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Can they play 3D politics?

Mark Easton | 18:07 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010

3D is popular again. And maybe not just at the cinema.

Three suited avatars lined up on the telly last night in a formation that suggested an end to the traditional two-dimensional, left-right, Punch-and-Judy politics that has defined Westminster for generations.

Whatever people think of Liberal Democrat policies, the mere presence of Nick Clegg may have made some wonder whether 3D politics might actually be quite a good idea. The "equality of esteem" granted to the party leader who normally finds himself drowned out by baying Tory and Labour backbenches in the Commons may have sowed a seed in the minds of the electorate.

The fury of voters at a Westminster system that allowed dozens of MPs to trouser large sums in dodgy expenses could be encouraging some to consider a different style of national politics. Recent polls have suggested increasing public support for a hung Parliament. The idea that politicians might be forced to work together - to compromise - appears not to hold the same fears it once did; in part, perhaps, because people have seen coalition politics operating in Scotland and Wales without the sky falling in.

If public attitudes are changing, it would appear that those hoping for a place in the next House of Commons are still busy promoting a two-dimensional world. Nick Clegg himself has published an election leaflet stressing how, in the constituency he hopes to represent, "It's a two-horse race here".


The graph, incidentally, merits more than a cursory glance if you wish to appreciate quite how dodgy it is.

Where I live in London, three of my local candidates have been trying to convince me that it is a straight fight between two parties with the "others" nowhere.

The Labour leaflet uses figures from the elections for the Greater London Assembly to claim that Islington South and Finsbury is a fight between themselves and the Tories. They have extracted ward data from the results for the North East London seat on the GLA to make their point.


The Liberal Democrat leaflet prefers to use votes from the 2005 general election where the party came within a few hundred votes of beating Labour. Again, there is nothing "proportional" about the "representation" of the graph.


The Conservatives, like Labour, have dived into the detail of the GLA elections to suggest they are battling Labour for the seat. The leaflet claims "only... Conservatives can beat Labour in Islington". This graph, too, would make any statistics teacher weep.


In a first-past-the-post context, of course, it makes sense for a candidate to present himself or herself as a runner in a two-horse race. But such local leaflets risk looking increasingly odd as each televised debate presents an idea of our national politics embracing a 3D age.


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  • 1. At 8:18pm on 16 Apr 2010, ShinyDavidHowell wrote:

    Of course a big part of the problem is that there are, indeed, two-horse (or one-horse) races up and down the country - only a handful of three-way marginals, where the '3D politics' of which you speak, exist (and it's notable that Clegg started this campaign in the closest of the lot, Watford).

    3D politics will happen with electoral reform. Probably only then.

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  • 2. At 9:16pm on 16 Apr 2010, tin_man wrote:

    so is it a horse race, a fight, or a choice about what is the best policy for the citizenry?'s not much different here in the US...for our republican party it's more about being 'king of the hill'/the decider than anything else...they have been the party of the rich for quite some time...for our democratic party it's mostly about trying to appease everyone, even the 'win at all costs' republicans who really only represent about 5% of the electorate...would a third party help here?'s been tried, and while they have been pretty effective at focusing the election on the issues, their candidates have lacked the almighty charisma...most people here vote for whoever makes them feel good when they look at them or hear them speak...the results of this approach are obvious...emotion based decision making rarely leads to a good outcome...

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  • 3. At 10:42pm on 16 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    Who would have thought,that Labour and the Liberals would strike a deal? David Cameron looked understandably uncomfortable,he is the Tory poster boy and,not only that,he is so far removed from "ordinary" life,that he is really just an anachronism,in the flesh.Evasive and unappealing,seeming to either not know,or not be willing,to reveal what "his" policies are,maybe because they actually belong to Oliver?And "Good old Ollie"..was not there to coach him..Ah well,the old aristocracy used to say that if you had an idiot son,that you would get him into politics or the church..Maybe "Dave",should have become a priest,he's just about as believable...Nick Clegg played to the crowd,being almost an unknown quantity,he got away with the whole"Breath of fresh air" rhetoric,knowing exactly how to play David off against Gordon and vice versa..But his parties policies are somewhat unrealistic,to say the least..and some of his donors have a habit of having the same surname,maybe not a breach of the donor code in a technical sense,but definitely in any sort of ethical sense..And finally,Gordon,wow,what can I say?He is as dishonest as he is incompetent,ideologically unsound(Marxist/Communist) A blustering and bullying buffoon,as he was at university,arrogant and uncompromising.His political dogma has embraced European federalism without a whimper of dissent,indeed it suits his ideology.He thinks that all and any form of nationalistic expression is fascistic in nature and to be destroyed wherever it is found..And he would gladly hand the reigns of power to Mandelson,if it meant that "New" Labour could remain in office..And that is one man that should NEVER gain the highest office..The fact that he was given a peerage,is horrendous in itself(The power behind the throne and all that)We certainly have our work cut out,sorting this mess..

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  • 4. At 11:48pm on 16 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    Machiavelli would weep,if he could see that his scathing indictment of political intrigues,has become the standard practice of generations of politicians.There was something almost Kafka-esque in the way that this dress-rehearsal for the coming cataclysm was carried out,so calm,so deferential,so chummy..I keep thinking of the sharks fin cruising through the water,so smooth,so quiet..and underneath,such beastly horror!I feel real anxiety at the way this "election" is heading.I do not have faith in the ability of any of those who have put themselves forward,to right the wrongs,to be strong yet just or to be at all honest with us,the electorate.Each of their closets has skeletons that they do not want us to see..I suppose,that the best we can hope for,is that the least incompetent,least dishonest bunch of self-serving plutocrats get elected,not very enlivening or positive,I know,but hey,what can you do?..

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  • 5. At 07:31am on 17 Apr 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    So the electoral system that survived WW2 has suddenly become suspect? Or could it be that the constant manipulation of boundaries in the last thirty years was intended to favour two party politics? Or has the profile of populations, especially in London and the South East, changed in that time? Or is the result of an election dependant on a handful of voters in the marginal seats?

    No matter what the diagnosis, the system is flawed, and so why hasn't it been changed? Could it be that New Labour and Modern Conservative are neither "new" nor "modern", just self interested parties filled to the brim with people concerned only with their careers?

    If that is the case and so many of the electorate are concerned that their votes do not count, then obviously our system of democracy (sic) does not work any which way you care to look at it.

    A revolution in order dear Mr Easton?

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  • 6. At 09:58am on 17 Apr 2010, Zoomy wrote:

    I love those graphs :-)

    In 2005, I was living in Derby South (Margaret Beckett's safe Labour seat with Lib Dems the closest rivals), and the Lib Dems put a lot of effort into a campaign highlighting the number of council seats held by each party in the constituency to imply that it was actually neck-and-neck between the two. Labour responded at the last minute with a hastily-produced leaflet using the European parliament election results (for the entire East Midlands) to assert that the Lib Dems were actually the fourth-most-popular party and that if people didn't vote Labour, the Conservatives would win.

    Now I live in Broxtowe (marginal Labour likely to flip back to Conservative but with increasing Lib Dem support in many areas) and I've been very disappointed with the campaigning so far. There's ample scope for all three parties to dig up misleading figures and claim that it's a two-horse race one way or another, but so far I haven't had a single out-of-scale graph through my letterbox. I suppose there's still time, but I'm quite hurt by the lack of effort around here...

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  • 7. At 10:05am on 17 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    This is not a democracy as we would normally define it,more of a kleptocracy..The Lib/Lab.Con-trick clique represent vested interests,not us..They represent whoever funds them,its the backers agenda that has priority..Defenders of the status-quo,and I do not mean the rock'n'roll band.Politics has entered a new era of dishonesty,worldwide..We are heading to the abyss,of totalitarian rule..more wars,more inequality,more lies and illusions..Freedom is on its last legs here in the west..the fascists are pulling out all the stops..We have several major global conflicts kicking off at once."Radical" Islam is fighting against western civilisation,democracy and religious freedom,emancipation and human rights..Judaism is fighting for its right to exist at all..Fascism is fighting communism for control of "the masses"..Humanism is fighting to be heard...That,maybe will give some backdrop to this "election"-a passing parade of noise and colour,nothing more..Welcome to the Brave New World Order....Anyone that seriously thinks that our politicians can change any of these things,is seriously deluded.Enjoy whats left of your freedom,its not going to last much longer..voter apathy,ignorance and impotence will ensure that we will only respond when its too late...sorry to lay such doom and gloom at your feet,but I believe it to be true....

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  • 8. At 10:27am on 17 Apr 2010, Megan wrote:

    Round here, you'd hardly know there was an election on. A few posters for the sitting tenant (Conservative) dotting the fields, and some general ones showing pictures of members of the Labour Party pointing out their 'misdeeds' in office "Vote for me, I did XYZ awful thing" with the strapline which I think said "Or vote for change: Conservative" only most of them have been ripped off. One leaflet from Labour through the door, a vacous effort with a picture of the candidate and his contact details, nothing more. No sign of any LibDem effort whatsoever.

    I have to come here for my political fix: but in terms of deciding who I want to hire to represent me, I have nothing to go on yet.

    Come on - if YOU are running in Crewe & Nantwich, make an effort... please!

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  • 9. At 10:50pm on 17 Apr 2010, BobRocket wrote:

    Tories don't want to win this one as the margin (majority) would not be high enough to see them to the next, what they want are sufficient seats to be able to disrupt/discredit the current government whilst waiting in the wings for a vote of 'no confidence' by the other minority parties.

    Cameron just has to hope his party get with the program and don't implode in the meantime.

    Lib/Dems - pride comes before a fall - the tabloids will pounce with relish on the
    slightest hint of impropiety, NC's handling of this issue will make or break him.

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  • 10. At 2:47pm on 18 Apr 2010, virtualsilverlady wrote:

    My reservations about a presidential type competition with the best looking candidate winning on a fluffy mandate have been confirmed.

    They'll be expecting him to come out with a hit record next.

    After thirteen years of dumbing down our young people who have been brought up on football and celebrities as being the most looked up to and 'want to copy' people what did they expect.

    Turning the debate back onto the state of the country is now going to be difficult for the other two parties.

    It seems obvious that the younger generation have completely switched off from the serious problems that confront them and this was a 'bit of fun' which has got out of control.

    It is certainly no time to experiment with a political system when what is needed is a straighforward mandate for either of the two serious parties to get on with the job of sorting out the country.

    Once that has been done and only then will anyone be in a position to start experimenting with a different form of politics.

    On the really big issues which both Labour and Consrvatives do agree on then if push comes to shove for the sake of the country they will both need to put their ideological differences aside if we are not to have a complete collapse of the economy.

    For that to happen one of the casualties will have to be the present PM.

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  • 11. At 9:45pm on 18 Apr 2010, SotonBlogger wrote:

    Lies, Damn Lies and party politcal leaflets.

    If anyone is fooled by any of this rubbish they deserve the representatives they get quite honestly. Stop obsessing on who can win in any given area and vote according to your conscience for the party whose policies best match your own beliefs and aspirations for the country.

    Then you will get the government the majority wants, simple as that.

    There is of course the possibility to vote for a local candidate if you feel the guy standing locally is a cut above the rest. That is rare however as most are pretty identi-kit these days.

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  • 12. At 11:07pm on 18 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    So,Brown is now attacking the Liberals,does he hope that the voters who dislike both him and "Dave",will vote Liberal in the,mistaken,belief that it will bring a new type of politics? Maybe he just prefers the two-party hegemony we've had for so long..Also..Liberal policies seem somewhat left of "New" Labour,hard to believe that they could be more left-wing than a Marxist/communist clique,but there you they are really no better,probably worse,than the incumbent,Brown.Not much of a recommendation is it? The Tories plans are in disarray since the debacle on television that was David Cameron,looking like little boy lost..I wonder how he will cope with the next "debate"?..It could be that the three "leaders" will put so many people off voting for any of them,that we could see a surprise result..However...there are enough uninformed and enough ideologically entrenched voters to make that extremely unlikely..nice thought though...Shame that the reality is,which bunch of robber-barons do you want robbing us now?...

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  • 13. At 01:08am on 19 Apr 2010, DevilsAdvocate wrote:

    Oh Dear, now Mr Clegg has raised his profile, it appears he too is a 'toff', unless of course Mr Theroux is taking the p***, which wouldn't surprise me. That just leaves good old Gordon as the 'ordinary bloke, straight kinda guy' How depressing, mind you not half as depressing as the opinion polls which suggest that at least 1/3rd of voters learnt nothing from the Blair years (3/3rds if you count Labour voters and the tories voting for Tory Blair!) In fact it appears that I'm the only one who wouldn't touch any of them with a barge pole - on second thoughts I would, but only if they were drowning and I could use it to hold them under.

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  • 14. At 08:36am on 19 Apr 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    With respect to those who cannot wait to get their election fix can we not call a halt now? The election, and the media programme that is driving it, are farcical, light years away from the political system we knew and loved.

    Let's call it a dead heat and let all three main parties take up resident in a large underground cave, block it up, and then get on with the business of reformation. We cannot be in a worse mess than we are. we have just given our alms money to the bankers for pity sakes.

    Let us have some innovation, passion, and polemic in our ideals.

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  • 15. At 12:13pm on 19 Apr 2010, watriler wrote:

    Extensive tactical voting is the true legacy (and petard) of New Labour in alienating millions of its loyal supporters.

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  • 16. At 11:15am on 20 Apr 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    Sadly neither Labour or Conservatives can do it. I can imagine the strategists n of both parties now turnig on each other saying "whose idea was it to invite Clegg?".

    The sooner we get away fro,m the "buggins turn" of politics and a fairer voting system that forces all politicians to face their destiny the better.

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  • 17. At 8:56pm on 20 Apr 2010, Euforiater wrote:

    I had that first leaflet put through my letter box and I have to say it saddened me. Of all the politicians, Nick Clegg was the one I would have least expected to pull the "two-horse-race" argument. I can only hope it was a temporary lapse of judgement and that the leaflet was created by a party member while Nick was busy planning the leadership campaign.
    The thing is that I'm sure this "two horse race" thing is counter-productive because at the single seat level it can prompt people to vote for your closest opponent and at the government level it's tantamount to saying that you're not confident enough in the popularity of your own policies with the electorate.
    I hope people read what each party's plans are and base their votes on that alone. If we all do that we'll get the government the majority want.

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  • 18. At 9:41pm on 20 Apr 2010, Rob wrote:

    Rather than watch 'the 2nd debate' on some pie-in-the skye tv slot does anyone know how we can circumvent that foreigner Rupert's overbearing monopoly of our country's viewing on Thursday? E.g: Are there any freeview channels showing the debate. . .Forget that Dave freeview channel. . .It's not viable anymore? Lol

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  • 19. At 10:30pm on 21 Apr 2010, WorldOfChloda wrote:

    The problem with proportional representation in its truest sense is the removal of a community appointing a truly local MP - party lists etc make for far bigger constituencies, and less direct accountability. Unfortunately the sitting MPs have forgotten this accountability, and only have themselves to blame for the mess our democracy is in.
    The problem with single transferable vote is that as it stands, most peoples second vote will probably go to the Lib Dems whether they are conservative or labour as first choice, which will propably lead to proportionately more lib dem mps than their share of the vote (of course they want the system that favours them...!)
    If the electoral boundaries were made so that they held roughly the same number of voters - i.e. FAIR, in highest-votes-wins the people that vote for the party that comes second in most seats will be under-represented.
    Personally I feel a brief period of hung-parliament might allow voters to see the lack of vision in all 3 main parties, and how coalition government won't really work with the current crop of politicians. Then let the voters decide via referendum which of the three systems they want.

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