Hello again and a belated Happy New Year to you all! Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas break and have recharged your batteries for the year ahead. For many of you I expect the holidays already seem a long time ago, but (like the Prime Minister) I only returned to work on Tuesday. For both of us, 2020 promises to be an exciting year.
And indeed, the 2020s are already proving to be anything but dull. Already the decade has seen conflict, from Iran and the US in the Middle East to the drama of a split in the Royal Family. The surprise announcement from Harry and Meghan that they no longer wish to be full members of the family firm, coupled with the order from Downing Street that the language of the UK's withdrawal from the EU now needs to be changed, means that we may hear more about "Megxit" than "Brexit" in the months ahead
But it's Brexit has which shaped the last few years of British politics, and which will continue to do so in the coming decade, regardless of the name the PM chooses to give it. This week finally saw the passing of the Brexit bill through the Commons, and the UK will definitely be leaving the EU on the 31st January. The course the UK chooses to take as it adjusts to life outside the EU is now largely in the hands of Boris Johnson. Armed with a thumping 80-seat majority, he is, unlike his recent predecessors, beholden to no factions or coalitions for his power. The years of leglislative impasse are over.
Thousands of column inches have already been dedicated by the political pundits to analysing why the Conservatives won the election so convincingly. In a nutshell, and at the risk of sounding flippant, Johnson won the election because there was an election. "I don't want an election!!", he thundered at PMQs in September, but he was fooling few. Having inherited a majority that depended upon the support of the DUP, and then promptly removing the whip from 21 of his own MPs, he was effectively the leader of a minority government, unable to pass any legislation without assistance from the other Parties. Furthermore, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2010, he was unable to call a General Election without getting the support of the other parties to do so. Sitting on a 15-18 point poll lead, he was to all intents and purposes a hostage in Number 10, reliant on a loss of nerve from the Opposition parties in order to free himself. Many senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures argued that their best strategy was to leave the PM "stewing in his own juices", in office but not really in power, doomed to preside over a fractured Conservative Party and Parliament as Brexit foundered.
Thankfully for the PM, events took a different course. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon had long favoured a new poll, resulting as it most likely would in a rise in the number of SNP MPs at Westminster. More surprisingly, having only been elected Liberal Democrat leader in August, and with her Party polling only modestly, Jo Swinson also backed Johnson's call for a new election. Misreading her Party's success in the European Parliament elections in June as a precursor to a Lib Dem revival in Westminster, Swinson's misjudgement was to prove fatal for a political career that will be looked back as one of the shortest and most disastrous of any Westminster Party leader in modern times; the election campaign was to be a brutal experience for her and her Party, resulting in them actually losing ground on their already poor showing of 2017.
It's possible that a combined Conservative / DUP / SNP effort would have had the numbers to overturn the Fixed Term Parliaments Act without the assistance of the Liberal Democrats and allow Boris Johnson to call a General Election. Once Swinson had persuaded her MPs to back the vote however, the Labour Party's position was increasingly untenable. The job of the Opposition, after all, is to oppose - could they seriously have managed to run from an election until such time (if ever) as their poll ratings improved? We will never know. Jeremy Corbyn certainly looked genuinely excited and optimistic once he had persuaded his Party to back the election. "I can't wait to get out there!" he cried, a campaigner to the last, but surely he must have known electoral oblivion was the most likely outcome?
A wise general does not decide to start the battle from the weaker position (and on the opponent's preferred battleground) without knowing the most likely outcome is defeat, but Labour seemed to convince itself that 2019 would just be a re-run of 2017, that a 15-point poll deficit was easily overcome; and that Boris Johnson would be just as disastrous a campaigner as his predecessor Theresa May had been. Throughout the campaign the polls consistently said the same thing: a landslide victory awaited the Conservatives; and yet there was still palpable shock within Labour ranks when the polls ultimately proved correct.
Curiously, Corbyn has refused to step down immediately, preferring instead to stay on for further torment - what must PMQs feel like when your opponent has just smashed you in the polls? - but tomorrow sees the close of nominations for his successor as Labour leader. Already it is difficult to see past the favourite Keir Starmer as his most likely replacement, but whoever gets the job will have to be prepared to wait until at least 2023 for a chance to lead Labour at the polls.
On the app front, progress continued over the Christmas break, and while the family were watching Call The Midwife, I was busy squashing bugs in my Realm back-end implementation, creating my universe of voters, and compiling my data model of Government Incomes and Outgoings. "Fascinating stuff!" did I hear you ask? "Care to tell us more?" Yes, as my wife will attest, I'm a real font of useless (and boring) information at the best of times, and building Number Ten is only likely to make matters worse.
In all seriousness, making a game about UK politics fun and interesting while at the same time remaining based in reality is one of the big challenges for Number Ten. While it might keep Whitehall mandarins buzzing with excitement to learn that "Rent and other current transfers" brought in £5.609bn in 2019, or that the Government spent £415m on "R&D for general public services" in 2016, I'm not sure that's the kind of detail that will have the developers behind the games at the top of the App Store charts quaking in their boots. However what drew me to first of all hunt for a game like Number Ten, and then (having failed to find anything like it on the iPhone) decide to start designing and then building it, was the challenge that comes with running all aspects of a country.
Ultimately my aim is that the game is both simple (and fun) enough to master, while also having sufficient depth to reward further gameplay. I recall seeing a board game in my childhood with a tagline that read something like "An hour to learn, a lifetime to master!" and thinking that sounded like an attractive proposition, so if I can inject a similar quality into Number Ten, I'll have succeeded - of course, in these times of limited attention spans, an hour will have to be reduced to five seconds or less. (While I reminisce, I think there was another game that phrased a similar sentiment as "suitable for anyone from ages 9 to 90", which always made my literal child-like mind wonder what was preventing 91-year olds from playing).
On that note, I'll finish with a question - are there any features that you would particularly like to see included? "Will I be able to declare war on France?" was one question I've already been asked (firstly, yes you will; secondly, why France?!) I'll leave that as an open question for now and come back with the best / worst suggestions next time around.
all the best