Tactical Hoping

It would be a fool who would deny the political logic of Teresa May calling a snap election for June. That logic is, has, and always will be about Tory party and individuals’ self-interest: politics for the Tories is about getting into power and of course they will do so again, and with an increased majority, because while we all gnash our teeth at the inaccuracy of recent opinion polls in truth not one in recent decades has been more that 6% away from the final result on polling day. Recent polling errors have been largely attributable to regional variations (Trump, Cameron’s 2015 victory), the inability to assess novel issues and tap into how these connect with key demographics (the Brexit referendum), the last vestiges of conscience and social desirability in “shy” Tory and UKIP voters (Major, 1992), and of course the peculiarities of the first-past-the post system.

So the Tories will win, with an increased majority, and lots of awful things will follow from that for the NHS, schools, universities (there are already mutterings about cutting research budgets), the care system, people with disabilities and those deemed to be aliens! But that doesn’t mean there is no point in voting. There is every point in voting. But let’s not delude ourselves that tactical voting will make much sense. Because, in the end, a great deal of tactical voting is a mass exercise in game theory; for every Labour supporter shifting their vote to the Lib Dems (even if “we are all sinners”), there could be a floating Lib Dem/Tory thinking they might try and offset that with a vote for Teresa May. You don’t know. You can’t guess or play the system so easily, and the reality is that those who think you can are lacking a fundamental awareness that others’ perspectives are often different from our own or hold a belief that somehow they are much cleverer than others and can outwit them.


You’ll notice here I am writing this from a particular political perspective. I am tribal Labour, although deeply depressed at the current state of my party and the left across the Western world generally, and those are my underlying values. The left, here and elsewhere, lacks a persuasive narrative – it needs to find one soon before the far right start to fill in the gaps. That lack of narrative means this election is all about the Tory party and how to handle opposition to that. this explains the preponderance of “how to vote” guides to “get the Tories out”. No one wants that more than me. But I do also know that there needs to be a positive and coherent message for change to win. I can’t see one yet – maybe one will emerge.

For tactical voting to work you need the alliance to be open, out there and on the table. That could make sense in genuine marginals. So a grand coalition – Lib Dems standing down in Tory/Labour marginals, Labour doing the same in Lib Dem/Tory marginals, and everyone just giving Caroline Lucas a pass in Brighton – could work! But no party would do that – that is an electoral suicide note! So unless you are convinced of your mind-reading powers, don’t really care, or fancy taking a pretty weighty gamble, the inescapable logic is to vote for the party you want to see win.

There’s more mileage in getting the large number of non-voters, or not registered voters to sign up and vote. This in particular applied to younger or new voters. The numbers here could shift results, but note a couple of caveats. First, the June date will likely be outside of term time for many university students, so while a handful of university town constituencies might achieve critical mass if university students turn out and vote en bloc for Labour (or the Greens – cannot imagine why a single student would vote Lib Dem after what happened last time, that really would be a case of turkeys voting for Christmas). These mostly middle class students will likely return home to vote in Tory stronghold constituencies and again, their influence will be scuppered by the first-past-the-post system. Second, it’s missing the fundamental issue of disengagement in politics among a significant chunk of the youth.

Of course, younger voters should be encouraged to register. Everyone should. There was a significant push for this in the run up to the Brexit vote but, largely, it failed to get sufficient numbers to register. As we know that was a key factor in the eventual, disastrous outcome. My social media feeds have been awash this week with messages to get young people to register. Great, but too little and way too late: the problem is that the chunk of younger voters who are failing to register are doing so because they are disengaged. And, more to the point sisters and brothers, they are not following you on twitter. They are on instagram and Snapchat.


Engineering change in voting patterns and demographics is complex and sending out reactionary messaging in the echo chamber is not a substitute for hard work and purposeful, long term activity to address fundamental issues in the political and social system. Virtue signalling is at best useless and at worse damaging narcissism which does everything for the individual making the post and nothing to solve the problem.

Just vote Labour. And to finish, here’s a recent article on the maths of tactical voting, if you remain unconvinced… https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/20/tactical-voting-to-beat-the-tories-does-the-maths-equal-a-coalition

Wake Up! It’s the Cornish Owlman

Oneirology: the scientific study of dreams.  At the very least, it is a word that can get you out of a tricky vowel situation in Scrabble… It is an -ology that has also a somewhat tarnished reputation, rightly so, in the history of scientific psychology. This blog is about dreams – not the Captain Sensible or Daniel Levinson kind – but the ones we have (or quite often don’t have) when we’re asleep.

What am I not going to talk about? Well, I am not going to discuss psychological and neuroscientific study into the benefits of sleep: take home message – in fact, the only message – “You need sleep”. It’s not exactly rocket science, and you can almost hear cognitive psychology scraping the bottom of the barrel: this is an area of research so uniquely dull that it induces in those reading about it precisely the state of consciousness that it seeks to understand. Policy implications? Applications? We’ll get back to you on that…


Cognitive psychology is in danger of going the same way as behaviourism. There’s been cosying up with basic neuroscience but we all know who wears the trousers in that relationship! Not all, but much current cognitive psychology is so  deeply in the hock of an ideological/ methodological dogma, fixated on statistical replication that, ultimately, it risks losing sight of its purpose. When push comes to shove, all psychology is about people, and when it ceases to be aware of that it loses its usefulness. And people have dreams, and they usually want to know what their dreams mean, even if they don’t really mean anything. So let’s start with the briefest history of dream analysis.

Of course, dream interpretation goes back to ancient times when Jason Donovan and Philip Schofield sorted out an Egyptian famine for Elvis (if you don’t get that reference, don’t even try…). But in modern psychology, it all starts with Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Then there was Jung and his symbols. Basically, in any dream: flying = sex; driving = sex; long, cylindrical objects = sex; round objects = sex; sex = something to do with your relationship with your mum… You get the picture.

We all dream, sometimes several times a night. We don’t always remember them. As you probably already know dreams are a feature of REM (or NREM) sleep and there’s a whole bundle of facts about that here. Fun dream facts: (1) the average person spends about six years in a lifetime dreaming, (2) most dreams last between 5 and 20 minutes, (3) dolphins don’t dream as much as humans and the most prolific dreamers are armadillos and opossums, (4) in most of our dreams, we are not aware we are dreaming, however in lucid dreams you are aware. (5) An oneironaut is someone who dreams lucidly. Now that is fun!

There are lots and lots of theories about why we dream. Most modern and scientifically sound ones emphasise the need for mental down time, emotion resolution, or view dreams as epiphenomena, accidental consequences of brain activity while the conscious control part is “switched off” during sleep. Imaging studies have helped to understand some of the mechanisms at play during dreaming but there are fundamental difficulties with research into dreaming: sleep “labs” are rather artificial environments and, in the end, much of this internal experience is dependent on self-report and, in turn, on memory. In that respect it has been argued that remembering or re-telling the dream is part of a process of conscious analysis which is useful in itself, if not dependent on the dream.

What about nightmares? There are the “wake up in a cold sweat remembering you forgot to answer yesterday’s email” ones – I have had a few of those and they can also occur during waking hours! Or the slightly more obscure and vivid ones, when you’re asleep? I mean the ones where you are in mortal peril or truly creepy ones featuring things like The Cornish Owlman. Yikes! Never mind that the Cornish Owlman who “terrorised the village of Mawnan” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, emitting, a “loud, owl-like sound” turned out just to be an owl. It’s still proper scary.

Tom_Paine's_nightly_pest Owlman

Dreams, nightmares… there is no doubt, as I said before, that we need sleep. Myself, I don’t think interpreting a dream has ever really helped me and there is scant evidence that it has for anyone else (beyond, again, self-report which is vulnerable to the memory issues I mentioned before). To quote Dumbledore, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”! But there is fun in interpreting your dreams. And people have dreams and often they want to know what they mean. So perhaps that is the purpose of dreams after all: to give us something unfathomable and intangible to remember, or try to remember, to remind us all that life and us can be a very uncertain, weird and sometimes scary affair.