LIVEBLOG: Mitt Romney's horse, Rafalca, goes horse-dancing

How will Rafalca fare? And what does it mean for the Republican candidate's Presidential hopes?

 

12:06
alexhern: Hello everyone, thanks for joining today for the inaugural horse-dancing liveblog.
 
12:07
alexhern: Obviously, we're all very excited to see how Rafalca Romney does. Could be some real clues to how the election will go down in November.
 
12:08
alexhern: 
Psephologists actually refer to this event colloquially as "the election in August".
 
 
12:09
alexhern: A couple of horse-dancing videos to get you pumped for the main event:
 
12:10
alexhern: Firstly, a lovely number from Ireland:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgWhg
 
12:12
alexhern: 
Sorry about the massive picture of Helen Lewis there. She submitted it in haste.
 
 
12:12
Comment From Helen L 
Aha, I see my attempt to include an avatar may not have worked so well there.
 
12:12
alexhern: Another video while we wait for Rafalca to take the stage: http://t.co/CX7SKY6J
 
12:12
Helen L: Here's a video of Stephen Colbert learning about dressage on the Colbert Report
 
12:12
Comment From adamawhite 
and the modern update of that classic Irish tune here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljPFZrRD3J8
 
12:14
alexhern: Some facts about Rafalca: She's 15, which is a tad old for the Olympics, and is a bay Oldenburg.
 
12:14
alexhern: She describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, although she is steadfastedly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
 
12:14
Helen L: And here, because politics is weird now, is Rafalca herself rebutting Stephen Colbert's mockery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-0ROz_qbA
 
12:15
alexhern: Despite being owned by Romney, Rafalca has kept the religion of her birthplace, Germany, and is a Catholic horse.
 
12:16
alexhern: Mitt Romney, of course, will not be attending the event. Although he told the press that he "doesn't even know when its happening", most commentators believe that he can't bring himself to watch a performance which could make or break his presidential run.
 
12:17
alexhern: Rafalca off to a good start there
 
12:17
Helen L: Rafalca has just executed a "very good halt"
 
12:18
Helen L: "Into the Piaf"?
 
12:18
alexhern: This horse is dancing exquisitly. Slightly bouncy, which is normal for conservative republicans.
 
12:18
Comment From Mikey Smith 
Is that horse wearing a baseball cap? Cruel.
 
12:18
alexhern: Yes, Mikey, it's an attempt to connect with blue-collar voters.
 
12:19
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
15 is ridiculously old for the Olympic Dressage. Is Rafalca a former racehorse perchance?
 
12:19
Comment From Caroline C 
Doesn't have enough 'lift' apparently. Such a shame...
 
12:19
Helen L: "This horse's hallmark is obedience and accuracy, as opposed to brilliance". Very much like Romney himself. #METAPHOR
 
12:19
alexhern: Mark, Rafalca is essentially being entered to boost her value as a breeding mare.
 
12:19
Comment From Guest 
Are you sure a horse takes its surname from its current owner? Curious political statement there Alex
 
12:19
Helen L: Rafalca is now doing what I believe is known in dressage as "the running man"
 
12:20
alexhern: Guest, if you ask @rafalcaromney herself, I'm sure she'll be able to explain.
 
12:20
alexhern: She breaks into a canter exactly as planned, but seems a bit unhappy at the prospect. Perhaps Romney is planning to pick a female VP?
 
12:21
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
But at 15 - is Rafalca not past her prime age as a breeding mare?
 
12:21
alexhern: 
Mark, Rafalca would like to remind you that Ronald Reagan was president well into his eighties, and that experience really counts in this field.
 
 
12:21
alexhern: This field being horse dancing.
 
12:21
Helen L: "Pirouette there was a little big, could have had a bit more sitting"
 
12:21
Comment From Caroline C 
She's doing funny little panty gallops now. What does this mean for the GOP's chances, Alex?
 
12:22
alexhern: Caroline, Ohio, a key swing state, really hates panty gallops. It doesn't look good.
 
12:22
Helen L: "Good extended Trot". NO ONE TELL RUSH LIMBAUGH
 
12:22
Helen L: BBC commentators don't seem to know if Ann Romney is there to watch, as expected
 
12:23
Helen L: AND IT'S OVER
 
12:23
alexhern: 
I genuninely can't tell if my feed is skipping or if Rafalca's passage has got off centre 
 
 
12:23
Helen L: The rider is 53, which is nice. Must be one of the oldest competitors in the Olympics.
 
12:23
alexhern: 53 points. Romney is in with a fighting chance in November.
 
12:23
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
USA USA USA
 
12:23
Helen L: The slow-motion replay makes the horse look like it's moonwalking
 
12:24
alexhern: Well, that was an astounding performance. Romney has certainly won the Dressage Independents round with his horse.
 
12:24
Helen L: 69.91 points
 
12:24
Helen L: 70.213 per cent now, just been raised
 
12:24
Helen L: Oh, a sighting of ann Romney there
 
12:24
alexhern: (Dressage Independents is a term that pollster Frank Lunz came up with, to describe wealthy voters with horses who nonetheless hate the Republicans almost as much as Democrats)
 
12:25
Helen L: "The world of the horse has people from all walks of life"
 
12:25
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
Useful list of number of horses by state. This'll be crucial come November. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Horse_population_state_by_state
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
A "Halt and rein back" there. Which is a maneuver that Mitt had to carry out on his press staff in London last week...
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Of course this is just the first day of the first dressage stage. And there are three dressage stages. SO it's not over for Rafalca yet
 
12:25
Comment From Caroline C 
What? A controversial recount?
 
12:25
alexhern: The Supreme Court will be unlikely to touch this one, after the negative publicity surrounding Bush v Gore.
 
12:25
Helen L: Does Rafalca have more or less chance of winning than Mitt himself?
 
12:26
alexhern: And that's the question, isn't it? We can but hope.
 
12:26
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
BBC Commentator: "The world of horses has people from so many different walks of life." Let's be clear, that's not REALLY true.... And I say that as someone who partially owns a horse...
 
12:26
alexhern: 
Mark Ferguson of LabourList there, leading light of the British socialist movement and equestrian.
 
 
12:27
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
12 US states have an official state horse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_horses
 
12:27
Comment From adamawhite 
Do you think Rafalca's 'foreign' name is likely to pull in the latino vote, or alienate the WASP block?
 
12:27
alexhern: Adam, this is a key concern of Mittens Romney. Unfortunately, as a family man, he can't just let her go.
 
12:28
alexhern: Anyway folks, that's all from us. This has certainly left us much to mull over. Based on his horse's competition, I'm pegging Romney as picking an African-American VP, but then flunking the second debate as matters turn to foreign policy. It's all signposted in the canter.
 
12:29
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Correction: Although I may be the partial owner of a very old and often injured dressage horse, I am no Equestrian. As I have never sat on a horse.
 
12:29
alexhern: 
Our apoligies to Mark.
Leida Collins-Strijk of Holland riding On Top at the FEI World Cup Dressage Qualifier in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Banishing safe seats, and other proposals to bridge the democratic divide

How to improve key areas of democracy.

Labour’s election train is finally pulling into the station, with its new leader announced in just over a fortnight. However, a summer absorbed in the party’s internal democracy has obscured a deeper truth confronting the country: the general election confirmed that unequal political participation rates in the UK – by age, class, ethnicity and region– have become increasingly hardwired into how our democracy operates.

IPPR’s new report underscores the scale of the democratic divide.  For example, less than half of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to nearly four-fifths of the over-65s, while three-quarters of "AB" individuals cast a ballot, against just over half of "DE" registered voters. Critically, this marks a sharp rise in turnout inequality over time. In 1987, for example, turnout rates by class were almost identical but have steadily diverged since.

Similarly, age-based differences have got significantly worse over time. In 1964 turnout for 18-24 year olds was 76.4 per cent, almost matching the 76.7 per cent turnout rate of those aged 65 or over. By 2005 only 38.2 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted against 74.3 per cent of 65+ year olds, with only a very slight improvement this year.

Underlying growing disparities of electoral voice are striking divergences in perceptions of the fairness and effectiveness of our democracy. For example, IPPR/YouGov polling suggests a striking 63 per cent of "DE" individuals think that our democratic system serves their interests badly, while "AB" voters are evenly split.

Given these signs of democratic distress, there remains a strong case for establishing a wide-ranging constitutional convention to reset how our democracy operates. Yet Westminster shows no appetite for such constitutional reformation, and there would only be so much a civil society-led convention could achieve in terms of practical change.

In our report we therefore propose a series of achievable reforms that could update the civic, institutional and technological architecture of our democracy in the here and now, with the explicit goal of ensuring that all voices are better heard in the political process.

On electoral reform, while we reiterate our support for proportional representation for national elections, we know this simply isn’t going to happen this Parliament. We had a referendum on change in 2011 and it was heavily lost. The energies of electoral reformers should therefore focus on extending PR in local government, where it is more obviously in the self-interest of the major parties, as a means of extending their geographical reach.

In addition, the reduction in the number of MPs provides an opportunity to chip away at the number of safe seats. More than half of seats are "safe", a number that has grown over time, even allowing for the electoral earthquake in Scotland. Safe seats typically have lower levels of participation, lower turnout rates, and less electorally powerful voters. While safe seats will always be with us in a first-past-the-post system, too many can be damaging to democracy.

Given this, we have recommended that the various Boundary Commissions of the UK be given a new duty to consider the electoral competitiveness of seats – ie. to tilt against the creation of safe seats – when boundaries are redrawn. The priority would be to meet their current duties of ensuring the geographic coherence of a seat and roughly equal electorates.

However, where these duties can be met we suggest that the Commissions should consider revising boundaries to reduce the number of safe seats, as a step to increasing participation and the voting power of the average elector. Of course, this will clearly not "abolish" all safe seats – nor should it  but it could help re-empower millions of voters currently with little meaningful say over the outcome of elections and force political parties to up their game in safe seats.

At the same time, the transition to the individual electoral registration process risks excluding millions from the franchise, people who are disproportionately younger, poorer or from an ethnic minority. For example, there are clear inequalities by age and ethnicity in terms of who is registered to vote: in the 2010 general election, for which figures are most accurate, 90 per cent of people aged 55-64 were registered, compared to 55 per cent of those aged 18-24, while nearly 20 per cent of BME individuals were not registered to vote, compared to only 7 per cent of the "white British" population.

There are simple steps the government could take to ensure all who are eligible are able to vote: extending the registration deadline to December 2016, and making support available to local authorities to assist registration efforts, weighted towards authorities with higher levels of under-registration, could help reduce inequalities.  In the longer term, electoral registration officers should be given new duties, and the Electoral Commission more powers, to drive up registration rates, with a particular focus on presently under-registered demographics. 

Finally, we recommend introducing a Democracy Commission. At present, the Electoral Commission effectively regulates elections and party funding. Democracy, however, is far richer and broader than electoral processes. It is about formal representation, but also about participation and deliberation, in what Marc Stears has called "everyday democracy".

A statutorily independent Democracy Commission could give institutional ballast to the latter and help reinvigorate democratic life by providing research, resources and capacity-building to facilitate local, civil society-led initiatives that aim to increase broad-based levels of powerful democratic participation or deliberation in collective decision-making processes.

For example, a Democracy Commission could work with the GLA to introduce participatory budgeting in London, assist the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in instituting a public deliberative body with real teeth over how to integrate health and social care in the area, help the Scottish government conduct citizens’ juries on the future constitutional shape of the country, or support civil-society experiments to bring people closer to collective political decision-making processes in their locality.

We are living in a paradoxical political era, where growing political inequality is accompanied by ongoing social and technological change that has the capacity to collapse unnecessary political and economic hierarchies and build a more inclusive, participatory and responsive democracy. However, there is no guarantee that the age of the network will necessarily lead to democratic revival. The institutions and technologies of our political system, products of the 19th century, are struggling in the fluidity and fracture of the 21st century, inhibiting democratic renewal.

With our economy post-industrial, our ways of communicating increasingly digital and more networked, our identities and relationships ever more variegated and complex, it is therefore critical public policy seeks to update the democratic infrastructure of the UK, and, in so doing, help reverse entrenched political inequality.

Such an agenda is vital. If we simply accept the current institutional arrangements of our political system as the limits of our ambition, we must also content ourselves to live in a divided – and therefore inherently partial – democracy. Yet our democracy is not immutable but malleable, and capable of being reformed for the better; reform today can make democratic life more equal. After all, the story of British democracy’s evolution is one of yesterday’s impossible becoming today’s ordinary.

Mathew Lawrence is a research fellow at IPPR and the co-author of "The Democracy Commission: Reforming democracy to combat political inequality". He tweets at @dantonshead.