Weekly Roundup: Voting Apps, Katie Hill and California Fires

Tactical voting apps cause concern on both sides of the political divide

As the country gears up for a December general election, voters on both sides of the Brexit divide have been turning to tactical voting to find away through the deadlock on EU membership. Perceived by some as a ‘second referendum’, the ability of MPs in both pro-EU and pro-Brexit camps to win or retain seats will heavily impact the progress of negotiations. Campaigns such as ‘Best for Britain’ have emerged as a consequence, with the mission of attempting to “stop Brexit by any democratic means” in a cross-party effort, using election data to suggest the best candidate for voters in each postcode. ‘Leave.EU’ have likewise promised a tactical voting app which will supposedly show voters the most likely pro-Brexit candidate to succeed in each constituency, ultimately aiming to secure a strong proportion of leavers in the next parliament. 

However, concerns over the efficacy of these apps – and the potential misuse of the user data they compile – have been raised. In light of recent breaches in data privacy, not least the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ scandal, commentators are understandably concerned about both leaks of personal details and the spreading of misinformation. Big promises have been made by the campaigns behind these apps: ‘Best for Britain’ have claimed that if just 30% of Remain voters voted tactically, they could swing the election, possibly stymieing Brexit. Predictions from such apps are based on collections of compiled data, including records from historical elections. The method used by Focaldata, the preferred polling agency of ‘Best for Britain’, involves ‘multi-level regression and post-stratification’, which has had some accuracy in elections both here and in the US. With new British Election Study research suggesting that more people have changed their vote between 2010 and 2017 than ever before in modern times, tactical voting is likely to play a considerable role – and the reliability of campaigns behind such apps will undoubtedly be tested. – Poppy.

 

Congresswoman Katie Hill steps down after affair accusations and leaked nudes 

Katie Hill, until very recently US Congresswoman, has resigned this week following release of nude photos and allegations of an affair with a female aide. Hill was elected as part of a Democratic wave last year, is vice-chairwomen of the committee investigating Trump’s financial dealings, is executive director of the non-profit organisation ‘People Assisting the Homeless’ and defines herself as a ‘fighter’. Yet, stories and images circulating the blogosphere (specifically conservative blog ‘Red State’) depict her as something quite different, making claims of affairs with a male aide, female campaign staff manager and publishing nude photographs. 

The rumours triggered an ethics committee inquiry – as a relationship with an aide violates House rules – and pushed Hill into a statement for her supporters. She acknowledges a relationship with a female staff member, which while ‘inappropriate’, falls outside of congressional rules as it occurred before her election, denies any relationship with an aide and describes the publication of her private photos as an ‘appalling invasion of privacy’ (rumoured to be aftermath of the ‘tumultuous’ end to her marriage).

As a result, Hill has resigned, ‘fearful of what will come next’. She will now turn her attention to fighting against this type of exploitation that keeps women from running for office and entering public light. This situation perhaps call into question how far the personal lives of representatives should effect their public roles particularly given the clear double standard where women are concerned, with Hill’s sex life seemingly ending her political career in one fell swoop. Interesting questions spring to mind, such as why a president recorded saying he can ‘grab’ women ‘by the p*ssy’ apparently did not warrant the apologies soclearly owed by a woman for enjoying consensual sex. – Margot.

 

California Fires 

After recording its deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever last year, California was engulfed in flames again this week, as fires spread across the state. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as 180,000 people were ordered to leave their homes. Whilst California often experiences fires of this kind, there is a strong scientific consensus that climate change has exacerbated the natural processes which lead to the fires. Despite these ecological disasters, Trump has continued with plans to roll back California’s climate pollution standards – a decision which was unsurprisingly backed by five large American carmakers. 

Whilst California has taken steps to prevent wildfires from reaching the disaster levels of 2018, there is still a huge discrepancy when it comes to which fires are given priority. As with the American healthcare system, it helps to have insurance and money. Many affluent Californian residents with highly expensive properties were able to hire private fire crews in order to protect their assets. It was reported last year that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West opted to hire their own personal fire crew to save their mansion, a decision for which they were widely criticised. As the climate crisis continues, this may well be a sign of what is to come – whilst the super-rich are able to protect themselves from natural disasters, those unable to afford private protection are left to watch their homes burn. – Jack.

 

Boris EU Apology 

Boris Johnson has apologised to the Tory party members who voted him into Prime Ministership for failing to deliver Brexit on 31st October. Boris’ campaign was predicated on delivering Brexit in a timely fashion, claiming that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than extend the deadline. The Prime Minister has blamed Parliament for proroguing the process, and has said that Labour’s offer of a second referendum has kept the whole thing going. And so the Brexit saga rolls on – tune into the weekly roundup a year from now – perhaps we’ll be on our seventh extension. – Zehra.

 

Words by Poppy Sowerby, Margot Harvey, Jack Womack and Zehra Munir. Artwork by Ng Wei Kai.