Luddite riots, robots and 0% support. Photo: Getty
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Simulection: What happens when you run the 2015 Conservative manifesto through a video game?

We are running the parties' manifestos through Democracy 3, an election simulation video game. Here's what happens if the Tories win...

Dave says: “One more term. Just one. To fix Labour’s legacy. To remind you. Not our fault. I’m not saying we’ve achieved everything we set out to. I’m not saying we’re not proud of what we have achieved. I’m not saying anything, really, because I’d rather hoped Ed would put his foot in it, so I wouldn’t have to. Being a Conservative is about scaring, not charming. Promising, not delivering. Resigning, not winning.

We’ve done so much. 700,000 zero-hours jobs. 900,000 hard-working families given the chance to access foodbanks. Increased immigration despite our promises. And we’ve massively expanded our national debt by 500 million pou- ahem. My useless fag appears to have got my cue cards mixed up. This one is labelled, uh, Topics to Avoid. Gove. GOVE! Where is that boy?”

So, Cameron’s government. The Prime Minister who hasn’t been elected and has promised next time round that you can’t elect him then either. This is our one shot to elect him! A limited time offer! A Tory multi-pack with a random Prime Ministerial George, Theresa or Boris included! Vote for him now or he’ll have to do motivational after-dinner speeches for the rest of his life!

We've already discovered that running the Labour manifesto through a video game resulted in an egalitarian utopia eventually – but that the first term was touch-and-go under the global recession that hit us.

Looking over the Conservative manifesto, it’s very similar to Labour’s  nearly inseparable in most commitments  but there’s an extra focus on the old, promising them that their pensions are safe, safe, safe and their inheritances will be too. Lucky that, because those are the core Tory voters, in that giant doughnut of the wealthy around London that stops in the foothills of the Midlands.

I’m starting this simulation from the same save file as I did with Labour, to try to balance any randomness in it. (You can see more caveats about the program we’re using here.) Just like Labour, the Conservatives have tied themselves up in all sorts of fiscal constraints, so there isn’t much budgetary wiggle room – no changes allowed to VAT, National Insurance or income tax, save raising the 40p tax threshold to 50p, raising the income tax threshold by £2,000 and eventually reducing income tax. Oh, and they also want to run a surplus.

I really struggled with the Labour manifesto. This one seems even more constrained, with even more spending commitments that are horribly specific. Reduce government spending by 1 per cent in the first two years, run a surplus in the fourth year and finally increase spending in the last full year. These cuts look to be two-fifths from welfare savings, one-sixth from cutting tax avoidance/evasion/planning, and the rest from departmental savings.

My first task is to see how I can save that money. It really doesn’t look like I can. Tax avoidance is a background statistic of the game; departmental spending is a political synonym for "dunno"; and much of the welfare budget is explicitly protected in the manifesto, such as pensions or childcare. So I slash what welfare I can and implement the spending freeze the tories pseudo-promised for education. Dropping that saved money straight back into the NHS is a small increase given the bloated size of the health budget relative to the economy, but that’s another manifesto commitment hit.

The Tories have promised to reduce the benefits cap to £23k, which I represent by cutting unemployment benefits a touch. However, that’s more than balanced by the huge reduction in inheritance tax, which will now only come in at £1,000,000. And which itself is matched by a huge investment in science funding and robotics.

That’s much less tax coming in and a huge amount of money spent. As all this automation will push up the unemployment rate amongst the lower paid, I fulfil another manifesto pledge to make the young unemployed work by making it mandatory for all medium-term unemployed people to do community work. I’m not winning friends here, except amongst robots.

There’s one manifesto commitment I simply can’t represent properly; build 200,000 new homes by lifting obligations on builders to build infrastructure and to include affordable housing. I’m puzzling over what to do about this when any spending decisions leave my hands tied and I notice that the global economy is taking the same path it did under Labour  a nosedive.

I have the advantage here that I think it’s going to be a long dip, so I really need to cut expenditure to fulfil those financial commitments to reduce the deficit  though I didn’t see a promise like Labour’s to reduce the national debt so theoretically I can run up the national debt in the first couple of years of recession, then run a surplus in the last two years of the parliament. Simple!

So I just cut the money necessary to reduce expenditure year-on-year, and screw the debt. Which of course means my credit rating will be in the doldrums soon enough, but c’est la vie. Foreign aid goes first. Then I introduce stringent, probing welfare fraud investigators who bring in slightly more than they cost...

The burgeoning debt and welfare cuts have unsettled the cabinet. I let the welfare minister go first, then the tax minister as they both seem really quite scared  welfare wanted to quit politics entirely to spend her remaining time with her family. Firing them terrifies the rest of the cabinet and I have to do a full reshuffle.

I look at our other committments. £13bn on transport? £50bn on HS2? £15bn on road-building? No way. I can just manage the £500m on zero-emission cars and £200m on cycling, but that’s it.

Meanwhile, our credit rating has sunk to CC. To clarify what that means, Britain in Cameron’s second term is regarded as a worse risk than Venezuela, which has been on the verge of a coup for the past year. The only current country in the world with the same Fitch rating is the Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia. The only country with a worse credit rating, from every ratings agency, is Argentina, which has defaulted on its debts over and over.

The terror threat page all goes a bit Pete Tong at this point, with varied threats every quarter, first from the human rights society, then the capitalists at the Battenberg group, then finally settling on the well-funded, armed and numerous Revolutionary Army.

I’m still frantically trying to balance the books, which is offending every demographic under the sun. Agricultural subsidies go out of the window  pissing off farmers, alcohol duty is increased massively – pissing off everyone, and prisons are so crammed that they make the Bastille look like a model penitentiary. I finally have the money to implement the transport pledges, though it’s a mite late. I splash all the money I can on rail subsidies and road-building, which only contributes to the asthma epidemic.

I also try to throw a bit of money at tax havens and enterprise investment schemes (aka tax dodges) for the wealthy (it might not be in the manifesto, but I’ll remind you that George Osborne is Chancellor), but even they aren’t on my side.

The election is looming. I take a moment to look at the state of the country. On the upside, we’re hugely technologically advanced, thanks to my careful funding of robots and nanomachines, and relatively productive and green. On the downside, there’s lynch mobs in the streets, class warfare as society collapses, inner city riots, booming crime rates, luddite riots smashing those lovely new robots, and extreme nationalism (more about that when we do the Ukip manifesto.) Poverty has rocketed, equality plummeted, health collapsed, crime boomed, and generally the country has collapsed. Quite impressive in just five years!

The polls have me on… 0 per cent. Wait, is that possible? The cabinet revolts, so I reshuffle them just in time to line up for the guillotine. And I cut income tax as a last desperate hurrah, like every Chancellor ever, and so I can claim I carried out our manifesto pledges to the best possible degree. What legacy has Dave left for Boris, Theresa and the boy George?

The result… the result is every New Statesman reader’s dream…

Read our methodology hereFollow the rest of the series as it unfolds here. And here's what happened with the manifestos in the 2010 election.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.