Use your Ed? How I put Miliband into Number 10 (just)
I’ve long been a fan of 270Soft’s election simulation games: President Forever allowing you to replay US presidential contests (including primaries) both historically and for 2016 and Prime Minister Forever which translates the format for British general elections.
There are also versions for Canadian, Australian and German parliamenary elections. So I was delighted to get an early release of Prime Minister Infinity, which allows you to simulate the forthcoming UK general 2015 election with party and strategy of your choice.
The game is essentially an exercise in positioning and managing and deploying resources – realistic enough many political scientists would say – which entails framing your platform and picking your campaign themes; targeting your leader’s campaigning, debate preparation and issue knowledge; and planning your advertising. Needless to say Events-Dear-Boy can intervene and you also get to spend of your precious time and resources spinning good or bad news.
Anyone familiar with President Forever and its spinoffs will find the game quick enough to pick up, although options and gameplay have become more complex compared to the earlier Prime Minister Forever – especially with the provision for much more detailed constitutency-level campaigning. Few real political devotees would probably mind this, although it makes for a longer a game (2-3 hours) and anyone serious political geeks could probably spend a couple of days carefully scanning the marginals and the polls before plotting their next move (the game has daily turns from early January untill May 5 Polling Day.
Anyone not familiar with the 270.soft stable of games will probably have steeper learning curve or might want to have a crack at President Foreover where you have a mere 50 states, to range over rather than 650 constiuencies, although PM Infinity does provide helpful regional summary which simplify your task a bit.
Relishing a challenge and wanting to have a real chance of power, I stepped into the shoes of Ed Milliband with the computer playing the part of the other parties (including a small rather unrealistic bloc of Independents who I probably should have turned off at the start – they eventually won four seats).
A war on two fronts
Having won a famous victory keeping Gordon Brown in Downing Street in the earlier version of the game, I was initially confident. But it was soon clear I was up against it.
Grimly it was quickly evident that I needed to fight a war on two fronts: one against the SNP in Scotland to try and prevent a wipeout of Labour seats – alarming to see Glasgow and Strathcydle flashing up as margins along with the familiar English market towns; the second against the familiar Tory opposition in the Midlands, outler London and the South East of England.
In Scotland I focused my energies on the Lowlands going for a negative campaign attacking the SNP on devolution, family policy and economic competence and targetting key seats and building organisation to fight a ground war. But the SNP were: it was hard to land a blow on them and expensive adds repeated backfired and even my extensive spinning when a big scandal erupted.
Attacking the Tories in England proved easier: ads on the NHS, families and tax all went down well the voters, although the polls refused to move and then suggested the Tories were gaining ground – provoking a collapse in headquarters morale – before the People’s Party recovered as I stoked up the billboard advertising.
Squeezed resources – and a growing obsession with defeating the Scots Nats – saw my position in the Home Counties detiorate as target seats like Hastings went (and in the end stayed) Tory.
In a last throw the dice in April I also launched attack ads on the Greens and the liberals trying to squeeze ever progressive vote (hopefully) in my direction.
Use your Ed?
I quickly worked out that Ed Miliband was not a campaigning asset. Barnstorming the constituencies with Ed was ineffective to the point of being a waste of time and he was positively toxic North of the border. I quickly kept him confined confined to a few well received set piece policy speeches and rallies in the North of England and Midlands and invested some time setting up Harriet Harman to tour the marginals.
Despite my investing heavily in his debating skills, Ed also lost out badly in all three debates, trailing Cameron in the final head-to-head and being pushed to the margins by a triumphant Farage in the first one. (Farage’s star rather faded in the second debate when all other party leaders ganged up on him).
A Pyrrhic victory
The result was an unexpected but distinctly Pyrrhic victory for Ed Milliband: a hung parliament with Labour (295) well ahead on seats over the Tories (263) but narrowly behind on the popular vote (29.1% – 29.6%). The real winners, although not spectacularly, were UKIP coming in with 15% of the vote and 8 seats, but – fortunately for me – the expected Lib Dem meltdown took place on a less than apolocaltypic scale. Nick Clegg’s party pulled in 12% and saw its seats roughly halved to 27. My efforts to stem the SNP tide were only partly successful: my bare knuckle fight against the Nats saw Labour narrowly emergence largest party in the Lowlands in vote share and the clear winner in terms of seats (18 – 7) – some achievement I think – but the SNP soared away in the North East Scotland and the Highlands. In the end Nicola Sturgeon’s party won 34 seats, a clear majority in Scotland. I really should have targetted seats better.
The result? Alas the beta-version I was playing was too buggy to allow me to dealve down to constituency-by- constituency that would have some politics lecturers seating up all night, although I do know that my last minute efforts to dish the Greens in Brighton, Bristol and Norwich (it was a relentlessly negative campaign I’m afraid) paid dividends and deprived Caroline Lucas of her seat.
But in the end the numbers told there own story: Ed Milliband in Downing Street by the seat of his pants with the only viable government this time a minority Lib-Lab Coalition ( = 322 seats, four short of a majority) propped upon on some confidence-and-supply basis by the the SNP or gaining the barest of those four independent or Northern Ireland’s handful of SDLP member (helped by the fact that Sinn Fein MPs never take their seats in Westminster).
But surely a bumpy ride ahead for a weak government with the Tories aggrieved having topping the poll and ended up in opposition UKIP heavily underpresented? What would ensue? A right-wing push for electoral reform? A UKIP-Conservative pact?
As with the real 2015 election, Prime Minister Infinity seems a game that nobody can win.