What happens when you run the party's manifestos through Democracy 3? Photo: YouTube screengrab
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Simulection: How I'm testing the party’s 2015 manifestos on the video game Democracy 3

What happens when you run the main political parties' 2015 manifestos through a politics simulation game?

It’s easy to promise something in a manifesto. After all, by the time we’ve elected that party, it’s five long years before we can get rid of it. And the vast majority of the promises are broken within the first few months – or the first five minutes of coalition negotiation. So, in this day and age of fancy tech and data-driven everything, is there a way we can test out the validity of the party’s commitments before we vote? Of course there is. Well, sort of.

You’ll see elsewhere on the site today the first of our simulated election columns, where we test out the party’s manifestos. In this post, I will briefly explain the mechanism by which we do that, the software I use, and how I interpret each party’s sometimes intentionally obscure pseudo-commitments as certain actions when elected.

We've done this once before, for the 2010 election. Like that time, we’ll be simulating each manifesto. We’ll do the five main parties that are operating nationally – Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip and the Greens.

The software we’re testing their promises on is Democracy 3. It’s sold as a video game but is better thought of as a simulation, focused on representing the economies and and political systems of a number of Western democracies. We’re not claiming that its results are anything other than entertainment – but the process of interpreting each party’s policies is realistic, because I have to work out how the hell you fund and implement something like "creating a national register of lobbyists", for example.

What’s good about Democracy is that it’s built as a neural network so every system feeds back into every other, to a greater or lesser degree. So if you raise the price of petrol, that’s going to piss off motorists, who might be a voting bloc all of their own, but it will please environmentalists, though it will hit the economy because it’ll damage commuting, raise food prices, and reduce the deficit, therefore affecting the country’s ability to borrow and reduce environmental pollution. Focusing just on that last point, reducing environmental pollution will reduce respiratory diseases, taking the strain off the National Health Service and improve quality of life, which should make voters happy in the long run – unless they’re motorists. This is all simulated in Democracy 3.

And, like real-world politics, luck is so much of the game. There’s a background simulation here running the larger world economy, as well as the British economy. If you’re lucky enough to take power at the start of a boom, you’re likely to be re-elected over and over. If you make your promises in a recovery, like now, and it falls back into recession, well, you’ll be lucky to get a single term. Them’s the rules of politics. To regulate that randomness, I’ll start each party from the same "save" file, meaning they’ll at least start in the same place, even if the background economic model takes them somewhere very different.

Also, like real life, you can’t change every policy at once. You need to build up political capital to do so, by staying in office and employing popular ministers. That’s not exactly like the real world, but it does reflect the plodding pace of the Houses of Parliament when enacting legislation.

Democracy is not a perfect simulation. It doesn’t simulate multi-party systems. It assumes that we operate in a two-party system, which doesn’t work so well in countries that are coalition natives or more proportional, like Germany, Italy or Israel. Even in Britain, with its majoritarian system of First Past The Post, the recent diversification of party affiliation means that we'll probably see the election result in another coalition or even a minority government. The game ignores that, instead assuming that voters just have a choice between your party and the opposition.

Much of the joy of politics is watching the Hobbesian wrangling of ambitious hacks as they ally and battle to crawl up the ranks. Yet, though Democracy 3 does simulate cabinets, it’s in a rudimentary sense compared to the much more realistic knife-in-the-dark politicking of, say, medieval politics sim Crusader Kings II or Yes, Minister. You can’t mimic Harold Wilson, playing your ministers against each other, or build up your base in your party or in the country at large. You can’t betray your friends, or blackmail a popular party grandee. This game is more about the policies – which is lucky for us, as that’s what we’re testing, rather than whether Nick Clegg has the social character to pull off a Francis Urquhart.

In other words, this is a proper simulation and, while the developer Cliff Harris does have his own political views, he’s told me that he’s tried to keep this as impartial as possible. He’s just tried to simulate the flows of cause and effect in the UK economy where that impacts the political system. Neither he nor I are claiming these are accurate – just that they’re an interesting sandbox to throw the party pledges into and see how they come out.

Now, how do we interpret the politicians' promises? For example, Labour is promising “stronger" border controls to tackle illegal immigration with "proper" entry and exit checks, "smarter" targets to reduce low-skilled migration but ensure university students and high-skilled workers are not deterred, and to outlaw employment agencies that only recruit abroad while increasing the fines for employing illegal immigrants. How do we interpret that in terms of the game? Do we simply make immigration harder and improve border controls? If that promise is unfunded, how do we deal with the cost of implementing it? Assuming, that is, that the Eds aren’t available to talk me through it.

There are other promises we simply can’t replicate in the game, either because they’re internationally-focused, written in too fine detail or simply too wishy-washy. For examplem, Labour’s “push for UK overseas territories to be put on an international blacklist if they refuse to co-operate with a drive against tax avoidance” sounds great, but ultimately doesn’t cost anything, or do anything except make Right-Thinking People mutter happily in agreement. Which, again, the simulation doesn’t replicate terribly well.

A final, quick word declaring my interests. I’m a PPE graduate (therefore inherently evil) who worked for the Lib Dems once upon a time (doubly evil) but am currently unaffiliated to any party. I’ve also written articles for the creator of Democracy 3, but that’s not the reason I’m writing these articles (I wrote the first one of these before I did any work for him, after all).

Anyway, I’ve babbled enough. Read the series as it unfolds here.

Daniel Griliopoulos blogs at Funambulism and tweets as @GriddleOctopus

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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