Debt crisis, fascist superheroes, and DOOM. Photo: Getty
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Simulection: What happens when you run the Ukip 2015 manifesto through a video game?

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

Nigel says: “Hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. What an audience! Look at you! Aren’t you lovely? Passion and conviction. Except you four-eyes, sod off back to Bognor. Ha ha ha. Now, to be serious for a moment.

“Immigrants with AIDS.

“That’ll do. Ukip hates racism. We oppose sectarianism and stereotyping. Unlike the identikit careerist clones in Westminster. Unlike the ‘Von’s and ‘De’s in Brussels. Unlike the Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants crouched behind the Iron Curtain, waiting for the EU to give them our British antiretrovirals. I’m not racist. Hey, I put 1.5 black people into the manifesto. Don’t know what happened to the other half of him, ha ha.

“Well, we’re in charge now. And I say what I think. As do all of UKIP. Which is why we kept having to fire people. Now we’re in charge, who cares? Say what you like, and we’ll do what we like. And that’s enforce British values! Magna Carta. Habeas Corpus. Coitus Interruptus. In favour of British people. Not immigrants with AIDS.

“After all, we went out into the world and gave it British civilization, and took the stuff they had and turned it into money, which we then inherited, and these people can’t just come over here and take it back. They’re not British! Not like the Indians and Australians, the colonies. Though they can’t have it either.

“We’re not claiming the British are superior – just that we’re more valuable. Let the rest of the world burn, we’ll be OK. Which is why we’re pushing coal power stations, because our membership’s old bones have been getting a bit chilly recently and it’ll save on the winter fuel allowance.

“Anyway, I have a country to run. So I’ll be at the bar.”

The similarity between the SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and Ukip is that they all have nationalist policies; the difference is that the first four don’t have national policies. That means that Ukip is the final manifesto I’ll be simulating for this election. 

Ukip’s a very British party, but also a very traditional anti-establishment party. A charismatic man-of-the-people leader, a rag tag bunch of ambitious rejects from other parties, a bunch of lowest-common-denominator policies, and an appeal to those who are scared about losing it all and pissed off with business as usual. It’s not an egalitarian party, or a utilitarian party, but a tribal party, that only values the people of England, that thrives in moments of relative scarcity.

That outsider status means most of their policies are so radical or so parochial that the Democracy 3 simulation struggles to represent them. A reopened airport in South Thanet? Stop sham marriages? Cancel the licence fee? Formal training for religious slaughtermen? Maximum pricing on gambling machines?

A much bigger problem is that the focus of most of their policies, the EU, doesn’t figure in the Democracy 3 sim at all. Much of Ukip’s expenditure is predicated on the recovery of the £11bn we send over to the EU – even though that’s a tiny proportion of the overall UK budget. Despite those caveats, there are great swathes of the Ukip manifesto we can simulate, so let’s get to it.

As ever, to give the party a fair chance, I’ll start by implementing their funding proposals, then follow up with their spending proposals. It’s hard because Ukip’s funding proposals are mostly nonexistent in the sim. I cut railway subsidies to represent the scrapping of HS2 and slash international development funding (a flagship policy), but it’s hard beyond that. I can’t reclaim either EU funding or the money given to Scotland under the Barnett Formula. So overall these changes raise about £6bn per quarter – peanuts, frankly. There is another vague commitment that I can use to make some money; “big corporations pay their fair share of tax”. Bump up corporation tax then.

Another key patriotic policy is to increase defence spending, even if our army has nothing to do. They want it to reach 2 per cent of GDP on defence, and look to increase it further as time goes by. The UK’s GDP in this game is around a trillion pounds, so £20bn looks about right for defence. Except that it’s already higher than this in the sim, I presume because it was programmed before the recent defence cuts. I bump it from enough funds for a “well-trained” army to enough funds for a “highly-trained” army to tick the box. And we do a National Armed Forces Week to set Britain’s stay-at-home warmongers fizzing.

Then we get to Ukip’s lovely stance on immigration. I start by closing the borders as best as I can, to prevent unskilled immigration. Then I implement citizenship tests, to simulate the constraints on skilled immigration. Finally, I establish a Foreign Trade Panel to represent Ukip’s commitment to expanding Britain’s trade in and beyond Europe to the BRICs.

Ukip wants to fund an extra 6,000 police, border and prison jobs, with a focus on the frontlines. So I have to chuck money at the police and prisons too, which at least has the effect of curbing the street gangs. We also increase the country’s intelligence capability, as promised, which has a good effect on organised crime and lets us know a bit more about the many and varied liberal terrorists who are after us. And that superhero who saved the Lib Dems pops up regularly, reminding us that all superheroes are really fascists.

The final big pledge is £12bn to the NHS over the parliament, which isn’t actually that much when you break it down by quarter, especially compared to the lost moolah from the cuts in duty on alcohol and cigarettes.

More expensive is the commitment to childcare before and after school for every child (while we’re at it, we abolish sex education in primary schools, but I can’t find a way of giving extra funding to private schools). To balance its costs, we cut child benefit, in line with Ukip’s two-child limit and the benefit cap. We also drop unemployment benefit. Sadly, they seemed to have dropped their old policy to force every unemployed person into work, which might have actually helped the economy a little.

It’s worth saying all this spending has really unbalanced the budget. Our deficit is spectacularly huge. Even factoring in the billions we would have got from the EU and Scotland, we’d still be running a huge deficit. This isn’t in line with CEBR predictions at all.

In line with that, as the global recession hits our credit rating is downgraded, and downgraded and downgraded, to a level as bad as the Tories. How will island Britain survive? Spoiler: it probably won’t. I do a quick reshuffle, to maintain cabinet support for our policies, as one minister has already threatened to spend more time with his family.

Ukip has a lot of policies for the “nation of shopkeepers”, particularly a cut in business rates for small businesses. We represent that by a small business start-up campaign, a National Business Council and an Enterprise Investment Scheme. A pop star’s unexpected endorsement boosts our vote over 50 per cent for the first (and last) time. But what popular celebrity would back Ukip? Not counting Mike Read.

Despite the people singing songs in the street about us, a new economic problem kicks GDP in the crown jewels; a skills shortage partially caused by cancellation of clean energy subsidies and relatively low education funding. All this green tech isn’t just useful for saving the world, y’see - it also adds high-tech skills to the economy and stops us being a technological backwater.

Much of the rest of the policies I implement in Farage’s mid-term are to mollify pensioners. We bump up social care funding substantially by increasing the winter fuel allowance, giving out free eye tests for pensioners, and putting a bit more money into the NHS to represent free prescriptions. And we give married couples a tax break. To pay for that, we start a crackdown on benefit fraud – but again, that barely brings in a billion quid.

Much more difficult to implement at this stage are the tax cuts. Farage claimed £18bn of them, including the abolition of inheritance tax, an increase in everyone’s personal tax allowance to 13,000, and 10 per cent less tax on income between £45,000 and £55,000. He even lowered VAT a mite by removing it from listed building repairs and sanitary products. I bite the bullet and implement all of these.

Now this is something new. Our spending is so out of control we’ve fallen into a debt crisis, pulling the country apart. I am sticking to the Ukip spending commitments, but it’s hard because I know it’s not entirely fair. These were predicated on money from Europe and Scotland that I couldn’t supply. Sympathy for the devil?

At the moment, I just have that sickly inevitable feeling you get when there’s only one Jenga block that looks reasonable to take out but the whole edifice is leaning and twisted, and an excitable child is running up and down with a rubber ball nearby. Essentially, what Dad’s Army’s Corporal Fraser would call “DOOM”.

A final dilemma pops up, asking if we want to legalise gay marriage completely. I check with my cabinet for flood warnings, but there don’t seem to be any. We quietly shelve the policy anyway, to please our core vote.

There’s just one quarter left until the election, so it’s time for some crowd-pleasing policies. We cancel pollution controls, prompting the resignation of the environmentalist-allied welfare minister. Our fascist superhero reappears, pushing down crime. In many respects, the country is in a good shape. Traffic congestion is way down, international trade is up, crime has been crushed, poverty has fallen, car usage has decline, and immigration has almost vanished.

What’s killed our vote is the squeeze on the middle classes – their income has halved in our term. Combine that with the decline in GDP and the collapse in confidence because of our astonishing national debt, and I was surprised the country didn’t just default before the election.

Compared to Ukip’s frankly insane 2010 manifesto, which even Farage himself has called “drivel”, this manifesto is much more stable. Outside of the EU withdrawal, it’s a selfish tinkerer’s manifesto. It funded a lot of fiddly little things designed to appeal to patriots, the poor, conservatives and the retired – the people who’ve felt hard done by the Tory leadership’s gentle drift towards liberalism. All the horrible hate-packed policies about burkas have been kicked into the long grass. If anything, the Tory manifesto was more problematic to implement than this one, because it was so badly funded.

So that’s it. I’ve simulated all the policies of all the parties as best I can, controlling the variables as best I could. All of them have been tested against a massive global recession, the toughest test for a party’s policies, and only Labour and the Lib Dems made it through.

Labour survived from generous interpretations on my part, as I’d run out of real manifesto policies to implement. The Lib Dems did well because their extensively-specified policies were well-targeted and mostly cheap to implement. Ukip’s promises seemed to cost a lot more in this simulation than the CEBR said they would in real life. I felt sad about the Greens, who had the only true manifesto with a vision, but whose high tax and spending commitments destroyed the confidence of the country’s economic masters. And the Tories’ promises of fiscal prudence tied them up so much that our weakened economy couldn’t respond to the recession.

Anyway, given the inevitability of coalition government, none of these manifestos will be implemented. Which begs the question: “Why did I just spent a week testing them out?” Bah. See you in 2020!

This is the final instalment. Read our methodology here. Catch up with the rest of the series here. And here's what happened with the manifestos in the 2010 election.

Daniel Griliopoulos blogs at Funambulism and tweets as @GriddleOctopus.

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The view from Google Earth is magnificent - but there's a problem

Google Earth is spectacular - but it can give a misleading impression of the planet and the threats we face from climate change. 

 

Google Earth wants you to “get lost” in its updated interactive map. Collaborations with new media partners mean you can now climb Mount Everest, swim with sharks or visit Afghanistan with Zari the purple muppet. No, really:


Source: Google Earth

Yet as Trump slashes support for the science behind satellite imaging, is Google’s emphasis on spectacle leading us down the wrong path?

Google Earth's new look all starts well enough. Opening the new site on your browser takes you to an image of a blue earth floating through the blackness of space. Back in the 1970s, similar images taken from the Apollo space missions helped kickstart the modern environmental movement. As the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle put it: “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”


Source: GETTY and Google Earth

And it gets better. Enter a destination in the search bar and you are greeted with the option to link directly out to the Wikipedia page: nerds of the world, rejoice! 

A guided tour from NASAearth is also on hand for anyone whose nerdery is in need of a prompt: “Geostationary satellites in geosynchronous orbits. Greenhouse gases and global warming. Glaciers... going, going, gone,” says the Bob Dylan-esque entry on its "ABCs from Space".

You can then choose to orbit your landmark of choice in 3D. And let’s face it - who doesn’t want to glide around the top of Mont Blanc, pretending to be an eagle? It’s almost as good as the BBC’s actual eagle-cam

But then it hits you. This is no soaring eagle, buffeted by wind currents and having to constantly adjust its flightpath in the face of real-world obstacles. This is a world surveyed at a safe and sanitising distance. Tourism for the Trump age – focused on providing “a consumption experience”. Certainly it is the opposite of “getting lost”.

In fact if anything has been lost or downplayed, it is the principles of scientific enquiry. The program is littered with human choices. Local versions of Google Maps, for instance, have shown different national borders depending on where in the world you log in. And while new, open-data imagery from America's Landsat 8 program is helping bring many regions up to date, other high-resolution imagery comes from commercial providers, such as Digital Globe. And as this Google 'help' page implies, there are issues of time-lag to face. 

You can’t even be sure what you’re looking at still exists. In 2015, Bolivia’s second largest lake vanished - a combination of climate change, El Nino, and irrigation withdrawal caused 2,700 square kilometres of water to evaporate into a dry salt pan. (It has not recovered, and seems unlikely to do so.) Yet on the new version of Google Earth the lake is still a healthy green:


Source: GoogleEarth

The much lauded film clips from the BBC’s Planet Earth II are similarly short on context. As I've argued before, David Attenborough's latest TV series did little to explain the stories behind the spectacle – there was no mention, for instance, of the arctic anthrax outbreak which caused thousands of reindeer to be culled, nor the role of climate change in worsening locust swarms. 

Finally, the new update actually shows you less of the world than it did before. Gone is the “Historical Imagery” tool that allowed you to see how a place had changed through time. Now, the Citadel of Aleppo in Syria is only visible as a bombed-out ruin. A surreal street-view reveals two women cheerily taking a selfie – with debris all around and their legs spliced out of shot:


Source: GoogleEarth

So why do these omissions matter? Because they take users further away from the evidence-based approach of earth science. It turns out that satellite images on their own are of limited use when it comes to quantifying change. Instead researchers must turn the raw pixels into numbers, which can then variously represent everything from forests to cities, glaciers and farms.

As Dr France Gerard at the UK’s Centre for Hydrology and Ecology explains, this process enables us to live in a better managed environment – be that by measuring air pollution or the impact of fertiliser on soil. The centre's landcover map, for instance, has been mapping British land use since 1990. Similar methods allow Sam Lavender’s company to provide Ugandans with a Drought and Flood Mitigation service, as part of the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme.

Sadly, the need for public engagement has never been more urgent. Brexit and austerity have cast doubt over important projects in the UK. While in Donald Trump’s America, funds for earth monitoring are set to be slashed. Two missions already under the knife are PACE, a spacecraft set to track global ocean health, and CLARREO, which would have produced highly accurate climate records. Trump has also called for the earth-viewing instruments on the DSCOVR satellite to be turned off. Phil Larson, a former space advisor to President Obama, describes this decision as “baffling”.

So what can be done to reverse this trend? Experts I spoke to believe that collaboration is key. With government programs being squeezed, the earth monitoring industry may come to rely increasingly on the trend towards smaller, commercial satellites. These are great for increasing the quantity of data available but their accuracy needs to be constantly checked against the data from the larger and more reliable state-launched equipment.

There’s also still more data out there to share. As Bronwyn Agrios from Astro Digital points out, many countries have been gathering region-specific data – which could, in future, be made open source. “The neat thing about space is that there’s no border,” she concludes.

To help this process, Google Earth could do far more to raise public awareness of the science behind its special effects. Yet at least in one way it is already on the right path: its own new range of collaborations is impressively large. As well as the BBC, you can take interactive tours with The Ocean Agency, the Wildscreen Arkive, and the Jane Goodall Institute – all of whom put conservation up front. The Goodall journey to Tanzania’s Gombe National Park even describes the use of satellite imagery to measure conservation success.

 

More links with other citizen science projects around the world could turn the program into something truly ground-breaking. If it can incorporate these, then desktop-tourism may yet save the planet from Trump. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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