, and got up and walked out, leaving just the women to continue abusing every Tory scum in earshot. Almost immediately after he left, the police arrived.

I should point out here that there was no violence or threat of violence, even implied. Somewhat bizarrely, even, we were all sitting at a group of tables in a corner of the cafe and, despite being in touching distance of each other, no hands were raised. It was all purely verbal.

However, I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for everyone else in the cafe, and when the police arrived they asked the protesters to leave. One of them then started abusing the police, at which point she was rather more firmly instructed to step outside, and the rest soon followed.

After they’d gone, I got chatting to the man who’d been the catalyst for all that. He apologised for saying something which had triggered the incident, but, as he put it, he’d been roundly abused every day just for doing his job, and he was sick of it. And all he did was say so, which resulted in yet more abuse.

I don’t object to people protesting. Nor do I mind the street theatre aspect of it with banners and placards and drums and whistles. I even (whisper it quietly) found the TV images of Boris being pelted with plastic balls rather amusing. OK, it’s a bit childish and unnecessary, but it isn’t in the same league as eggs or stones. Taking abuse is part of a politician’s lot in life, and most of the time it’s good-humoured enough not to worry too much about.

But it hasn’t been OK all the time this week. To be sure, most of the protesters have been careful to stay within the boundaries. But the line has been crossed on too many occasions as well. It isn’t OK to spit on people as they arrive at a conference. It isn’t OK to abuse people for working at a conference. And it isn’t OK to defend the people who do those things.

We also have to ask ourselves why some elements of the left of British politics are so virulently illiberal and intolerant. If Jeremy Corbyn really wants to usher in a new, kinder politics then he has to start by cleaning out his own back yard.

Throw your emails in the air like you just don’t care

I received my first batch of template emails from 38 Degrees recently.

As a general rule, most of their mail-bombing campaigns are aimed at MPs, rather than councillors, so they tend not to come our way. But the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that the UK will take several thousand Syrian refugees and then distribute them across local councils has made it a local issue, and many people are, understandably, keen to let their own councillors know their opinions.

That much I don’t have any problem with. It’s a genuine local issue, and I welcome emails from local residents on any matter which directly affects them, or may potentially do so. What I am less happy with, though, is the use of identikit mass emails as a tool.

There are all sorts of reasons why using a pre-filled email template is a bad idea. I won’t go into all of them in detail, as there’s already an extremely good explanation of why you shouldn’t use them on the WriteToThem.com website. However, having not received any personally until a few days ago, I couldn’t speak from personal experience. So, having now got a bunch in my inbox, these are my thoughts.

The couch activist’s digital cop-out

Like most councillors, I get a fair number of emails from constituents. They cover a wide range of issues, although the two most common are planning applications and dog poo. They also vary a lot in content; some are lengthy screeds and come complete with attachments of supporting documentation, others are brief “I’ve got a problem with X, can you help?” type messages.

One thing all these emails have in common, though, is that they are in the sender’s own words. And another is that they are almost always the start of a conversation rather than a one-off message.

The 38 Degrees emails, though, have neither of these characteristics. All of them have had campaign-ese wording which clearly isn’t that of the sender, and mostly doesn’t even relate to my role as a councillor or to the specific wards that I represent and the councils that I sit on – it’s just generic boilerplate. And, although I’ve replied to all of them, none of the senders has made any further contact.

When someone takes the time to look up my email address, and then compose an email about whatever is bothering them, I know it’s something they care about. They have put effort into it, or at least are planning to – even if all they want me to do is phone them, they’re willing to spend the time talking to me. I also get a feel for the personality of the sender and how strongly they feel about something.

With the 38 Degrees emails, I get none of that. Sending a campaign email via 38 Degrees is trivially easy, and requires no knowledge about either the subject matter, the person the email is being sent to or the public authority that they represent. All you need to do is go to a website, enter your name and postcode and click a button. It’s a throwaway, inconsequential act that treats serious subjects, such as the Syria crisis, in the same way as expressing an opinion on which boy-band is better or which chocolate tastes nicer.

Participating in a 38 Degrees mail-bomb doesn’t show that you care about the subject. On the contrary, it shows that you really don’t care at all. Because if you really did care, you would take the time and make the effort to get in touch directly, in your own words.

Veruca Salt’s campaign class

As it happens, I do actually support the government’s plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the UK, and I’m confident that my local authority will be capable of doing whatever is necessary locally. To that extent, I agree with the emails I’ve received. But the details are all still to be finalised, as things stand, and in any case I’m just one of many councillors and have no ability to set council policy or dictate what will be done. So an email demanding that I “ensure” that the council takes in refugees and gives “immediate” sanctuary to them is heading towards moon on a stick territory.

Asking for something that I, personally, cannot deliver is pointless. By all means, ask for my support in your campaign to get the council to do something. You may or may not get my support, but you’re perfectly entitled to ask for it. Or ask what my position is on a policy, and I’ll usually be happy to tell you. But simply demanding that I do something is just plain daft. Even if I agree with what you want to happen, I can’t do that.

This is where it gets even more silly. I’d be a lot more tolerant of seemingly unreasonable emails if they were directly from a constituent and written in their own words. I don’t expect everyone in the ward to know how local government works and what my responsibilities are. But, of course, these emails aren’t written by the people whose name appears on them. They’re written by some faceless and unaccountable activist at 38 Degrees.

Given that their style makes them instantly recognisable as being from 38 Degrees (even though the email itself does its best to hide the true origin), they’re almost certainly being written either by the same person, or a small group of people. In which case, these people ought to know how government, including local government, works. They are, after all, trying to persuade us to do something. You’d have thought they’d at least make the effort to find out what form of persuasion is most effective.

So, what we have is a mass-mail campaign being run by people who don’t really care whether their emails are persuasive – they just want to make sure we have the inconvenience of having to read them – and sent by people who can’t be bothered to do anything more constructive. If anyone really thinks this is a helpful way to engage in the democratic process, then they are sadly mistaken.

Actually, most people are happy with the result of the general election

One of the assertions that I keep seeing on social media and other websites is that only a minority of people voted for the current government, with the implication that it therefore lacks both popular support and legitimacy.

It’s become something of a self-replicating meme, particularly among those who still haven’t come to terms with the fact that their opinions weren’t shared by the majority of voters. I see it so often that I’ve decided to respond to it here, so that in future I can just point people at this article rather than having to type all of this every time.

Usually, this claim takes the form of pointing out that around 37% of votes were cast for the Conservatives, although some (such as Astroturf campaign group 38 Degrees) like to go further and assert that only 24% of the electorate voted for them on the basis that you have to take account of non-voters as well.

While technically true, however, this does not in any way support the implication that most people don’t support the current government.

For a start, the total proportion of votes cast were for a centre-right or right-wing party. If you add up the votes for the Conservatives, UKIP and the DUP then you get a bare majority (just over 50%) of all votes cast.

Given that there were only two realistic options for who would be Prime Minister, anyone voting for any party other than Labour or the Conservatives would only expect to be in power as part of a coalition. UKIP and the DUP are both broadly right of centre parties, although their agendas differ greatly. So a vote for either of them was a vote for a right of centre government. And the only right of centre government which is in any way plausible is one in which the Conservatives are the largest party and David Cameron is Prime Minister.

Even if we had full proportional representation, therefore, we’d still have David Cameron in Downing Street and most government ministries run by Conservatives.

However, the people who voted for overtly right of centre parties aren’t the only ones who would be happy with that. A small, but non-trivial, number of Lib Dem voters would consider themselves centre-right rather than centre-left. The “Orange Book” Lib Dems would almost certainly be happier with a Cameron-led government than one led by Ed Miliband.

Then there are voters in Scotland who are nationalists first and conservatives second, and therefore voted for the SNP despite, rather than because, it’s a left of centre party. They, too, are presumably happy with the outcome of the SNP dominating Scotland with a Conservative government in Westminster. There may not be all that many of them, but the certainly exist. So we can add them to the overall total of supporters of a Conservative-led government.

OK, but what about the non-voters? Well, there are many reasons for not voting, but a general “none of the above” attitude is not the most common. Research suggests that antipathy to all the parties only amounts to around 15%-20% of non-voters. For the rest, apathy, disinterest and practical issues (such as being unable to arrange a postal vote in time) are what stopped them voting.

Of the apathetic voters, many of them are apathetic because they genuinely don’t care who runs the country. They can, therefore, be presumed to be, if not exactly happy, at least comfortable with the result of the general election in May. It is true, of course, that they’d also have been equally comfortable with a Labour government. But they can’t be assumed to be opposed to the current government.

For the rest, research also suggests that if voting were compulsory (as it is in Australia), non-voters would divide among the parties on offer in much the same proportions as actual voters. So if all those non-voters had voted, it would have increased the number of votes cast for the Conservatives more than it would have increased the number of votes cast for any other party. And the overall proportion of votes cast for the Conservatives would have remained unchanged.

It is, therefore, statistically indisputable that the majority of the UK electorate, at the 2015 election, preferred a right of centre government. The only area of difference is that some of them preferred a single party government while others preferred a coalition.

We can also look at this another way. A majority of the electrate wanted a right of centre government. Of those who did, a majority wanted a single party government. So a single party, right of centre government is the result that is the best fit for the largest number of the electorate. If, instead of voting for individual candidates in individual seats, we’d had a single election for four options…

A: left of centre coalition
B: left of centre single party
C: right of centre coalition
D: right of centre single party

…and used a ranking vote system, such as AV or Condorcet, to choose between them, then (barring some really weird ranking choices) option D would have won.

However you slice and dice it, you always end up wih the “right” result being either a Conservative government or a Conservative-led coalition government along with other right wing parties. There is no valid argument which results in any left-wing party being in government.

It’s not unreasonable to make the argument that a coalition of multiple right-wing parties would have been a better reflection of the overall preferences of the electorate, although even that has its issues (why should UKIP have been part of the government when Labour, who got considerably more votes and seats, are not?). But the one thing that you cannot honestly argue – or imply – is that there is some kind of “anti-Conservative majority” in the UK.

Killing the golden goose

I installed Adblock on my computer the other week. I’m well aware that this opens me up to charges of hypocrisy, given that online advertising is an essential part of how I earn a living – both in my day job, where we use advertising to get customers, and in my spare time business where I make money from adverts on my own websites. If everybody installed Adblock and used it in full, both of those would suffer considerably.

For that reason, I’ve made a point of setting Adblock to be disabled by default, and only enable it for specific websites. The websites that I enable it for (and it is still only a small proportion of those I visit regularly) are those which have egregiously intrusive advertising.

This isn't actually an ad. It's just a screenshot of one.
This isn’t actually an ad. It’s just a screenshot of one.

In particular, I enable Adblock on sites which have adverts that autoplay audio, that overlays the content of the page in any way, or that cause the content of the page to move, reflow or reformat after it has initially loaded.

I’m less bothered about autoplaying video, so long as it’s contained within a predefined border of an advert that doesn’t otherwise intrude into the rest of the page. But autoplay audio is a complete no-no. Do that, and it’s an immediate block. It’s also an immediate block if an advert causes the content of a page to shift or reflow after I’ve started reading it. Which is why I no longer see adverts on The Guardian’s website, for example.

One annoying form of advert in particular seems now to have become endemic on newspaper websites. It’s the one which doesn’t seem to be there to begin with, but then suddenly appears in the middle of the content as you scroll down. I’m sure you’ve all seen them. I’m equally sure that you all, like me, hate them. As it happens, they were mentioned in the Feedback section of The Times today:

I really don’t like the pop-up video adverts in the middle of articles on your website,” wrote AC Ruston. “There’s even one in the guidance on how to complain, for heaven’s sake. They’re an annoying distraction, and in some articles they are totally inappropriate.”

This complaint was followed by several others, and ended with an admission by the newspaper that using them was wrong:

We got the message and, as it happens, we agree. Advertisements shouldn’t interfere with the enjoyment of reading a newspaper or a website. We’ve asked the advertising department to remove this campaign.

Now, it’s easy to argue that The Times doesn’t need to use them, because, unlike most newspaper websites, it is subscription only. So advertising income is an add-on, and a fairly trivial one at that (since the paywall keeps most people out to begin with, and hence makes adverts far less valuable as the number of viewers is tiny by comparison with other national newspaper websites). Other newspapers, it can be argued, really need the advertising revenue.

The challenge of paying for free content has always been there. Research shows that up to 80% of users are unwilling even to consider paying for content. But even the 20% who are theoretically willing to pay rarely do, in practice. Traffic to The Times’ website now is less than a tenth of what it was before the paywall. News UK, owner of The Times, has backtracked on a similar “solid paywall” on the Sun’s website following an equally drastic drop in traffic. For news websites in particular, social media is an important driver of traffic – but there’s no point sharing a link to a story that most of your friends or followers can’t read.

The failure of pure subscription based models means that advertising is always going to be a key revenue source for the vast majority of websites. So maximising that revenue is important, and if another form of advert comes along which pays more – which these in-content video ads certainly do – then using them is very attractive.

If my experience, though, and that of the contributors to the Feedback column of the Times, is anything to go by, these adverts are almost universally disliked. And it isn’t a big step from disliking the adverts to finding a way of blocking them.

Unsurprisingly, use of adblockers has grown significantly over the past few years. Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but some estimates suggest that usage increased by nearly 70% between 2013 and 2014, with anything from 5% to 50% of ads blocked, depending on the website.

That’s a problem. It’s a very real problem. And it isn’t just a problem for websites which have excessively intrusive ads. Because when people install adblocking systems, they are quite likely to just accept the default of blocking all adverts, everywhere. Which means is that sites which don’t have don’t have intrusive adverts – which don’t autoplay audio, or relocate/obscure content – get their adverts blocked as well.

If the trend towards more and more intrusive adverts continues, therefore, the websites which use them will end up killing the golden goose that they rely on. And in turn take down the advert-supported economy of millions upon millions of small-scale websites which don’t have the resources to find alternative income. If that happens, it won’t just be those of us who rely on the advertising economy who will suffer. It will be every web user.