Support across the board

Having written a few things about the Labour Party recently (1, 2, 3), it would be remiss of me not to mark the result.

Obviously I’m very happy. The movement for change represented by Jeremy Corbyn still has a long way to go so it’s good to have fended off the first serious attempt to revert back to the old Establishment party.

I think it’s important to note how widespread support for Corbyn is across the elements that vote for the Labour leader:

A chart showing Jeremy Corbyn’s percentage of the vote across the voting categories of party members, registered and affiliated supporters, in the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections

This bar chart shows the percentages Corbyn won in each category of voter at the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections, with the total on the right-hand side.

In last year’s vote, Corbyn won a majority of registered (£3) and affiliated (trade union) supporters, but “only” a plurality (49.6%) of full party members.

This year he won a majority of party members (59%). This and the decline in his share of registered supporters (£25 in 2016) may be partially explained by previous registered supporters joining the party as full members after his victory.

So across all three categories, Corbyn has a majority of support. This should (but probably won’t) stop people saying that Corbyn’s victory was only on the back of “£3 Trots”. Already there’s been attempts to slice up the vote in a bid to show the weakness of his support, such as Scotland supposedly going for Owen Smith. (Scottish Labour may have some differences, but that claim’s based on an exit poll of just 51 people.)

There also remains the question of how many people were prevented from voting in the leadership election. Just considering registered supporters — and the problem affected members and affiliates too — Labour said that 183,541 people paid £25 to become registered supporters, yet only 121,517 of them voted in the leadership election.

Now that he’s won, that doesn’t matter in a narrow sense. But two things are clear: support for Jeremy Corbyn is widespread across all parts of the party, and that there was an attempt by the party bureaucracy to drain that off. To do justice to the former, something should be done about the latter.

Leicester’s start to the season

CHAMPIONS! Champions! Kings of the world. Fabulous Foxes.

Oh no, but wait! Ranieri’s Raiders have got off to a very… ordinary start to the season. Disaster. One-hit wonders. Let’s look how bad it is compared to the past two seasons:

A chart showing Leicester City’s points in the first 5 games, 2014-15 to 2016-17 seasons

Ough. Ouch. Yikes. Not only have they started this season worse than last year’s, but it’s even worse than 2014–15, when they were good contenders for the drop. Cash in those bets now, pals.

Obviously, this is ludicrous, and I’m just pulling your leg. We’re five games into a 38-game season so it’s not the time to be making any claims based on a handful of results.

Football pundits get a lot of stick, often deservedly, but we’re at a point where if you want to know anything about Leicester’s hopes then you do need to listen to them talk about how things are going with the players on the pitch.

But, since we’re here already, let’s put the start of the season into context.

A chart showing Leicester City’s points over time in the 2014-15 to 2016-17 seasons

Leicester actually started reasonably well in that dreadful/heroic 2014–15 season. Not great, but not badly. Being a point adrift at this point isn’t a problem.

What was the problem in 2014–15 is two long spells (games 5–18, 21–30) where Leicester kept, er, losing. I’ve extended the height on the chart above to make those plateaus starker.

The dashed line represents steady progress towards the magical 40 points to avoid relegation. (West Ham landed in the drop zone with 42 points in 2002–3, but that was unusual. Most of the time you need even fewer points; last season it was 38.)

Ideally you want to be well above that line (as Leicester were last season), or close enough to it that you don’t have to win seven games from your final eight (as in 2014–15). If we reorient the chart around that safety line, those plateaus suddenly look a lot more threatening:

A chart showing Leicester City’s distance from the safety trend, 2014-15 to 2016-17 seasons

I take an ultra-cautious “Just make it to 40” approach to football, and so for me two wins and a draw is not something to worry about — if repeated throughout those kind of performances would have had you finish just inside the top half of the table last season.

Obviously if you’re expecting Leicester to play like natural title contenders you’re likely in for a shock. We have a lot of external factors to thank for last season’s triumph.

Just before I finish, here’s a chart showing the fortunes of the bottom four teams in the 2015–16 season relative to a steady progression towards safety:

A chart showing the bottom four teams’ distance from the safety trend, 2015–16 season

Villa, Norwich and Newcastle were all relegated — Sunderland have a dashed line because they just missed the drop in 17th place with 39 points.

Apart from Villa, who you can see galloping towards the exit marked “Championship,” the other teams performed roughly similarly. Norwich had a better start, but by the time they’d all played 26 games they were all a similar distance from where they should have been to ensure safety.

Going by their form earlier in the season, you really would have expected Norwich to stay up instead of Sunderland, who managed to claw their way back in the final third of the season.

Two years on the Tube

If you register your Oyster card online, you can get Transport for London to send you a summary of your recent journey history, as either a PDF or a CSV file. I ignored it for years after I moved here because I couldn’t work out the use but decided in 2014 to keep a record of my own travel. I had nothing in particular in mind at the time, but I thought: “CSV! I can crunch the numbers at some point!”

Well, I’ve now amassed two years of travel logs. As I’ve just had to move from Woolwich it’s an appropriate time to look back, particularly as I now live just a short cycle from work and so won’t take the train. (In fact, I haven’t taken the train in over three weeks, which is why everything below stops in mid-August.)

I’ve spent £1,487.85 on Oyster fares in the two years since September 6 2014. The plot below shows what that looks like week by week.

A plot showing weekly spending on transport

The two horizontal bars at £10 and £15 are what I would spend a week on commuting with and without a railcard discount. You can see that the average roughly clings to that at periods.

The choice of a six-week moving average is arbitrary but does make a few things clearer: higher spending in late 2014 on non-work journeys (long trips that crossed fare zone 1), applying the railcard discount in spring 2015, losing that discount at the start of 2016, and a decline this summer as I cycled more.

(Cycling the 8-ish miles from Woolwich to work, near the Olympic Park, was sort of fun but slower than taking the train. Having to cross the river was a bit of a pain — particularly if the lifts weren’t working in the Woolwich foot tunnel, though they’re much more reliable now. And the A117/Albert Road–Woolwich Manor Road is hostile, uncomfortable and packed with HGVs if not hugely busy. Which is why I took the train for the most part. If you do cycle from Woolwich to parts north, I recommend cutting down Cyprus Place–Strait Road–Stansfeld Road from the Gallions Roundabout to reach CS3 and the Bow–Beckton Greenway.)

But really my commuting costs were so low (zone 4 to 3, off-peak) that an extra return journey into central London could cause a spike. I have a £20 automatic top-up set up for when the card’s balance dips below a certain threshold and that kicked in 73 times over the period, so about once every 10 days.

One thing that surprised me was the split between rail and bus. Even over such an extended period, I only made 21 bus journeys. In fact, over half of those journeys (12) were made between midnight and 4am — saved by the night bus after the trains stop running. (I’ve yet to get the Night Tube, but I now live near a Central Line station so it’s unlikely many more bus journeys are in my future.)

In contrast I made 918 journeys by rail, spending a total of 472 hours and 1 minute in the network (time between ticket barriers). My average journey time was between 26 and 31 minutes (depending how you count it). Here’s how the journey times break down (excluding one 104-minute outlier):

A histogram of journey lengths

That big spike is my usual commute (more on which later). The one missing journey, a 104-minute trip from Boston Manor after a nice long walk along sections six and seven of the Capital Ring with my mum & stepdad, is a real outlier. It’s nearly half an hour longer than the second longest, largely because we were coming back during rush hour so a long District Line ride before changing for the DLR at West Ham seemed preferable to trying to change twice at stations more central and busier.

The next longest was a 77-minute journey from Woolwich Arsenal to Farringdon in May 2015, though I can’t work out why it took so long. (There was a power failure on the Jubilee Line that day, but later on.) The next one (70 minutes) is the outgoing counterpart to the Boston Manor trip — but to Wimbledon Park along a quicker route. A couple of similar ones, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The short journeys are almost all London Overground journeys from Hackney Wick, the nearest station to work, to Hackney Central, where there are pubs. (These journeys may continue!) Two of the 10 shortest journeys are from Stratford to Hackney Wick, which is pointless — just walk through the Olympic Park.

Overall, that histogram is dominated by the half-hour length of my former commute. You can see this also in the times the journeys started:

A histogram of journey start times by hour

There’s a quite clear morning and evening peak: setting out between 10am and noon, returning from 7pm. The height of the 11am bar shows how bad my timekeeping is in the morning (my ostensible start time is 11.30am). But no real surprises here.

And the commute takes the first three slots in my 10 most common journeys (in either direction between two stations):

A bar chart of the most common journeys in either direction

Trailing behind on 28 is between Woolwich and North Greenwich — for the Dome, largely to go to the cinema there. St Pancras is the mainline rail station for trains to Leicester, so no surprise that Kings Cross comes in next. Then Oxford Circus for the West End Blood Donor Centre (open all day, nearly every day, with brilliant staff). And Waterloo and Westminster were easy ways to get into central London, changing at Canning Town for the Jubilee Line.

But what really is strange is just how few times — over two years — I made these journeys. I remember being asked a couple of years after I moved to London about, y’know, “seeing the sights” and all that, and one person was taken aback a while ago when I said I didn’t really know my way around central London, but I’ve spent most of my time since 2010 in east London. That’s where I live and where my job is.

But still, to put a number on it, it’s quite stark (if not hugely surprising) how dominated my travel on public transport is by work.

Or was, at any rate. As I mentioned above, I’ve since moved from Woolwich after five and a half good years to a place that’s much closer to work. That makes it dead easy to cycle — about 15 minutes each way including mucking about with locks — or walk. In fact, were I to get the Tube from my nearest station to Stratford it would take me longer: five minutes walking to the station, not quite five minutes on the train, 15 minutes walking from Stratford to work. So I’ve cycled every day and intend to keep doing so. (And I get to go through the Olympic Park, which is lovely.)

Lastly, as I couldn’t work out how to weave this in, is some trivia about the stations I used. In total over the past two years, I’ve used 86 stations. But there are 21 stations I only entered but didn’t exit, and 16 stations I exited but didn’t enter:

Entered only Exited only
Baker Street Abbey Road (not that Abbey Road)
Blackfriars Blackheath
Boston Manor Bond Street
Camden Town Bromley by Bow
Chalk Farm Brondesbury
Cutty Sark Camden Road
Dalston Junction Covent Garden
Erith Denmark Hill
Essex Road Embankment Pier
Homerton Euston Square
Kilburn Kentish Town West
Knightsbridge Leicester Square
Mile End Pimlico
North Greenwich Pier St Paul’s
Piccadilly Circus Temple
Stratford High Street Wimbledon Park
Waterloo East
West Ham
West Silvertown
Woolwich Dockyard


So, I reinstalled a Twitter client on my phone the other day. Not as a great statement of intent, but a recognition that there were certain things that I could only get from people’s Twitter accounts.

So I’m now following about a dozen people, split roughly into two groups: cycling and politics. These are people where I was already looking at their streams in a browser, so explicitly following them in a client just took some of the overhead away.

This all started with two specific events and their aftermath. First was the opening of the East-West Cycle Superhighway (CS3 extension) in central London. I went down there when I thought it would be open, at the start of May, but it wasn’t so I searched around and found a few people talking about it. Turns out I love cycling infrastructure, so stuck with a few people.

(Seriously, the CS3 extension is great. Sometimes, when I’ve had a tough day at work and finish late, I’ll cycle from the Olympic Park, down CS2, cross to CS3, ride along the Thames and to Parliament and then back home. It’s really quite special late at night in the dark.)

Second was the Labour right’s attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn in late June. Pretty straightforward: a lot seemed to be happening and Twitter was the way to keep up.

Now, this is all standard stuff, and completely obvious to everyone who uses Twitter, and so on, so why am I making a big deal out of it? Well, when Twitter was listed on the stock market in November 2013 I quit. Not particularly because of that, but I’d been toying with the idea for a while and that was the point. I didn’t post particularly much, generally didn’t have conversations with people, but felt I was spending a lot of time checking Twitter.

After leaving, I actually did feel much better.

But now I’m checking Twitter again. Quite frequently. Frequently enough to make me concerned in the sense I was back in 2013. Part of that is that I’ve followed a couple of people who post quite a lot. Interesting stuff. But interesting in the same way that snack food is delicious. At some point you stop and think: “How much of this stuff have I consumed? Is it good for me? What’s it doing to me?”

That last point is a worry to me. If you’ve read Nick Carr’s book The Shallows then you’ll know what I mean — small bites trigger our reward circuitry, so we seek more, the brain adapts to this pattern, and round we go again. I’ve had trouble with this loop with another aspect of my mental health, so I know that it’s real and that it’s powerful and potentially detrimental.

So what’s the plan? Right now, I’m not sure. A couple of people are going to get unfollowed, which is not a reflection on them but more a pruning and prioritising. I’m going to subscribe to a couple of people’s blogs (even though my RSS subscriptions need a good going through!) and see whether that’s enough of their output to allow me to satisfactorily unfollow them too.

Frankly I can see myself arriving at a situation where I uninstall the Twitter client again.

While I appreciate Twitter has its merits, it’s not a medium I feel comfortable with. I can’t help but feel that a lot of the vileness in the Labour leadership election (on all sides) has fed off people’s ability to make remarks to a wide audience that they perhaps wouldn’t have made if they’d thought about it a bit more. (Although I’d like to stress that the extent of this has been vastly exaggerated for political point-scoring.)

We’ve all been in arguments in real life and it’s easy to say something unkind in the heat of the moment. I worry that on Twitter that combines with the remoteness of the person on the other side of the screen (and, in a few cases, online anonymity) to create a situation where people are more likely to say things that they would refrain from — or even just rephrase — were they speaking to someone face-to-face.

Part of that is the reason why I deleted my five years of tweets when I quit Twitter in 2013. I don’t know what was lurking in there, though there was nothing specific I was keen to get rid of. But I was sure that I’d posted things in the past that if I saw them again I’d regret and couldn’t stand by them. It’s one thing to really consider something, take a stance, and later change your mind. Making a nasty, snarky comment on Twitter is something else entirely.

Owen’s two million Tories

In my recent post about where Labour’s votes could come from in the next general election, I tried to keep clear of factional arguments about the current leadership election. I think that the argument that Tory votes are not required is strong enough under whichever leader.

Both Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn say they support solidly centre-left policies, and that argument is a good base on which to build and campaign for such policies.

But watching last night’s Question Time debate, something struck me quite clearly about Smith’s argument that I hadn’t really recognised before. So let’s get factional.

Smith again repeated his claim that “the way we win is by getting people who voted Tory to vote Labour at the next election” (from 15:30 in the recording).

Yes, OK, as we discussed last time that is one possible way to win an election.

But how can Smith square that with the area in which he draws the clearest policy distinction with Corbyn: his pledge to “stay within the European Union”? (19 minutes in.)

With Smith this position has taken a few forms, but usually a pledge to hold a second referendum on EU membership once the terms of leaving are settled, or a general election with the Labour Party campaigning on a position of remaining within the EU.

With Labour voters, in this leadership election, that is a fair tactical position. About two thirds of people who voted Labour at the 2015 general election voted to remain in the EU. So if your audience is Labour members, it’s a position that may find some sympathy.

The situation is reversed with Conservative voters, with nearly three fifths voting to leave.

So Smith’s pledge to Remain is (potentially) popular with the people who would make him Labour leader, but unpopular with the people who he says Labour needs to win a general election.

To my knowledge, Smith hasn’t said how he plans to resolve that contradiction. But I imagine that it might be insoluble. His view that a majority of voters were suckered by a Leave campaign that was “clearly a lie” (23:40) may not help him.

Consider these exchanges, from about 24 minutes:

David Dimbleby: “Unless I misunderstood you, you said you would like to see Labour go into the next election saying: ‘Our party policy is to go back into the EU’.”

Smith: “Yes!”

Dimbleby: “To ignore the Brexit vote?”

Smith: “I think … well, exactly!”

Dimbleby: “Exactly?”

Smith: “We need to find out what it [the Brexit settlement] is.”

And shortly after:

Dimbleby: “Did you vote for the referendum … to happen?”

Smith: “Yes, we all voted for it.”

Dimbleby: “And you don’t accept the result?”

Smith: “No, my view is that we don’t know what we were voting for. We were lied to about about the £350 million. We were clearly lied to.”

Now, the Vote Leave group did make a series of ludicrous promises. They were denounced as ludicrous during the campaign. You can argue over the extent to which people might have believed them. But to argue that the majority vote to leave was predicated on Vote Leave’s claims is as ludicrous as the claims themselves.

What emerges is Smith’s view that the people who voted to leave were too stupid to realise the implications of what they were voting for. Again, I’m not sure that rejecting the choice of the people you want to target at the next general election, saying it was made in ignorance, is going to win these people over.