My most shared Tweets of all time

I was nerdy enough to get on Twitter really early on (August 2007), as @CherryHintonBlu. Quite a few even more curious people had been there before me, as I was only user ID number 8,015,922. Here’s my first Tweet (Twitter will now show it under the username I adopted at a later date, @ChrisRandWrites):

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Why I’m not renewing my Ipswich Town season ticket

Not angry. Just bored.

I’ve had a season ticket at Portman Road since 1974, apart from a few years when I was away at university. For the first few years I went with a schoolmate and we both stood on milk crates in Churchmans. That’s the era. There have been ups and downs, but I’d never entertained the thought of not having a season ticket until a few weeks ago.

It’s not some sort of protest. I’ll still be at Portman Road fairly regularly next season. It’s just economics. The dam broke for me just before Christmas, when – for the first time in 40 years – I didn’t go to a match simply because I couldn’t be bothered. This happened again in January.

Now, there are two reasons to have a season ticket. One is to get the same seat each week. But as you can see above, where I like to sit (the eyewateringly expensive seats in X Block), the row is often largely empty. I no longer need a season ticket to get a seat there.

The other reason to have a season ticket is to save money. That works as long as you attend most games. We all miss one or two each season, for births, marriages and funerals, but the additional matches I missed this year took me over the top. The average cost per game was the same as if I’d paid on the gate.

The season ticket therefore gives me no benefit.

So is what my wife calls “this moment I never thought would come” down to the state of the club and the quality of the football? To some extent, yes. It’s why the number of games I missed this season moved into the critical zone. But the football was worse under John Duncan. I disliked the club more when it was signing the likes of Ben Thatcher and Steven Bywater. Something else has happened.

No team in England, other than a few Premier League stalwarts, has been in the same division for this long. I guess I’m just bored.

The “Cambridge Independent” Newspaper

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Cambridge Independent is a major new weekly newspaper for the area. I’ve really put this blog post up because a month after its launch, the newspaper still hasn’t managed to get Google to rank its website at all, and I suspect a lot of people will be searching for it online in vain. So here’s a link to the newspaper’s website!

Cambridge Independent –

I suspect that in the rush to get the print issue out (which is rightly the main thing), the newspaper neglected to invest in a little search engine optimisation, which might have made a big difference to its online traffic and the general awareness of the title.

The newspaper itself has got off to a good start, but you’d expect a quality product as it clearly has a decent amount of investment and it includes a lot of experienced former Cambridge News people on its staff. Here’s the Cambridge TV report on its launch for you to watch:

My local newsagent on Cherry Hinton Road reports that although there was very little interest or awareness of the newspaper at its launch, after three weeks copies started to shift in quite decent numbers, and he’s been quite impressed. My own full self-interest disclosure coming up: I’m a member of Smarter Cambridge Transport, and the newspaper has given us a regular column, which I got to write this week (see below).

Cambridge Independent Column

Copies are £1, but less if you take out a regular subscription, which seems to be a decent offer. They give you vouchers which you can redeem at your newsagent each week, or (round here at least) you can leave them with the newsagent and have it delivered.

Will Cambridge be the hardest seat to win in parliament in 2015?

Here in Cambridge’s Queen Edith’s ward, we consider ourselves to be very much part of the city, so it’s strange that the parliamentary boundary of the Cambridge constituency rather oddly puts us outside of the city. Unsurprisingly, folks round here tend to be just as interested (if not more) in the parliamentary elections for Cambridge as they do in those for our own South Cambridgeshire constituency. I’ll discuss the forthcoming election in South Cambridgeshire on the Queen Edith’s Online blog nearer the time, but I find the city’s election to be too interesting to ignore. Here goes, then.

Most people think that Cambridge was a really tight race in 2010, especially compared to a more rural constituency like South Cambridgeshire, which is dismissed by some as a foregone conclusion. In fact, over 13.5% of the vote separated first and second place in Cambridge …while a slightly smaller 13.3% separated the first and second place in South Cambridgeshire! However, this is unlikely to be repeated in 2015: at the time of writing, the bookies are hardly able to separate the leading candidates in Cambridge, whereas the Lib Dems’ Sebastian Kindersley is a more distant second favourite behind the Conservatives’ Heidi Allen in South Cambridgeshire.

But it’s not just the potential closeness of the first two which makes Cambridge so exciting. In the 2010 election, the narrowest gap in any UK constituency between 1st and 4th position was 12.7%, and the narrowest gap between 1st and 5th position was 26.3%. In England the figures were 14.4% and 27%. I think it would be quite a surprise if Cambridge didn’t challenge the closeness of those gaps this time around.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 2010:

Liberal DemocratJulian Huppert19,62139.1-5.6
ConservativeNick Hillman12,82925.6+8.3
LabourDaniel Zeichner12,17424.3-9.7
GreenTony Juniper3,8047.6+4.7
UKIPPeter Burkinshaw1,1952.4+1.0
Cambridge SocialistsMartin Booth3620.7N/A
IndependentOld Holborn1450.3N/A

Now, I’m not suggesting that the share of votes in Cambridge will follow national trends; Julian Huppert is way more popular in the city than his party is nationally. However, poll-watchers can’t fail to notice that the order in which the top five candidates finished last time is the exact opposite to how their national parties’ polling has been changing since then. In other words, if the parties’ fortunes mirror national trends, you’d expect the biggest increase for UKIP and the biggest decrease for the Lib Dems. It’s therefore quite likely that the range of vote shares between the candidates will be smaller in 2015.

In my opinion, the best indication of the competitiveness of our parliamentary elections is how low the winning candidate’s vote share is. That title was taken in 2010 by Simon Wright in Norwich South with just 29.4%. So what would happen in Cambridge if UKIP’s vote made it to 5-10%, the Greens hit 10% and Labour’s vote made it to 25-30%? All of these could be within those parties’ sights. We’d probably see Cambridge’s next MP having the lowest vote share of any in the country, and therefore Cambridge could lay a claim to having been the hardest seat to win in parliament.

We’d also see a gap between the winner and the fifth-placed candidate of a little over 20%. Remember, the narrowest gap between 1st and 5th position anywhere in 2010 was 26.3%. Will any other constituency have its votes spread as widely across the parties as Cambridge?

To find out more about the candidates, here are the details of those who have been announced so far:

Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat) – WebsiteTwitter
Chamali Fernando (Conservative) – WebsiteTwitter
Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP) – WebsiteTwitter
Rupert Read (Green) – WebsiteTwitter
Daniel Zeichner (Labour) – WebsiteTwitter

Forecasting the European Election in the East of England

You rarely see serious forecasts of the European elections on a regional (constituency) basis, mainly because the proportional voting system makes it much harder than “first past the post” systems. But I thought I’d take a look, spurred on by an enquiry via Twitter regarding any advice I could give on voting tactically against a particular party. You can probably guess which one.

So firstly, let’s look at the voting system we’re given. The East of England constituency covers over 4 million voters in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. We each vote for our favoured party, and the votes result in seven MEPs being elected, in a way which ingeniously aims to reflect the proportion of votes given to each party. This is called the d’Hondt method, which sounds very Eurocratic, but dates back to Thomas Jefferson.

Each party nominates up to seven candidates (in case their party gets almost all of the votes!), in an order of preference. When the votes are in, a table is drawn up which shows how many candidates (if any) from each party are elected. The table shows the vote share gained by each party in the first column, then their vote share divided by 2 in the next, their vote share divided by 3 in the next, and so on. This is the table for the East of England after the last European Election in 2009:


The seven MEPs elected were simply the seven biggest shares in the table, i.e:


So you can see that the first three candidates on the Conservative list were elected, along with two from UKIP, one from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. The battleground is always for the last seat or two, which in this case saw the second UKIP candidate and the third Conservative candidate beating the first Green candidate. That’s why this time around, the Green Party is saying that if it can only increase its vote share from 9% to 10%, it should win one of the seats.

OK, so how’s it going to go this time? There don’t seem to be any reliable regional opinion polls, so we have to look at the national polls, and impose them on our local voting patterns. Firstly, let’s look at how the East of England vote compared to the national vote in 2009:


So we see that the East of England was more disposed towards the Conservatives and UKIP than the country as a whole, and less disposed towards Labour. Now let’s take an average of recent national opinion polls for 2014, and include the same regional bias:


Obviously this is very crude, but it’s the best I’ve got to go on. Now let’s put those votes into the proportional representation table, as above:


We see that there are two changes compared to 2009, with a third UKIP and a single Green candidate being elected at the expense of the third Conservative and the single Liberal Democrat candidate. The safe candidates are the first two Conservative and UKIP candidates, and the Labour candidate. The battleground, as ever, is for the last couple of seats, with the third UKIP and the Green candidates winning out over the second Labour and third Conservative candidates. The existing Liberal Democrat MEP is well off the pace, finishing not only behind those four, but also behind the fourth UKIP candidate.

If you wanted to vote tactically to stop the Green candidate, you’d probably be best off voting Labour. If you wanted to stop the third UKIP candidate, you’d probably be best off voting Labour, while encouraging non-Labour voters to vote Green.

I have no great expertise in the European elections, so please feel free to pick holes of any size in this analysis if you know more than I do.

Tell Us What We’re Voting For, Local Council, And We’ll Vote!

Back in 2012, my wife and I were walking down Hills Road, returning from having voted in a local election, when we ran into some neighbours, walking towards the Polling Station. “Off to vote then?”, I asked. They shook their heads: “No, don’t think we will”. Now, we’re talking here about an intelligent, middle-aged professional couple, who were not in a hurry, and who had been interested enough in local affairs to join in a planning objection a few months before. I’m certain they voted in the General Election, so they knew how easy and quick it is to cast your vote. And on local election day, they were about to walk past a Polling Station without bothering to go in. Why would this be the case?

When you think about it, the answer is obvious: they were probably uncertain about what the election was for, and they were almost certainly unaware of the candidates. Far from neglecting their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy, they were doing the right thing: if you don’t know what you’re voting for, it’s potentially irresponsible to vote at all.

Voter turnout in local elections is reaching an all-time low. Politicians and commentators moan about the apathy of the electorate, but General Elections show that if the electors have the facts, they’ll still make the effort to vote. All we need to do is to ensure that the electors have a similar level of awareness when it comes to local elections. And it shouldn’t be difficult.

The council is able to distribute printed material to each house in the city when it wants to. We get a quarterly magazine and a council-funded ultra-local newsletter. We get an official notice of election (“poll card”). What I’m suggesting is that the council produces something, perhaps alongside one of these, to explain forthcoming local elections to the public. It needn’t be expensive, or boring – it could easily go on a single sheet of A4. At a minimum, it would tell us:

1. What the forthcoming election is for;
2. How the voting system works; and
3. Who the candidates are.

In addition, I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility to also include:

4. Results of the previous election for the whole council;
5. Results of the previous election in that ward; and
6. A link to a council website which lists the candidates and links to their websites.

This would give everyone the chance to make an informed decision before polling day, and never again to discover candidates for the first time only when confronted with their name on the ballot paper.

So why does the council not provide its electorate with the material needed to make such an informed decision? I can guess. Finding out about candidates who might otherwise have remained unknown might inspire many people to venture out and vote, and quite frankly, if you’re from the parties who work hard to stuff out letterboxes with propaganda, why would you want the lesser-known candidates to get any unearned publicity? You’ve probably got higher priorities.

But I’m not talking about highlighting obscure independent candidates here. At the last County Council election, I did not receive a single piece of campaign literature from the Conservative Party, who were (and still are) the largest party on the council. As far as most people round here knew, voting for the main party on the council might not even have been an option. That might be an indictment of the local Conservative Party, but it’s far more of an indictment of the democratic system itself. We should have this information.

Of course, some enterprising third parties do attempt to educate the public. The Cambridge News will run a small piece on each ward, listing the candidates, and many of us might happen to buy that edition. There are political blogs (like my own Queen Ediths Online) which can help a tiny proportion of the electorate. But things could be so much better. Which incumbent councillors are going to be brave enough to take up this suggestion and kickstart local democracy by giving people the information they need?