Archive for May, 2015

In Italia

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No time to blog as I’m with three other faculty and 36 students in Italia – we’ve been to Florence and Rome and now are in Sorrento.  I’m in the back row, on the far right.   Feel free to check out the Facebook group “UMF Italia 2015” for more pictures and  updates!    UMF Italia 2015

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Tory Victory Not Really a Surprise

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There is a sense of surprise at the re-election of David Cameron’s conservative party, which won 331 of the 650 mandates in the 2015 United Kingdom General Election.  That is the smallest number of mandates a majority party has won in a British election since after the second 1974 election.

The result wasn’t as big a surprise as one might think.

To be sure, polls had shown a tight race.   Most showed the Conservatives and Labour tied, or with a slight conservative lead at something like 36-35.  Consider the following graphic:

polls

Blue represents the Tories, red Labour, purple UKIP, yellow the LibDems, and green the Greens.  Although the two major parties are nearly tied at the end at around 35%, Labour had been steadily losing support while the conservatives had been slightly climbing.  If there was momentum, it was for the Tories.

Here are the actual results:  Conservatives – 36.9%, Labour 30.4%, UKIP 12.6%, the Lib Dems 7.9%  Scotish National Party 4.6%, Greens 3.6%

From this result here are the mandates:  Conservatives 331, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Unionists 8,  UKIP 1, Greens 1 Other 15.

One thing a single member district plurality (SMD-P) electoral system provides is that there can be a large swing in mandates won from a relatively small swing in total percentage of the vote.   SMD-P is a system where people vote in districts for one candidate.  Whichever candidate gets the most votes (known as a plurality) wins the seat.  That’s how we run most of our Congressional elections in the US.

This hurts smaller parties.  The anti-EU party could turn 12.6% of the vote into only one seat.  Yet geographically based parties like the SNP could turn 4.6% of the vote into 56 seats as they swept Scotland.   It also means that a 6.5% differential between the two top parties can turn into a difference of almost 100 seats, or 15% of the seats available.

This was a clear victory for Scottish natinalists who could use this to mount another demand for a referendum on independence

This was a clear victory for Scottish natinalists who could use this to mount another demand for a referendum on independence

Think of it this way.  If the vote was perfectly even in every district, a party could win 51% to 49% in every district; a close election would yield all seats going to the party with 51%!   Obviously some districts are safe for a particular party and others are contested at various levels.   But the result almost always is that the party that “wins” has a much larger majority in parliament than the vote total would indicate.

(Aside:  If you follow American politics you might counter that even though in 2012 the Democrats earned more votes than the Republicans, the GOP got a majority.  That happens in part due to gerrymandering — designing districts to get the optimum outcome for a party– but also because Democrats rack up huge vote totals in urban districts, while Republicans win closer suburban and rural districts.  In Great Britain the divisions aren’t so stark, so elections behave more like one would expect).

In 2010 Great Britain had its first hung parliament (no party gaining a majority) since 1974.  That’s because the Liberal Democrats got 23% and 57 seats.  The Conservatives only got 36.1% and 306 seats, while Labour got 29% and 258 seats.

The change from 2010 to 2015 for the top two parties was Conservative +0.8%, Labour +1.4%.  Both parties gained, but Labour gained a bit more than the Conservatives.  So why did the Tories gain 25 seats and Labour lose 26?  The answer is due to the smaller parties.  The LibDems went from 57 seats to only 8, while the SNP went from 6 to 56.  In Scotland alone Labour lost nearly 40 seats to the SNP – that means they gained seats in the rest of the country.

The LibDem loss should have been expected.   Small parties are always at risk when they form a coalition with larger parties, unless they can provide something unique that the voters want.  Nick Clegg couldn’t do that.  That loss of support translated to more mandates for the Conservatives.

That brings us to the polls.  The pollsters were pretty accurate for the small parties, and pretty close for the conservatives too.  The only real problem, then, was that Labour totals were inflated by about 3% consistently.   That’s not a huge amount, but still a significant gap given how much agreement existed in the polls.   The most likely reason is that conservative-leaning voters upset with the Cameron government told pollsters they were leaning Labour, but came home to the Conservatives on election day.  Not that they were lying to the pollsters, but there’s something about actually voting that can cause people to stick with a party they thought they might abandon.

Before the elections some conservatives voiced optimism that by moving Labour more to the left, Miliband might inspire higher Tory turnout than expected.  That sounded like the usual wishful thinking but may have actually happened.

Now former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resigned his leadership role after the election.

Now former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resigned his leadership role after the election.

Polls can be off, and as noted, just a few ticks in one direction can make a major difference in the result.  I am not surprised that the conservatives gained a majority.   The 2010 election was the first since 1974 with no majority, and it was obvious that the Lib Dems were not going to gain many seats this go around.   So it appeared that either the Tories would gain a small majority (which they did), or that Labour would have to work with the SNP.

A change in power to Labour was unlikely for another reason.  Labour leader Ed Miliband had not generated a sense that his leadership would provide a positive change.  Labour had been declining in the polls and people weren’t warming to Miliband.  Late deciders may have been swayed by Cameron’s positive economic results (compared to the rest of Europe).

Cameron has five years now to govern as a majority party, unless he calls an early election.  He has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017.   The Cameron era continues.

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A Twins Fan Again!

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In 1970 at the age of ten I became a serious Twins fan.  I kept a scrapbook, including a story from the Minneapolis Tribune about a 19 year old rookie named Bert Blyleven who looked “too young to shave yet.”   By the time I was 13 I was keeping score and kept a notebook with info from all the games, including who hit homeruns, the pitcher of record, and if there was a save.  I’d listen to Herb Carneal call the game, glued to the radio.

My first live game was  a double header against the Oakland A’s in 1973.  That was the A’s heyday with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, etc.  The A’s would win their second world series in a row that year, but the Twins had their number, winning 14 of the 18 games they played.  That included the two I saw, with the second being exciting.  After starter Jim Kaat was knocked out of the game early, a rookie named Bill Campbell came in and pitched brilliantly as the Twins caught up.  In the 10th Tony Olivia would double and George Mitterwald hit his second home run of the game to win 7-5!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

In 1987 I was in grad school at the University of Minnesota, following the team as Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek led an unexpected drive to the Twins first world championship.  In 1986 they had been last in their division.   Nothing can replicate that experience for Twins fans – the first championship (unless you count when they were the Washington Senators in 1924), unexpected, with a core group that had come up through the farm system and endured some rough years.

Then four years later, in Berlin Germany to do research, I listened to every game of the 1991 series as Vin Scully and Johnny Bench called the play by play carried over Armed Forces radio.   In the wee hours of the morning as Jack Morris pitched ten scoreless innings and Gene Larkin hit a game winner I was jumping around the apartment I was in, thrilled!

This all ended in 1995.  I got a job in Maine, loaded a Ryder truck and took off.  I spent the summer in Europe, and as I threw myself into my new job and home, baseball seemed distant.  Moreover the 1994 strike and cancelled world series left a sour taste in my mouth.   Baseball seemed tarnished.   I was surrounded by Red Sox fans, and soon I lost track of the Twins.  Oh, the years they made the playoffs I would watch.   But I didn’t know the players or feel connected.  But now, 20 years later, I’m finally a Twins fan again.

This year I got Directv’s “extra innings” major league baseball package.  And so far I have managed to watch every one of the Twins first 25 games, albeit a few via DVR.  Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven are the announcers – the same Blyleven who was a rookie when I first started following the Twins .

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

It didn’t take long to get to know the team. Watching daily after following them somewhat close in spring training I am learning about each player.  It’s my team again.   The only bummer is a black hole in my Twins memory.  I can recall Steve Braun, Bobby Darwin, Larry Hisle, Ray Corbin, Danny Ford and a host of others former players, some good some utterly forgettable.  But there are twenty years of names – some very important – that are meaningless to me.  Still, I’m even learning those, bit by bit.

The game has changed some.  They’re really strict on the check swing rule now, pitchers are yanked earlier, even when pitching well, and I can’t believe how the fielders are shifting some hitters.   I like how they show the speed of every pitch as well as keeping the pitch count (which I used to do myself).   Still, it’s like coming home, reuniting with an old friend after 20 years, and realizing that you feel as close and connected as ever.

Jack Morris' ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

Jack Morris’ ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

My nine year old son is watching with me quite often.  I explain the game to him and he’s a quick study.  He impressed me after a runner was held at second by a ground out to short.  “Dad,” he said, ” you know, if you have a guy on second you should hit it on the other side, then he’d be able to get to third.”   So cool that my son, on his own, re-discovered one of the fundamentals of baseball.   “Yes,” I said, “that’s right – they say you should hit behind the runner.”  He thought about that and smiled, “I get it!”

It’s not just about baseball, or the Twins, it’s about my youth.  How often did I hear on the radio, “The Minnesota Twins are on the air!”  Followed by the jingle, “We’re going to win Twins, we’re going to score…”  Following Rod Carew’s quest to hit .400, every year thinking “this will be the year!”  Even now when short stop Danny Santana makes eight errors early in the season I think, “wow, he’s fielding like Danny Thompson back in the 70s.”

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

Seeing the fans in the stands at Target Field – a place I have not yet visited, but will with two sons on July 8th – has me remembering many games at the Dome and the old Met.  Back in grad school I’d often on rainy days get a $3 outfield bleacher ticket just to watch the game.

One of the more surreal experiences I had was at the Metrodome. It was 1986 and the Twins led the Angels. Ron Davis, their “ace reliever” (who that year blew almost all his save opportunities) was pitching and a storm outside caused the roof to tear and the dome to start to collapse.  People went running for the exits, one lady screamed and pushed me aside as she dragged her kids down – I stayed on the second deck to watch.    Soon the dome re-inflated, and then the Angels defeated the Twins.  I miss the dome, but am glad they’re playing outdoors again!

Sunday after my son and I batted and played catch for about an hour we went in.  We were watching the Twins together when they loaded the bases.  I had told Dana about what a grand slam is, but he never saw one.   “Maybe you’ll see your first,” I said.  We then watched together as Trevor Plouffe launched a home run to left to give the Twins the lead.   Dana jumped up and down with excitement and I realized that he’s where I was all those years ago, starting to become a fan.  I’m glad I’m back and who knows – maybe this will be the year!

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