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    Want to come up with a winning election ad campaign? Just be honest | Torsten Bell

    There are so many elections this year but how to go about winning them? Labour has a sub-optimal, but impressively consistent strategy: waiting (usually a decade and a half in opposition).It’s paying off again with huge swings to them in last week’s two byelections. But this approach requires patience and most parties around the world are less keen on waiting that long. So they spend a lot of time and money trying to win, which means election adverts. In the US, TV ads are centre stage. In the UK, those are largely banned (even GB News is meant to be providing news when Tory MPs interview each other) but online ads are big business.Those involved in politics have very strong views about the kind of ads that work. They absolutely have to be positive about your offer. Or negative about your ghastly opponent. It’s imperative they’re about issues, not personalities. Or the opposite. The only problem with those election gurus’ certainties? Different kinds of ads work at different times and places. So found research with access to an intriguing data source: experiments conducted by campaign teams during 2018 and 2020 US elections to test ad options before choosing which to air; 617 ads were tested in 146 survey experiments.Researchers showed that quality matters – it’s not unusual for an advert to be 50% more or less persuasive than average. But one kind is not generally more persuasive and the type of ads that worked in 2018 didn’t have the same effect in 2020.So, if you’re trying to get yourself elected, my advice is to base your campaign on the evidence, not just your hunch. See it as good practice. After all, we’d ideally run the country that way. More

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    A message to Starmer from the US: ditching your £28bn climate plan isn’t just cowardly – it’s bad politics | Kate Aronoff

    It’s hard, from the US, to feel all that confident about the state of our climate policies. The Inflation Reduction Act – the Biden White House’s trademark legislative achievement, which revolved around green investments – was a major accomplishment. Still, the US is breaking new records for its production and export of fossil fuels, last year extracting more oil and gas than ever before. Even more worrying is just how tenuous the country’s modest progress on the climate feels in advance of November’s presidential election: Donald Trump continues to lead Joe Biden in just about every poll.However, at the very least, the Biden administration has set a bar for the scale of green investment that centre-left parties should undertake. The same can’t be said of the Labour party, which has reportedly now scrapped its laudable £28bn green spending pledge in favour of some bizarre fealty to its leadership’s own strange idea of fiscal responsibility. So what can Labour learn from the Democratic president’s approach?To his great credit, Biden took seriously the need to win over progressive supporters of his main opponent in the Democratic primary in 2020. Bernie Sanders was an early adopter of the climate movement’s calls for a “green new deal”, laying out an expansive $16tn plan to tackle global heating and inequality. Biden’s $3.5tn Build Back Better agenda, produced with Sanders and his supporters in consultative roles, was decidedly not a green new deal. It did, however, reflect that platform’s most valuable components, positing climate action as a job creator and driver of 21st-century economic dynamism. Inherent in that was a willingness to spend lots of money, fast, on the things that matter.Almost as soon as Biden took office, however, climate advocates in the US watched the White House’s already too modest jobs and climate agenda get whittled down to what eventually became the Inflation Reduction Act’s roughly $400bn in new spending on climate and environmental priorities. It’s a shamefully slender programme, given how wealthy the US is, and its outsized historical responsibility for the climate crisis. But it’s also the best we might have hoped for, given the political influence of a fossil fuel industry that’s captured the Republican party virtually wholesale, along with key Democrats such as the West Virginia senator, Joe Manchin.Without the idiosyncrasies that weakened US climate policy, why do some members of the Labour party seem so keen to negotiate against themselves? The party’s £28bn a year green prosperity plan has now been dropped, thanks to the political cowardice of people such as the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who was already distancing herself from the policy in an interview with LBC earlier this week. The Labour veteran and podcast host Ed Balls suggested the problem with the plan was the number attached to it – urging Starmer and Reeves to “U-turn” away from it, so as to project fiscal responsibility and deflect repeated attacks from the right that Starmer would raise taxes to fund it. The party establishment is clearly spooked by the spectre of rightwing attacks, as Labour’s latest move so clearly shows.If the US can offer any lessons about how to deal with a right wing yammering on about how green policies allegedly hurt “ordinary people” while preaching painful austerity, it’s that it won’t give you a lick of credit for giving in to its ideas. Neither, moreover, will voters. The planet is even less forgiving. The costs of the climate crisis far outweigh the costs of acting on it. Under present policies, the climate crisis could cost the UK 3.3% of GDP a year by 2050. By 2100, that jumps to 7.4% of GDP a year; in today’s terms, that would be about £168bn.Labour needn’t look to the future, though, to make a straightforward case for going big on green spending. The Conservatives’ long-running war on good climate policy has already made life more expensive for working-class Britons. David Cameron’s bid to cut the “green crap” entailed doing away with a successful home insulation programme in 2013. And the average household could be paying gas bills of up to £400 lower if the Tories hadn’t axed the energy price guarantee scheme.While Labour’s green prosperity plan was designed with the Inflation Reduction Act in mind, there was an opportunity for Starmer to improve on it by emphasising the short-term benefits, such as the money households could save from national home insulation projects. Though it’s a hot topic among wonkish types in the US, UK and other parts of Europe, very few people here could tell you what the Inflation Reduction Act actually is. As of last August – a year on from the act’s passage – 71% of US residents said they knew “little or nothing” about it. Why is the White House’s high-profile accomplishment so far from most Americans’ minds? For one, the consultancy McKinsey has found that $216bn of the act’s $394bn in climate and energy-related tax credits will flow to corporations. Meanwhile, many benefits, such as incentives for pricey items such as electric vehicles and solar panels, are completely inaccessible to lower-income people and renters, who account for about 36% of US households.Driving investment in low-carbon energy and technologies makes a lot of sense: green industries grew four times faster than the rest of the British economy in 2020-21. But courting private-sector investment in green industries above all else – a sadly salient critique of the Inflation Reduction Act – threatens to leave voters in the dark about the benefits of climate action to their pockets. An active green industrial strategy should go hand in hand with an expansion of the public goods, services and planning capacities it will need to succeed. Upgrading public transit infrastructure and ensuring an abundant, affordable supply of low-carbon energy will be key to the success of the emerging green industries. More important, though, is that these can be the foundation on which Labour – should it ever choose to – builds both a broadly shared green prosperity and its electoral mandate for ever-stronger climate policies.The last few years of climate policymaking in the US point to at least one clear conclusion: Reeves and those who pushed to kill Labour’s green spending pledge are dead wrong. Labour should be sparing no expense on reducing emissions and improving livelihoods; if anything, £28bn a year is much too little. If party top brass can summon even an ounce of political courage they’ll make another U-turn away from disastrous, outdated economic orthodoxy and revive their more ambitious climate plans. Should that happen, the party can make voters acutely aware of the choice before them – to live a good, green life under Labour, or to let another Tory government take away more of their hard-earned money. Otherwise, the differences between Tory and Labour rule will keep getting harder and harder to spot.
    Kate Aronoff is a staff writer at the New Republic, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the author of Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – And How We Fight Back More

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    The Guardian view on the Tory right and Trump: a moral abyss and an electoral dead end | Editorial

    The Tory party is carrying out a postmortem on Rishi Sunak’s leadership before it has expired. It is a gruesome spectacle. Simon Clarke, a former cabinet minister, has called on the prime minister to resign on the grounds that he is navigating the Conservatives towards electoral calamity and incapable of steering them to safety.MPs who might privately agree with Mr Clarke’s analysis have denounced the intervention as counterproductive. The majority of Conservatives recognise that defeat looms under their current leader and also that it would loom larger still if he were defenestrated. The succession would be chaotic; the government’s threadbare mandate would be void. Fourteen years in office would make any administration feel stale. The lack of tangible achievements, coupled with economic stagnation and decline in public services, gives Mr Sunak’s reign an unshakable aura of decay.But there are also ideological schisms and geographic faultlines running through the Conservative base that make recovery harder. The majority that Boris Johnson won in 2019 combined long-established Conservative supporters, concentrated in southern England, with former Labour voters in the north and the Midlands.It was a politically incoherent coalition, united only in support for Brexit (or at least impatience to end the bickering about it) and aversion to the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. Labour is now under new leadership and Brexit is enacted without material benefits. What some Tory strategists identified as an epic realignment of the electorate has unravelled in the absence of either a positive prospectus for the future or charismatic leadership. Mr Johnson’s potency in that department was overrated but not inconsequential. The incineration of his popularity in the Partygate scandal also contaminated an already diminished Conservative brand.The realignment theory is not entirely without foundation. Sir Keir Starmer might be poised to reclaim many seats in Labour’s former heartlands, but that doesn’t mean that the old allegiance, rooted in working-class identity and local culture, is renewed. Brexit was the catalyst for abandonment of a loyalty that had degraded over the preceding generation. Much of the so-called red wall will remain marginal territory after the next election.That leads some Tory MPs to imagine a swift recovery under a more radical prospectus – fiercer in opposing immigration; more aggressive in “anti-woke” campaigns; and fanatical in cutting taxes.The Conservative ultras draw inspiration from Donald Trump’s seemingly unstoppable march towards nomination as the Republicans’ presidential candidate, and the plausible prospect of his return to the White House in November. The apparent lesson is that blood-curdling nationalism, culture wars on a nuclear scale, contempt for democratic norms and disregard for truth are a winning formula.As a model this is repellent on ethical grounds. On the amoral test of practicality, Trumpism has limited application in Britain. Fixating on potential gains from a more radical rightwing platform spares party ideologues the less comfortable task of accounting for lost support among moderate, liberal and former remain-voting Conservatives. They are now swinging to the Lib Democrats, Labour, or whichever of the two is better placed to oust the local Tory.The more in thrall the Conservatives become to the extreme wing of the US Republican movement, the more brutal will be the electoral punishment that is stirring them to panic – and the more deserved. More

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    How Winston Churchill became a mascot for anti-woke warriors | Zoe Williams

    ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts,” Ron DeSantis said, as he pulled out of the race to lead the Republican party. It was a strange way to announce that what counts – the continuing bit – is the thing you don’t have. Also, it is quite contestable, for such a short statement; failure isn’t necessarily fatal, but it does depend on what you have failed at. Still, what set most pedants afire wasn’t the substance but the attribution: DeSantis said it was Winston Churchill; the International Churchill Society disagreed. Meh, let’s not split hairs. It is a sort of obvious notion, made of words, so it is surely the kind of thing Churchill would have said, had he said it.This is my favourite kind of Churchill-eering, where politicians summon his ghost simply by adopting similar rhetoric. Penny Mordaunt’s fabulous “Stand up and fight! Stand up and fight!” before going on to add, “Never forget those who went before us and remember that without a Churchill, you can’t have a Zelenskiy” during her speech to last year’s Tory conference was a classic of the genre: a pitch-perfect throwback to “We shall fight on the beaches”, having first removed the beaches, the landing grounds, the fields, the streets, the hills, any obvious enemy, any clear sense of what was being defended and any endgame. Churchill here stands in as an all-purpose fighty-man, and as such wouldn’t make much of a cultural export, since everyone’s history has those.It took Boris Johnson to repackage Churchill for an international audience, not so much with his book, The Churchill Factor, as in his strategically idiotic attack on Barack Obama in 2016. He was mayor of London then, when the most he could screw up was planning on the Vauxhall gyratory which, to be fair, quickly cohered as a literal and figurative shrine to the emptiness of late capitalism, and is probably the most coherent thing he ever did. But in his downtime, he wrote a column for the Sun, enraged that Obama had moved a bust of Churchill out of the Oval Office (a full seven years previously), contending that the “part-Kenyan president” was motivated by anti-colonialism, “ancestral dislike” of the British empire. To follow the logic, Johnson, having German heritage, would also have reason to dislike Churchill, but he is not doing logic, he is focusing on Obama’s race, which I feel Obama should have met with unending hellfire, rather than a mild: “No, we just moved Churchill to a different corridor.”Too late to worry about that now: Churchill, in Johnson’s new frame, stood not only for nostalgia, a comforting world order with the posh at the top, but also for white supremacy and colonial brutality as an essential part of that past. Winston was now a mascot for the anti-woke warriors, the embodiment of their core principles: the past is better than the present; the world makes more sense with the posh at the top, just listen to their lovely cadence; the dicey bits – racist exploitation and carnage – are expiated by nostalgia (it was all a long time ago) and implicitly celebrated by it (weren’t things better then?), and anyone who disagrees hates their country.It makes no sense as an export, least of all to the US, which had made its feelings plain about the yoke of the British empire 99 years before Churchill was born. It doesn’t even make much sense as a British narrative, which had previously been happy to dial down Churchill’s imperialism, concentrating on its more nuanced expressions, and use him mainly as the totem of Britain’s successful fight against fascism. In Johnson’s revision, Churchill the Coloniser is as valorised as Churchill the anti-Nazi. Its nonsensical nature is why it’s the perfect cultural export: stripped of all meaning, just some loud, posh vibes, caricatured to the point where you can’t remember what the original looks like, political rhetoric’s answer to Saltburn.Loth as I am to get into combat about who knows Churchill the best, between me, Johnson and DeSantis, we all know this, right? He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t stupid; he would have hated this. He would be turning in his grave. More

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    A skirt served my grandfather well in the first world war | Brief letters

    Re your letters about men’s skirts (12 January), I am proud to say that my grandfather fought his way through the whole of the first world war wearing a khaki skirt. As a soldier he was part of the London Scottish regiment fighting in the trenches. Furthermore, it is said that his fellow soldiers told that he shaved every day.Mary TippettsBristol It’s useful to get a clear sight of what really matters to the UK and US governments. The prompt military action against Houthis in Yemen (Report, 11 January) shows clearly that any threat to global trade and the smooth running of capitalism is far more important than meaningful action to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza.Norman MillerBrighton I agree with the first eight reasons (Yes, it’s cold, it’s wet and it’s dark – but here are nine reasons to love January, 14 January), but I take issue with number nine: “It really can’t get any worse.” What about February?Geoff SmithEndon, Staffordshire Re dramas that have changed history (Letters, 14 January), Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was allegedly greeted by Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war with the words: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”Tom StubbsLondon What’s all this about men in their 70s wearing underpants (Letters, 14 January)? Gosh, I must try it sometime.Toby WoodPeterborough More

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    Houthis vow retaliation for US and UK airstrikes – video

    A Houthi military spokesperson says overnight strikes by the US and UK, in response to the movement’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea, will not go without ‘punishment or retaliation’.

    Yahya Sarea said the strikes had killed five Houthi fighters and wounded six others, and that the group would continue to target ships headed for Israel in response to the country’s war on Gaza.

    The US and the UK said steps had been taken to minimise civilian casualties, partly by attacking at night, but it was unclear initially what damage had been done on the ground and the impact on the Houthi and civilian populations More

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    Beware the ‘botshit’: why generative AI is such a real and imminent threat to the way we live | André Spicer

    During 2023, the shape of politics to come appeared in a video. In it, Hillary Clinton – the former Democratic party presidential candidate and secretary of state – says: “You know, people might be surprised to hear me saying this, but I actually like Ron DeSantis a lot. Yeah, I know. I’d say he’s just the kind of guy this country needs.”It seems odd that Clinton would warmly endorse a Republican presidential hopeful. And it is. Further investigations found the video was produced using generative artificial intelligence (AI).The Clinton video is only one small example of how generative AI could profoundly reshape politics in the near future. Experts have pointed out the consequences for elections. These include the possibility of false information being created at little or no cost and highly personalised advertising being produced to manipulate voters. The results could be so-called “October surprises” – ie a piece of news that breaks just before the US elections in November, where misinformation is circulated and there is insufficient time to refute it – and the generation of misleading information about electoral administration, such as where polling stations are.Concerns about the impact of generative AI on elections have become urgent as we enter a year in which billions of people across the planet will vote. During 2024, it is projected that there will be elections in Taiwan, India, Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, the European Union, the US and the UK. Many of these elections will not determine just the future of nation states; they will also shape how we tackle global challenges such as geopolitical tensions and the climate crisis. It is likely that each of these elections will be influenced by new generative AI technologies in the same way the elections of the 2010s were shaped by social media.While politicians spent millions harnessing the power of social media to shape elections during the 2010s, generative AI effectively reduces the cost of producing empty and misleading information to zero. This is particularly concerning because during the past decade, we have witnessed the role that so-called “bullshit” can play in politics. In a short book on the topic, the late Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt defined bullshit specifically as speech intended to persuade without regard to the truth. Throughout the 2010s this appeared to become an increasingly common practice among political leaders. With the rise of generative AI and technologies such as ChatGPT, we could see the rise of a phenomenon my colleagues and I label “botshit”.In a recent paper, Tim Hannigan, Ian McCarthy and I sought to understand what exactly botshit is and how it works. It is well known that generative AI technologies such as ChatGPT can produce what are called “hallucinations”. This is because generative AI answers questions by making statistically informed guesses. Often these guesses are correct, but sometimes they are wildly off. The result can be artificially generated “hallucinations” that bear little relationship to reality, such as explanations or images that seem superficially plausible, but aren’t actually the correct answer to whatever the question was.Humans might use untrue material created by generative AI in an uncritical and thoughtless way. And that could make it harder for people to know what is true and false in the world. In some cases, these risks might be relatively low, for example if generative AI were used for a task that was not very important (such as to come up with some ideas for a birthday party speech), or if the truth of the output were easily verifiable using another source (such as when did the battle of Waterloo happen). The real problems arise when the outputs of generative AI have important consequences and the outputs can’t easily be verified.If AI-produced hallucinations are used to answer important but difficult to verify questions, such as the state of the economy or the war in Ukraine, there is a real danger it could create an environment where some people start to make important voting decisions based on an entirely illusory universe of information. There is a danger that voters could end up living in generated online realities that are based on a toxic mixture of AI hallucinations and political expediency.Although AI technologies pose dangers, there are measures that could be taken to limit them. Technology companies could continue to use watermarking, which allows users to easily identify AI-generated content. They could also ensure AIs are trained on authoritative information sources. Journalists could take extra precautions to avoid covering AI-generated stories during an election cycle. Political parties could develop policies to prevent the use of deceptive AI-generated information. Most importantly, voters could exercise their critical judgment by reality-checking important pieces of information they are unsure about.The rise of generative AI has already started to fundamentally change many professions and industries. Politics is likely to be at the forefront of this change. The Brookings Institution points out that there are many positive ways generative AI could be used in politics. But at the moment its negative uses are most obvious, and more likely to affect us imminently. It is vital we strive to ensure that generative AI is used for beneficial purposes and does not simply lead to more botshit.
    André Spicer is professor of organisational behaviour at the Bayes Business School at City, University of London. He is the author of the book Business Bullshit More

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    2024: what happens when US and UK elections collide? – podcast

    There are big election years and then there is 2024. In the US that means a full primary season in which Donald Trump looks set to be confirmed as the Republican party’s presidential nominee before an election expected to be an extremely tight re-run of the race in 2020. Meanwhile in the UK, polls show Labour is favourite to return to power after an absence from government of 14 years. But as Jonathan Freedland tells Michael Safi, nothing is predictable – and even more so when these elections collide. This last happened in 1992, when John Major held on as prime minister in the UK and Bill Clinton came to power in the US. But much has changed since then: now candidates must contend with a wild west of social media as well as the new influence of AI-assisted disinformation campaigns. That and an increasingly polarised electorate and economies still reeling from the Covid crisis. If there is one certainty it’s this: it won’t be boring. More