Saturday, June 23, 2012

Alan Turing - 100 today

The 'Bombe'. This machine killed fascists.
I don't like petitions in most cases - not for anything that is any kind of complex policy question, anyway.

But I've signed this one and I hope you do the same. A few weeks ago, £millions was spent celebrating the (whatever colour it was) Jubilee. Today, the centenary of fascism's greatest nemesis will go largely unmarked.

They also serve who smile and wave, I suppose, but our country's shame at the treatment of this man is only matched by our failure to properly recognise the enormity of his contribution - both to the war effort and to our wider economy and culture.

I'll be getting a nice cake in to share with the kids. They need to know about this.

Pic credit: Pic from here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Greek elections - voters and distributed judgement

What do voters know about their vote in the Greek elections?

Looking at the BBC's summary of party positions (scroll down) there is really only one party that can tell its voters how its MPs will act - the Communists who are promising to kick the table over and return to the Drachma.

All of the other parties are really standing for a variation on the 'stay in the Euro and renegotiate the bailout' line, whatever they are actually saying - variations on the 'Swedish healthcare on US Tax rates' policy.

Circumstances beyond the control of these voters will determine the choices of the politicians that are elected when the counting is over. There is, for example, a chance that Frau Bundeskanzlerin will blink and offer a deal that is good enough to persuade a majority of Greek MPs that honour has been satisfied.

Or there is a chance that she will have her arm twisted by a combination of a newly emboldened French left, or even a Greek government playing its extremely weak hand well.

Or the third option: The new Greek government may overplay their hand and find themselves in an impasse that is disastrous to all concerned.

Whatever. It tells us a lot about democracy because this Greek election is oddly similar to any that any of us have voted in. Sure, it's a more extreme situation and the consequences are nastier than normal, but the Greek people can have no certain idea of what the best hand to play is.

They don't know how the outside world will react, the politicians concerned are all knowingly offering an unrealistic account of how they will behave the moment the polls close, and they don't know what the consequences of any outcome will really be anyway.

So, just another election then.

One small upside of the current Greek situation is that pundits have been remarkably backward in coming forward with confident predictions. The benefits of this should be observed approvingly everywhere.

Uncertain people are voting for uncertain politicians who will take decisions that have mysterious consequences. The only power Greek voters have is to play a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, gaming each other into coming up with a final configuration of Parliament. Correspondents are full of stories of lefties switching to New Democracy while other former moderates dive off to a Syriza party that is offering an extraordinarily radical set of proposals.

Whoever wins (polls say its currently 'too-close-to-call' in the race for that vital majority that awards 50 extra seats) will struggle to claim to be the unity government that Greece will need the moment the whole bailout package has been finalised one way or the other.

Voters seem to be signaling in a negotiation more than they are voting for candidates in a party. A vote for Syriza may be, for instance, closer to an attempt to look confident at a Poker table than it is an indicator of conviction. I could totally understand a vote for almost any of them regardless of any underlying political positioning.

This can't bode well for Greek governance in the long term. It's like voting in a referendum and then having to have your whole government shaped over the long run by your vote on a single issue. In many ways this is a referendum - and probably a better one than we'll ever have in the UK.

Every European politician needs to put themselves in the shoes of their Greek counterparts and update their understanding of what an elected representative is for. And every voter needs to do look at the situation Greek voters are now in and update their understanding of what a vote actually is.

Elections. They're a hoof-it-and-hope affair at the best of times. Politicians need to learn that they don't have a mandate and they do have an obligation to get into genuine human negotiations with their political rivals and not get stuck in a 'prisoners dilemma' sort of partisan grandstanding. And voters need to learn that a vote isn't a direction to government - it's a feeble speculative intervention in a whirlwind - that's all.

It's still better that all of the alternatives...