bookmark_borderTwo-party Britains

For many years, the Conservatives and Labour divided almost all of Britain between themselves.

Under IDS, there seemed to be a possibility that the LibDems would replace the Tories as the main opposition to Labour, and now there is a possibility that Labour will disappear.

So I asked myself which constituencies the LibDems would have to win to become the main opposition party.

To find an answer, I used Electoral Calculus’s user-defined prediction, and I fiddled around with the parameters until I achieved two big parties and a very small third party (30-40 seats). I didn’t do anything about the SNP or other parties.

I did this for three scenarios: Labour-Conservative Britain, Liberal-Conservative Britain, and Labour-Liberal Britain.

Three Britains

The first one is very similar to the 2005 election, just with fewer yellow dots. Labour is strong in Scotland, Wales and the big cities, and the Tories rule the rest.

The second one is perhaps what we’ll see in 2014. Labour are holding on to a few seats in Wales, Scotland and the big cities (e.g., Glasgow North-East, Rhondda and West Ham), but apart from Scotland and Cornwall, the LibDems are now dominating the cities, with the Tories dominating the rural seats.

The third scenario is now totally unrealistic, but just a few years ago it would have seemed likely. The Tories are holding on to places like Richmond and Buckingham, but otherwise the LibDems have taken over most of the countryside, with Labour mainly holding on their current seats.

bookmark_borderEating ammonium

Originally uploaded by jurvetson

I’m currently baking a cake (lagkage) for Léon’s 4th birthday tomorrow, and given that I’m using a Danish recipe, it’s calling for hjortetakssalt to be used as the raising agent.

I’ve never seen that for sale here, so I bought some last time I was in Denmark.

I checked the bag to see what’s in it, and it turns out simply to be another name for ammonium bicarbonate.

That reminded me of the first time I brought a bag of Danish salt liquorice back to Collins, and people appeared shocked that we would happily eat something flavoured with ammonium chloride.

Is ammonium just an indispensable part of Danish culinary culture?

bookmark_borderSPD, Labour etc.

Steinmeier bringt Frieden
Originally uploaded by

They story being reported everywhere at the moment is that the CDU/CSU have won the elections together with the FDP and will now be able to govern Germany in a so-called black-yellow coalition.

Slightly more sophisticated reports might point out that the CDU results were mostly static, and that the gains were almost entirely made by the liberal FDP.

However, in my view the big story is the collapse of the SPD. They have lost a third of their support, going from 222 seats to 146 (the results are not final yet).

All other parties have gained: CDU/CSU (13 more seats), the Greens (17), the Left party (22) and FDP (32).

This seems to be very similar to what’s going to happen in the UK soon.

Labour’s support is plummeting, and the Tories seem to be gaining mainly by default, simply by not being Labour, with the LibDems staying where they are.

Something similar could be seen at the recent European elections, which just demonstrates that the collapse of the social-democratic parties is a Europe-wide phenomenon.

The way I see it, these parties in most countries tried to move to the right because they could see their voters were becoming wealthier and thus more right-wing, and this worked like a treat for a while.

Gradually, however, voters became disenchanted with these parties that seem to believe in one thing but to do the opposite, with parties both to the left and the right making gains.

The first-past-the-post system in the UK means that there is no party to the left of Labour to hoover up unhappy Labour voters, so instead turnout is falling, with all other parties profiting because their voters now make up a larger share of a smaller pot of votes.

In most other countries, parties on the left are gaining, such as die Linke in Germany and SF in Denmark.

It will be interesting to see over the next decade whether Labour, SPD and their sister parties throughout Europe will find a new raison d’être, or whether they will be reduced to smaller, less significant parties, like the liberal parties (the LibDems, FDP etc.) during the second half of the 20th century.

bookmark_borderAn inflatable parrot

A couple of years ago, when we had just got a new camcorder, I bought Charlotte a birthday present: “How to make a movie: The secret of Pirate Island”.

On the back, it said: “All you need is a digital camcorder, a modern computer with basic video editing software and four actors (boys or girls). We provide the rest.” Pretty cool, I thought.

However, it was put aside and never used, but recently she finally opened the box.

It contained a bunch of booklets, a pirate’s eye-patch, a treasure map, a CD, some stickers and a director’s clapboard.

When we opened the Pre-production booklet, we were surprised to read this:

Certain props are included in this box, but some other small props will be needed:

  • A clipboard
  • Plastic swords (preferably cutlasses)
  • A toy boat
  • Some pieces of wood, to create a makeshift raft
  • A broomstick, to make a mast
  • A Jolly Roger flag (skull-and-crossbones)
  • An inflatable parrot
  • A biscuit-tin
  • A supply of 2p-coins onto which you can stick the doubloons
  • Rope
  • A blindfold

It finally points out you’ll need costumes for all the actors.

Of course, given the size of the box, I didn’t expect it to contain four complete pirate costumes, but am I the only one who thinks that “We provide the rest” could lead the unsuspecting consumer into believing that you wouldn’t need to do any additional shopping?

I mean, most people probably have a biscuit tin, a broomstick and some 2p coins, so that’s perfectly OK, but I know that we own neither a Jolly Roger flag nor an inflatable parrot, and I haven’t seen our plastic swords for ages.

This is very misleading, and if the company can’t be bothered including all the unusual props, perhaps they should start selling downloadable PDF files on the Internet instead.

bookmark_borderThe beer revolution

Asmus Rotne, who studied in Tbilisi the year before I did, today posted on Facebook that he had “just heard that the Georgian patriarch declared that toasting with beer is ok and carries the same significance as toasting with wine! It is a revolution!”

It is a revolution indeed, although you probably need to be familiar with Georgian culture to realise it.

In Georgia, socially acceptable drinking mainly happens at the keipi (?????), a highly codified dinner party.

It is normally for men only, with the women cooking and serving and drinking fruit schapps in the kitchen. Each man will choose at the beginning whether they’re drinking wine (?????), brandy (???????) or vodka (????), although often wine is the only thing on offer. The tamada (??????) (“toast master”) will at regular intervals make toasts, empty his glass, and all the men will in turn make a speech on the same topic and empty their glasses, after which the glasses will be refilled.

Beer (????), on the other hand, has till now not been acceptable in that context. Many people like to drink beer with their xink’ali (???????), some sort of huge ravioli, which is probably the only dish than men cook, but apart from that, beer is drunk without food, and because toasting is a ritual, it has been impossible to offer toasts in beer.

So the patriarch’s decision will lead to huge social change.

bookmark_borderAfter the general election in 2014/2015

I must admit that I have been a bit downhearted when it comes to the immediate future of British politics.

Labour have proven themselves to be centralising authoritarians without any understanding of economics, the Tories are more europhobic than ever, the SNP are irrelevant in Westminster, and the LibDems are not likely have any influence in the next parliament, either, given that they’re likely to lose seats and the Tories are likely to gain a huge majority.

But then Daniel Finkelstein wrote another excellent, original and thought-provoking article.

He basically says that the important thing is not what happens now, but what will happen afterwards:

In 2012, in all likelihood, there will be a Conservative government struggling with a huge fiscal deficit. The Tories will be cutting public spending, and the public may be turning on them. It having been assumed that cuts can be made merely by efficiency savings, the ferocity of the reductions might surprise voters. At the same time, it is quite likely that Labour will be moving left, possibly under a weak leader. The governing class of the centre Left, the people who served in ministries or ran quangos, will be feeling uncomfortable, disenfranchised, perhaps insulted.

In other words, it is likely to be an excellent opportunity for the LibDems to replace Labour as the main opposition to the Conservatives.

I do disagree with him in one regard, however:

Strategy demands that they become the main opponents of the Tories in the South, not the main opponents of Labour in the North. Even at this difficult time they should continue targeting the Tories in the South rather than Labour in North.

Obviously, the LibDems should not give Labour any chance to become the main opposition party in the South.

However, if they are to supplant Labour, they will have to become serious contenders in the North. This will probably involve beating Labour first and then wait for the Tories to push Labour down into third place.

I really hope they’ll get their acts together.

Without a serious and credible opposition party – something which Labour will be unable to be for at least a decade – the Tories will have free rein to destroy Britiain’s (and by implication, Scotland’s) place in Europe and the World.

bookmark_borderLots of languages

I like to think that I know a smattering of many languages, but this guy makes me look like a monoglot! (Hat-tip: John Wells’s phonetic blog.)

I’m particularly impressed with his intonation, which means many of the languages sound very good although some individual words are wrong.

It would be interesting to know how much preparation he put into this. I would definitely do much better if I spent some hours writing down a script than if I just switched on the camera and said something in twenty languages.

Perhaps I should try some day, just to see how well I could do it.