April 1st, 2012


European Election 2014

Bumped up from a comment in Slugger, re the next European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland:

There is zero chance of two Nationalists winning. Last time round Alban Maginness was more than 18,000 votes adrift of Diane Dodds, and taking the undistributed surpluses into account the real difference was probably 24,000 (Nicholson ended with a 11,000 surplus, de Brún with 5,000) and the 7,500 non-transferables from Allister are probably a high-water mark for hardline plumpers. The total Nationalist vote is consistently 5-10% behind the total Unionist vote, and Unionists are better at internal transfers; there is absolutely no reason to expect 2014 to be any different.

There is also zero chance of Nationalist transfers deciding which Unionist candidates get elected. This would require the total Nationalist vote (impossibly) to fall below 37.5%. At every election since SF came into the system, the trailing Nationalist party has survived to the last count without being eliminated.

Even in the (impossible) Nationalist meltdown scenario, while it is wrong to say that no Shinner will ever vote DUP or vice versa, the numbers that do are likely to be too few to make the difference. The one occasion when something like this happened at a European election was in 1979, when Bernadette McAliskey was eliminated, and 81% of her votes did not transfer, failing to help Oliver Napier close the gap with Jim Kilfedder (let alone with Harry West or John Taylor).

If I were the DUP I would run two candidates in the hope of squeezing out the UUP. Jim Nicholson will be 69 by the time of the 2014 election and will have served five terms, so I would not count on his running again, and it’s difficult to see who the replacement would be (but then again few of us predicted either Allister or Dodds as a DUP candidate for Europe). The DUP have comfortably outpolled the UUP in every election in the last ten years except the last Euro-election. In both Assembly elections they got more than twice the UUP total.

But I am not the DUP, and I think they will run only one candidate. The fact that the one election where the UUP finished ahead of them (after transfers) was the last European election will certainly play into their preparations for the next one. Also the DUP have shown a commendable caution about over-nominating in recent years, even where their candidate might have had a good chance on the numbers. My impression is that internal discipline is strong enough that running two candidates would not be a big issue, but the party’s political aims are served more effectively by winning one seat safely than by scraping (or worse possibly failing) to win a second.

Links I found interesting for 01-04-2012


March Books 11) Frontier Worlds, by Peter Anghelides

I had been a bit underwhelmed by the last few Eighth Doctor novels I read, but this one has restored my confidence. It's one of the few Who novels which I could easily imagine as the basis for a TV story; the Tardis crew investigate a dubious company doing genetic engineering on a convenient planet, the two companions going undercover, with all the personal conflicts that involves, and the Doctor taking on the bad guys directly. Fitz continues to be one of the best spinoff characters, and for the first time I actually found Compassion interesting (in, what, her third or fourth book). Well above average for this range.

March Books 12) Savrola, by Winston S. Churchill

Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this was his only actual novel, published in 1900 when he was 26. Savrola is the liberal opposition leader in the small western European republic of Laurania; once it becomes apparent that the dictator's wife is secretly in love with him, you know how the story is going to work out, but Churchill tells a good yarn, in particular with some brilliant descriptions of the street-fighting as the revolution takes place, only marred slightly by a rushed last couple of pages.

It's impossible to read the book without bearing in mind the author's future career. The dictator is wrong because he has trampled over ancient rights and freedoms in the name of stability; the radicals on the other hand want to take the revolution toward repression and socialism, and Savrola has to steer a course between them. I was particularly attracted by this early passage in which Savrola writes the speech which will kickstart the revolt:
Collapse )
I think we can safely assume that Savrola's method of speech-writing was much the same as his creator's. (I wonder if they also shared Savrola's private passion for astronomy?)

March Books 13) The Krillitane Storm, by Christopher Cooper

I am gradually getting towards the end of the many Tenth Doctor novels, this being another one from the companionless era (ie 2009). Set in 12th-century Worcester, it presents the Krillitane very differently from School Reunion, actually being exploited by alien geneticists who are much nastier than they are. Some very good concepts, not executed quite as well as they deserved.

March Books 14) The End Specialist, by Drew Magary

Another of this year's much-discussed shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, this time set in a near-future America where a relatively affordable immortality treatment abolishes death by aging (though disease, accident and homicide remain). Our narrator spends very little time pondering the immense psychological and philosophical consequences, and much more watching those around him die of disease, accident or homicide; he becomes a paid killer, first of voluntary suicides and then of those the state deems worthy of death; he is obsessed with a woman who he eventually finds in melodramatic circumstances. I was disappointed that having taken up the medical development which is key to the situation, the plot then did not go much beyond the techno-thriller format.

By odd coincidence, in both The End Specialist and Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which I was reading at the same time, the narrator is obsessed by Solara, though in this case Solara is a tall blonde woman rather than a country estate.

March Books 15) Borrowed Time, by Naomi A. Alderman

This is a particularly good Eleventh Doctor book, read very effectively by Meera Syal (who does a very effective Scottish accent). The setting is a London bank, just before the economic crash of 2008, where key staffers are being tempted to use time-travel bracelets to multi-task; the bracelets of course come at a much higher cost than is immediately apparent. There is a particularly effective passage early on where Amy becomes addicted to the giddy possibilities of personal time-looping, and some brilliant description. After a not brilliant start in 2010, the Eleventh Doctor books are doing very well now. I shall look out for more by Alderman - I confess I had not really heard of her before compiling my list the other week but that's clearly my loss.

March Books 16) Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear

Yet another of the Arthur C. Clarke award nominees, and one which really failed to impress me. Bear is regarded as one of the hardest of hard sf writers, but even so he has managed to create characters I actually cared about in other books of his that I have read. Perhaps I was wrong to try and read this during my travels at godawful hours of the morning last week, but I found little to recommend in this novel.

March Books 18) Darkstar Academy, by Mark Morris

One of the newer original single-CD audiobooks in the Who range, read by Alexander Armstrong (whose accent is occasionally a bit surprising - his "stall" sounds like "stool" which doesn't quite have the same meaning). All but completists can safely skip this one; the setting is a future-kitsch 1950s public school which turns out rather pointlessly to be In Space, and the Doctor compassionately tells the victim of bullying that he should ruddy well get over it; that will be very helpful to any young (or older) listeners who find themselves in that situation.

March Books 19) The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco

Like a lot of people, I was enchanted by The Name of the Rose, baffled by Foucault's Pendulum, and ignored Eco's subsequent work, but picked this up cheap a while back and have now got onto it. I'm glad to say that I mostly enjoyed it; Eco's protagonist starts the novel with amnesia and must reconstruct his own memories by revisiting his family's country retreat and going through his own souvenirs of youth before and during the Second World War, a process that brings back adventures with the local resistance as well as his teenage love interest. It is beautifully illustrated and for most of the book appears to be going somewhere interesting but unfortunately peters out at the end.

April Books 1) Washington Square, by Henry James

The last couple of times I've been to New York I have been fortunate enough to stay on Washington Square itself, but I was actually prompted to get hold of this classic after learning that the amazing Fanny Kemble had inspired James to write it. It is a short, vivid, sad story of a father and daughter who fail to communicate emotionally, and an aunt who communicates far too well with her niece's unworthy lover, set in the much smaller New York of the 1840s (published in 1880). There's lots of beautiful character observation (at least of the central four personalities; the others are a bit marginal) and a vivid sense of time and place. Strongly recommended.