Local Elections: As UKIP Voters Join the Tories to create Super-UKIP, Labour and Other Parties MUST Unite in a Progressive Resistance


Despite the Tories doing well in the local elections on May 4, 2017, Theresa May remains a distant leader, unable to connect with ordinary people, as this photo of her making a statement at the end of a factory tour in Brentford shows.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.


So wretched is the mainstream media here in the UK that the results of Thursday’s local elections are being read as an unprecedented triumph for the Tories, and the death knell of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, whereas the reality is actually far more nuanced.

However, in conducting research into how people voted, I’ve discovered that finding examples of the number of overall voters, the numbers of those who didn’t vote (70% of elegible voters?), and the percentage swings since the last comparable elections (in 2013) is almost impossible. Without exception, the media has focused solely on the number of seats gained and lost and not on the percentage vote, even though, under our antiquated and disproportionate ”first past the post” system, that sort of analysis always ends up giving a skewed perspective on voting behaviour.

However, based on what I can ascertain from comparing the 2013 results to the estimates of voting in the General Election in five weeks’ time based on the polling on Thursday, the Tories’ gains were principally because they took almost all of UKIP’s votes, and the horror of that, as Ian Dunt made clear in his latest column for Politics.co.uk, Local elections: UKIP aren’t dead – they’re in charge, is that the Tories have become UKIP.

As Dunt explains:

UKIP is dead. But in reality it is more powerful than ever. It has transcended its physical body and its soul has entered the Conservative party. Its spiritual victory required the end of its physical form.

This has been happening for a long time. Theresa May opened the last Conservative party conference by announcing a hard Brexit outside the single market and the customs union. Then the party unveiled plans to phase out foreign doctors, cut down on foreign students, jail landlords unless they check tenants’ residency papers and ‘name and shame’ firms for hiring foreign staff. The prime minister ended the gathering with an attack on “citizens of nowhere”.

Since then, May has cultivated the nativist vote assiduously. She has nurtured the narrative of an enemy within — sometimes the Lords, sometimes Labour or the Lib Dems, sometimes judges, sometimes citizens of nowhere, sometimes journalists or liberal elitists — who are trying to stop Brexit, but who, more than that, are fundamentally incompatible with the reality of what it is to be British and decent and hard-working. She has encouraged talk of ‘the will of the people’, as if the nation spoke with one single voice on all matters — a harking back to a 1950s when everyone came together and thought the same and looked the same. She has promoted the idea of shadowy foreign forces out to undermine the UK. She has traded in a narrative of imagined British victimhood.

This is straight out the UKIP handbook. It is not just the policies she has stolen, but the tone, the storyline, the emotional tenor of how UKIP thinks about itself and its country.

This has proved extremely beneficial to May. She has united the right under Brexit. But that is a domestic recalibration of support. It has no contact with reality. The real danger does not come now, but when that type of vision clashes with the real world. Because the key aspect of UKIP’s policies and their narratives remain: They are wrong and they are mad.

I encourage you to read the whole of this article if you haven’t already — and to buy Dunt’s book, the excellent, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? but to return to my analysis of Thursday’s elections, the death of UKIP — and its rebirth as the Tory Party — is the most significant aspect of Thursday’s elections, although it is not one that most of the media has noted in terms of the transfer of votes.

However, a historical analysis makes the swing clear. In 2013, in their best performance ever in local elections — prior to their nearly 4 million votes in the 2015 General Election — UKIP took 22% of the popular vote. That has now slumped to 5%, a 17% drop, with 13% of that swing going to the Tories, who took  25% of the popular vote in 2013, and who, based on Thursday’s results, are projected to take 38% of the votes in the General Election.

In contrast, the losses incurred by both Labour and the Lib Dems, although noticeable, are not as disastrous as the media, in general, are reporting. Labour took 29% of the vote in 2013, and are projected to take 27% of the vote after Thursday’s vote, while the Lib Dems’s share has fallen from 18% to 14%.

As the Guardian pointed out in its editorial today, “the main parties of the right (the Conservatives and UKIP) have broadly the same level of support across the UK, 43%, as the main parties of the left (Labour and the Liberal Democrats) on 45%.”

However, while UKIP voters are helping the Tories become a super-UKIP, a horrible far-right, hard Brexit-fueled caricature of the party that even established right-wingers like Michael Heseltine condemn, the opposition — Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and others in Northern Ireland — are still, for the most part, failing to understand that now, more than ever before, what is needed to stop the Tories is a progressive alliance, in which all the parties put aside their differences, and work together to defeat the Tories.

Up and down the country, the Tories can be beaten, in seat after seat, if the other parties all come together and to work out who needs to step aside to allow another party to defeat the Tories — mostly Lib Dems standing aside to enable Labour to win, or Labour standing aside to enable the Lib Dems to win, but with other permutations.

What is also needed is a clear recognition that, if the Tories were to be defeated, whatever government took over would need to get rid of the anachronistic and unfair “first past the post” voting system, which, in 2015, saw the Tories gain over 50% of the seats with just 36.8% of the votes, while, as I explained at the time, UKIP — even though I despise them — “got just one seat even though they secured 3,881,129 votes, meaning that it was 113 times harder for them to get a seat than it was for the Tories.”

On both these fronts — the need for a progressive alliance, and the need for proportional representation — what all the Tories’ opponents need to recognise, however hard it may be, is that, currently, not only are they all losers, but the system itself is also discredited, alienating people who can’t be bothered to vote because they recognise that, in most constituencies, a vote for anyone other than the leading party is, very literally, a wasted vote. Why vote when it can make no difference? Under PR, although constituency areas would need to increase in size to accommodate the selection of candidates based on the percentage of votes cast, the  almost incalculably huge benefit would be that no vote is wasted, as every 50,000 votes (or thereabouts) would secure a candidate.

Is any of this change possible? I certainly hope so. There have already been moves to get a progressive alliance going, as I reported in my article, Taking on Theresa May and Her Hard Brexit Dystopia: Open Britain Targets Pro-Brexit MPs, and in comments following its publication, but I do think that those of us who are fearful of a hard Brexit, far-right Tory landslide need to make it clearer than ever to Labour and the Lib Dems that the time of tribalism is over and the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats need to sit down and work out if they want to be perpetual losers in a broken system, or if they want to defeat the Tories and change the system to keep the Tories from ever having an outright majority again.

Surely that’s a no-brainer?

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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33 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, an analysis of Thursday’s local election results, in which I’m particularly concerned to show how almost the whole of UKIP’s vote has been transferred to the Tories, and to make clear how that is because the Tories have effectively become UKIP, a far-right parody of themselves, obsessed with as hard a Brexit as possible, regardless of hw ruinous it will be for the economy. I also urge Labour and the Lib Dems to put aside their differences and to stand aside for each others’ candidates in the General Election in five weeks’ time, when there is a good chance that the other party can beat the Tories, and to fully embrace proportional representation, to bring to an end the unfair “first past the post” system that is keeping the Tories in power.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I chose this photo of Theresa May to accompany my article, as it shows her – to my mind – astonishingly alone, for a Prime Minister reportedly about to cruise to an almost unprecedented General Election victory. As a leader, it seems to me that she is uniquely bad at mingling with ordinary people and showing any kind of charm or empathy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Not wishing to depress anyone, but I read this article this morning by John Harris, who has been touring the West Country, talking to real people about their views, and it has stayed with me all day: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/06/brexit-britain-theresa-may-election-victory
    Here are the opening paragraphs:

    Can we now hail this general election as the strangest British contest in living memory? We have a prime minister who affected to go into the campaign full of vim and vigour, but now seems to recoil from the absolute basics of what electioneering entails. If your people shut journalists from a big regional website into a small room for fear they might video something as banal as a visit to a manufacturer of diving equipment – as Theresa May’s campaign apparently did in Cornwall this week – you are surely in a very odd place.

    The atmosphere is rendered stranger still by the sense of a completely foregone conclusion. Not in the sense of, say, 2001, when Tony Blair’s muted second triumph reflected a quiescent country sleepwalking through a long economic boom. Rather, there’s a profound tension between an uneasy, divided national mood and a prime minister and party seemingly gliding back to power. Britain does not, contrary to what May claimed at the outset, seem like it is coming together.

    Yet this week’s local election results underline the prospect of an imminent landslide, and pollsters claim that she is the most popular party leader since the late 1970s. The reality? There is a look she repeatedly throws, midway between forced politeness and cold fear, that speaks of something rather different: a classically pyrrhic victory, in a country that has no collective clue where it is heading.

    Last week I followed much the same route as May traversed a few days later, driving from the western tip of Cornwall to Bristol – from Brexitland to a redoubt of Remainia. Along the way, I met the odd staunch admirer of the prime minister, and a few people who said that Jeremy Corbyn had a vision worth believing in, if only his detractors and opponents would leave him alone. But for the most part I encountered three kinds of voter: disconnected, deceived and dismayed. All were united by a sense of national bemusement.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    So this is interesting – a poll for the Independent (results just published) has found that “30 per cent of people would consider voting for a different candidate to stop a hard Brexit,” including “a majority (51 per cent) of 18-to-24-year-olds”: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-2017-tactical-voting-progressive-alliance-hard-brexit-block-tories-a7721551.html

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s the latest on the seats where the Greens are withdrawing candidates to help the Lib Dems and Labour beat the Tories: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/green-party/news/85714/greens-stand-aside-boost-liberal-democrats-richmond

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s Hisham Abdel-Rahman, the founder of a strategic voting initiative that helped propel Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party into office in Canada, enthusiastically supporting the plan by Gina Miller, who successfully took Theresa May’s government to court over May’s plans to exclude Parliament from having any say over Brexit, to support candidates in up to 100 marginal constituencies. As Abdel-Rahman says, “I would absolutely love to be involved and to come to Britain and help Gina. We’ve had one conversation already and I believe if the progressives get their act together they have a great chance.” He adds, “The only way you can do this, is to convince them that their vote is going to make a difference. Many young voters don’t vote because they don’t think their vote counts, but if you say to them: ‘We have a plan, vote for this candidate, even if he or she wouldn’t be the candidate of your choice it is better than the Conservatives staying in power,’ they will respond. That is what we found in Canada.”
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/04/trudeau-backer-endorses-gina-millers-tactical-voting-campaign

  7. Tom says...

    What’s a common ploy that the media is using against Corbyn? The idea that he refuses to come on and debate. He criticizes May for refusing to debate. Yet we invite him ALL THE TIME to come on, and he always says no. Why is that? Answer. Because if he did, you’d rip him to pieces. No interest in actual issues and solutions. I mean, that IS your broadcast license mandate that Ofcom requires, correct? To actually inform the public with actual facts so they can make informed decisions. Instead, it’s just hype and abuse. When was the last time Ofcom fined and/or took away a company’s broadcast license? Have they EVER done that? Here, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is run by political hacks who don’t do anything.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Mainly, the media continues to ignore Jeremy Corbyn, Tom. It’s a different story on social media – loads of clips of him traveling around the country, getting on with ordinary people, in complete contrast to Theresa May, who really doesn’t have the common touch at all and is resolutely kept away from ordinary people by her minders and by the vampiric scum – Lynton Crosby – running her campaign. Because this is a fantastically rigged election, they’ll be hoping they can manage to keep her isolated from real people and any real questioning for the next five weeks. I think it’s an absolute disgrace that she won’t engage in a TV debate, but I understand Corbyn refusing to take part without her. If he debates her, he gets to score points; otherwise, he’s just a target.
    And yes, our watchdogs are as toothless as yours, Tom.

  9. Tom says...

    I agree about fighting back with social media power. Where I can I read, post, like and more get the message out. Yes it’s a lot of work. But it has to be done.

  10. Tom says...

    A major weakness in May’s dealing with Brexit is her arrogance towards the EU. They wouldn’t have the nerve (and don’t have the right) to impose tariffs on us. Really? Protectionism is still a vital part of our current predatory capitalist system. It doesn’t accomplish anything, but no country would hesitate to use them to protect their national interests. Also, the UK doesn’t have to pay a EU exit bill? If that’s your view, why did the UK join the EU to begin with? Aside from damage that still continues to the pound, this also affects the UK’s image internationally. So yes, it is a bad idea to insult the EU President in the press.

    Now May’s dealing with the UK version of “the wimp factor” that every US President has to deal with. It’s a silly test that basically says you’re not a REAL LEADER until you prove your toughness. Preferably by going to war and killing that country’s leader. If they’re a dictator that’s even better. I keep thinking of something that Tony Benn used to say about Thatcher. As much as I disagreed with her, at least you knew where she stood. Now, it’s the complete opposite with May. Just like Trump.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Unfortunately, we’re up against an enemy with a much bigger reach, Tom. That’s been obvious to me from my Guantanamo work for many years – how a distorted or scaremongering feature on Fox News would get out to millions of impressionable people, against which reasonable voices would struggle to be heard, but it’s now true of so much of the mainstream media regarding politics in general. Here in the UK, I stopped watching the news when Theresa May triggered Article 50, over a month ago, and my mental health is much improved. It unfortunately says a lot about the parlous state of the media here that the BBC can fundamentally no longer be trusted to deliver the news in anything resembling an objective manner, and are barely critical of the Tories at all, and even Channel 4 News often reveals bias against left-wing views.
    So giving up watching the news doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the news. I still read news and commentary avidly online, but I have found the mainstream broadcast media to be too profound a disappointment to support any longer, and I now try to add my voice to those discussing what needs to be discussed in a more responsible manner online, via social media – and, of course, this website.
    That said, there are two fundamental problems with the online world – firstly, the tendency towards echo chambers, so that those with dangerous opinions are essentially unchallenged, and secondly, the difficulty of reaching out to others in any meaningful sense. I use both Facebook and Twitter, but I often reflect sadly on the fact that what I put out there often just gets buried almost immediately in a blizzard of information that never stops, and that threatens to overwhelm us all.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, in the pursuit of short-term gain, Tom, May is wreaking untold damage on the UK. To stay in power, she has clearly decided that the only people worth appeasing are the far-right of her own party and UKIP voters, so now she seems to have succeeded in arsorbing UKIP voters into the Tory Party, and will probably win the General Election with an increased majority, but having turned her party into basically a party of the far-right.
    And in the meantime, her insults to the EU – about the UK’s divorce bill, about perceived “interference” in the General Election, and also in relation to her persistent refusal to treat EU citizens living an working in the UK as anything other than “bargaining chips” – are not seen by the EU as collateral damage in an election season, but as a fundamental obstacle to any chance of reaching an agreement about the terms of Britain’s divorce, with little or no regard on the UK side for the fact that the EU countries don’t fundamentally care if Britain sinks without any trade deals. And all the while, as you also note, our reputation internationally also flounders, and the pound – a genuine currency – is under threat of being treated as a joke, like the country as a whole.
    The whole thing is genuinely more worrying than anything that has happened politically in my lifetime in relation to my home country – and it’s not just on the world stage, or in response the EU, that the damage is being done. All around the country, angry and dangerously deluded people are being given license to vent their unacceptable thoughts and attitudes, just as with Trump in the US, who has thoroughly unleashed millions of people’s inner bigots.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    This is really worth reading – ‘The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked’ by Carole Cadwalladr: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

    For many months now, Carole Cadwalladr has been investigating, for the Observer, how largely hidden far right forces are manipulating the democratic process in numerous countries – and in this long-read article she focuses on the UK, joining the dots between Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, the billionaire Robert Mercer and his data-mining company Cambridge Analytica and a number of other shadowy tech organizations, hinting at how between them they manipulated the 600,000 or so people needed to swing the EU referendum from Remain to Leave, in an ultimate effort to subvert our democracy in line with the intended subversion of the US democratic system under Trump. Please do set aside the time to read this if you’re at all concerned that a handful of the super-rich and their political frontmen are subverting democracy in the US and UK. As the article concludes, “This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a ‘managed’ democracy. Paid for a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.”

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s David Allen Green in the FT – ‘How the UK government is making a successful Brexit difficult’: https://www.ft.com/content/ea5c01f1-3aca-3517-a42b-4cfe439243f3

  15. Tom says...

    As the campaign continues, I’ve been following how the Lib Dems are trying to tap into Brexit anger. I saw Nick Clegg on the BBC after the Brexit vote, and it was a mixed bag. One minute he’s rightly saying that it’s ridiculous to think that you’ll be able to negotiate 27 trade deals with EU members in 2 years, which is true. Then it’s the last the thing we need is Corbyn, a “Che Guevara PM”. And I thought, I know you’re plugging your book. But are you really that desperate for coverage? That’s sleezy Tory level stuff.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    And this from the Centre for European Reform – thanks for alerting me to it, David Knopfler: http://www.cer.org.uk/insights/british-and-their-exceptionalism

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Just part of the public school debating society level at which so much of politics operates, Tom, sadly, reinforced by the kind of systems we have in the US and the UK – two main parties, and no concept that coalition governments might be the best way to operate a as a general rule, with everyone looking to the country’s best interests, rather than endlessly trying to score points off each other.

  18. Tom Pettinger says...

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    The Daily Mail is such a malevolent player in the whole charade of democracy in the UK, Tom. I’m starting to get the overriding impression that the UK is basically a small country of easily led people, and that it’s ridiculously easy for individuals like Paul Dacre, the Führer of the Mail, with his weird but unchallenged vision of what Britain should be like, to mislead a majority of those who can be bothered to vote. So here’s Theresa May standing up for those squeezed workers she claims to want to help (but otherwise is doing nothing for, but that won’t be reported), compared to Ed Miliband, whose identical proposal would have ushered in a socialist bloodbath for the economy. Once you see Lynton Crosby behind it all, it all becomes like Oz, but most people apparently don’t see that. They want only to fall in line behind someone they can perceive as powerful, and that’s not Jeremy Corbyn so it must be Theresa May. I think the British people would have easily voted for Hitler, if all his opponents seemed weak. Where is the notion, amongst the working class, that it would be more helpful to slit your own throat than vote Tory?

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s an example of Labour’s control freakery, sadly. Three senior party members in Jeremy Hunt’s constituency have been expelled for proposing to stand down, with the Lib Dem and the Green candidate, to enable Louise Irvine, National Health Action Party member, and former chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, to stand unopposed against Hunt: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/09/labour-expels-south-west-surrey-members-attempt-unseat-jeremy-hunt

  21. Tom Pettinger says...

    I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am!!

    Agreed, the DM is such a horrible fount of propaganda. I can’t see society / civilization as it exists today lasting lots longer, there’s so many potential ways it could be disrupted – and overthrowing our so-called democracies (with a Hitler figure as you say) I can see as one of these disruptions… others being AI in particular, disease, global economic meltdown far worse than ’08, war, climate change, in my opinion. There’s so little trust in current politics/politicians that a Hitler could come along when times get really tough and people would go for them. People turned to Syriza in Greece and although it didn’t live up to its name, it easily could have done with the power it had. I think any of those factors (economic meltdown, disease etc) would cause people to easily allow in a tyrant.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, there’s nothing like a cheery start to the morning, eh, Tom?
    But the shocking reality is that anyone sensible would agree with you. The ways that upset, mainly white people in the west are taking leave of their senses regarding their largely invented or misplaced grievances is genuinely alarming, and suggests to me that a charismatic fascist leader could fill the void. Nigel Farage, it turns out, is such a lazy scumbag that he didn’t want to take advantage of his role in the UK, and Trump isn’t very capable, but both men were being willed to be leaders who could do away with democracy because it’s more comforting to have a white father figure telling everyone what to do.
    Your worries about AI seem prescient. My wife just returned from visiting her 90-year old parents, who now have Alexa, and are delighted by their brainy servant, but honestly, I just imagine the AI taking over eventually and doing away with the inferior humans. And then, yes, the climate elephant in the room (and the question I often wonder about: shouldn’t that be what we’re all focussed on above and beyond everything else?), and the final collapse of the uber-greedy, essentially unreformed financial sector. Dark times, genuinely, and yet we are sleepwalking into disaster more wilfully than ever before.

  23. Tom Pettinger says...

    I’ve only really started reading about AI recently, but it seems it could pose a fairly short-term existential risk to humanity if we don’t deal with it properly. Elon Musk is really interesting on this topic. I think we’re in for a fascinating next half-century!! It feels like we’re on the brink of a new civilization, whatever that looks like. On the global economy, I’m actually starting to look into investing in gold / silver, which we always seem to revert back to when the fiat currencies inevitably fail each time…..

    Also, have you heard anything new about Moazzam Begg? Apparently he’s been arrested (AGAIN!!). One BBC piece on it (29 April), I can’t find anything else… presumably the links are tenuous, as they apparently always have been!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Tom. It’s all fairly new to me too, so I’ll check out Elon Musk’s thoughts. Vanity Fair article here: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/elon-musk-billion-dollar-crusade-to-stop-ai-space-x
    I think you might be onto something with the precious metal angle. It’s surely a sign of how deranged everything is that we’re discussing it, but I’m not sure, as a result, if it’s feasible to talk of the next half-century of existence. Perhaps that environmental elephant in the room has other plans …
    Moazzam, on the other hand, seems to be fine. No sign of anything untoward on his Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/Moazzam_Begg

  25. Tom Pettinger says...

    Good – I typed “Moazzam Begg charges” into Google and this came up from the BBC: “29 Apr 2017 – Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg and a 44-year-old woman have been charged with terror offences related to Syria”, with a video. The article must have been edited or something then rather than newly-posted! Good to hear.

    I agree, talking about the end of humanity would seem crazy, but there’s so many world-ending scenarios out there! Great article, thanks for the link. I think this quote sums up everybody who isn’t scared about AI: “[Zuckerberg] compared AI jitters to early fears about airplanes, noting, “We didn’t rush to put rules in place about how airplanes should work before we figured out how they’d fly in the first place” – they don’t recognize that at the point it’s too late, we can’t do anything about it because they’re self-learning, and it’s totally driven by the private (ie profit-inspired) sector, which has no motivation to consider future regulation, morality or even our existence.

    I think Musk’s one of the smartest guys on the planet: he wants to tackle climate change, so he starts Tesla and SolarCity… he wants to ensure humans have an ‘out’ against Earth catastrophes, so he develops SpaceX… he wants to ensure the best chance of a good future regarding AI, so he develops OpenAI and Neuralink…

    His thoughts (and many other experts/ thinkers) on AI come down to: we either advance like never before as a species, or likely become extinct, with no middle ground. And the consensus within the AI field seems to suggest within 30-70 years this change will come about. I’m probably equally scared for the environment, but AI seems a shorter-term risk (though I’m happy to be re-educated!!!)

    It’s a fascinating and scary time to be alive, for certain.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for alerting to me to quite how significant an individual Elon Musk is, Tom. He was on the periphery of my vision, but I hadn’t realised the significance of his efforts to end humanity’s destructive fossil fuel obsession via Tesla and SolarCity. And, of course, his AI concerns had also passed me by until you mentioned them. I definitely need to find more time to look into the basis of his fears, as he’s clearly not only colossally self-driven, like so many billionaires, but also actually aware of what he and others are doing.

  27. Tom Pettinger says...

    No problem Andy. He almost went bust with SpaceX – after using all his profits from the sale of PayPal which he founded – when the first three rockets exploded but he said his investment was worth the “10% chance” that it would work, because of the potential value to humanity. He gets emotional when he talks about it!!

    If you have the time (they’re seriously long), these two are hugely informative summaries of AI / the debate:

    The first link is a basic introduction to the road from narrow AI (what we have today) to general AI (human-level intelligence) and superintelligence (super-human AI). The second one is aimed more at those interested in social science, exploring the potential consequences – both are definitely worth a read. If you wanted a summary of them though I’d be more than willing to oblige, I love writing, and this subject!!

  28. Tom Pettinger says...

    Also, when it comes to Musk, I can tend to gush – I also want to point out that he releases (for free) Tesla patents / blueprints etc. so that the EV industry can combat fossil fuels more effectively… and that OpenAI is a non-profit. There’s a lot more I admire about the man but those two are great examples to show he actually does care.

  29. Thomas says...

    I don’t think Labour can get anywhere this time around, or for the next ten years or so.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    I have to say, Tom, that the dream of colonising Mars doesn’t push my buttons – I’d prefer people to focus on saving this planet rather than having an opt-out clause, but I certainly agree with you that Elon Musk isn’t just interested in making money, as his Tesla and OpenAI work demonstrates.
    I’ll try to find the time to read the articles you linked to, but if you wanted to write a summary that would be great, and I’d be happy to put something up here as a guest post if you could do it as an introduction for people who might be interested but don’t really know anything about it!

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s all so depressing, Thomas. The Tories traditionally have just 25% of those eligible to vote, but now they’re boosted by former UKIP voters, and by some sort of weird additional post-Brexit boost that’s also going on, so that I don’t think anyone would have a chance against them. Britain has not moved decisively to the right, because so many people don’t even vote, and the Labour and Lib Dems votes are so split because of the unfairness of first past the post, but in practical terms it’s difficult to imagine the Tories losing, even though what’s so desperately needed is for someone else to win and then to scrap first past the post forever and replace it with proportional representation.

  32. Tom Pettinger says...

    Nice one, sounds good!! I’ll get on with the summary by the end of this coming week after my dreaded PhD ‘upgrade’ process…

    Why oh why did the Lib Dems settle for the AV referendum…. I’m convinced they’d have won a PR referendum. That vote worked totally in the favour of the status quo: “Oh we’ve already had a vote on a more proportional system, why would we need another, it was so decisive” etc etc. Completely shot themselves in the foot!

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Great, Tom.
    I have to say that, when it came to the referendum vote, the Lib Dems never stood a chance, as the Tories controlled the message – I vividly recall Cameron, with a straight face, being widely reported saying that there was no fairer system than first past the post. PR would have needed vigorous and enthusiastic promotion of, as I see it, the 50,000-vote proposal – for every 50,000 votes, a party gets an MP. But which mainstream media would go for that? Any at all?
    I don’t think we can ever get rid of FPTP until we get a government that wants to get rid of it, but it’s vicious circle, because we can’t get a government into office that believes in PR …

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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