Throw your vote away!

Hello again! By this time next week we will know the outcome of the election. Almost certainly the winner will be one of two men, Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. And yet neither hold much popularity with the British public at large - indeed, they are the most unpopular pairing of the two major Party leaders at any British election since records began. How have we come to this? Where are the alternatives?

The Simpsons' classic "Treehouse of Horror VII" nailed the dilemma facing anyone disillusioned with both the major parties in a two-party system - if the third option is so far behind, is there any point in voting for them? In that episode, two aliens had kidnapped the US Presidential candidates and were impersonating them to win the election themselves. When they were unmasked by Homer, they taunted the electors that it didn't matter which one of them won, they would still end up with an alien as President. Although few of us subscribe to David Icke-style theories suggesting our leaders are in fact reptilian shape-shifters, many of us hope for more than just the binary left-right choice served up so often. What chances, then, for the Liberal Democrats at this election?

The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror VII" (1996) brilliantly mocked the limitation of choice in a two-party system. In the end, Kang won. As Homer put it, "Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos".

It's been a rollercoaster decade indeed for the third Party in UK Politics. Back in 2010, when Nick Clegg stormed the first PM debate of the campaign and briefly hit Churchillian levels of popularity, for a moment anything seemed possible. The Lib Dems even led in the polls only a few weeks out from the election, and everyone it seemed, agreed with Nick. The moment didn't last however, although a strong showing and a hung Parliament put the Lib Dems in the position of kingmakers. Talks with both parties ensued before Clegg eventually sided with the Conservatives, putting the Lib Dems in power, albeit in coalition, for the first time in almost a century.

The jokey Rose Garden conference with Cameron and Clegg goofing on each other was in many ways the high water mark for the Lib Dems; siding with the Tories in a programme of austerity was felt by many of their supporters as a betrayal, and Clegg's very public U-turn on tuition fees further trashed his own political brand. The party were annihilated in 2015, losing all but 8 of their MPs, and have struggled for support ever since. Tim Farron's brief reign only brought further electoral punishment in 2017 before Vince Cable's experienced hand steadied the ship, with a clear anti-Brexit position attracting back many lost voters. In July this year Jo Swinson took over a resurgent Party, with MPs from both the two major Parties having defected to the Lib Dems, and indeed it was Swinson's decision to support Boris Johnson's for a General Election that effectively forced the Labour Party's hand and led Jeremy Corbyn to back a new poll.

And yet the campaign is turning out to be anything but enjoyable for Swinson and her Party. Her early boasts that she was a genuine candidate for Prime Minister brought ridicule, and a bruising BBC Leader's Question Time debate saw her struggle to get across her message. The Party's support has actually fallen as the campaign has gone on, and hopes of a possible 80-100 seat haul seem unlikely to be realised. Has it all come too soon for the rookie leader?

Anything is possible of course, but the signs don't look good. The Independent's Sean O'Grady has this scathing view on her reign so far. If this is indeed the Brexit election, then the main pro-Remain Party should really be looking to poll much better than it has. Swinson has only been leader for four months; she may have to wait another five years for another chance at an election, if she gets one at all.

On the app front, design work on Voters, Concerns, Indicators and Policies has been the focus for the week, as I lay the foundations for the electoral engine that will underpin the game's logic. More on that in future blogs.

Have a good weekend all, speak soon,


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