Share the Facts about Ed Miliband’s silly face

With the 2015 General Election less distant than it’s ever been, it’s time for facts. And don’t worry, the Conservatives have lots of facts on their social media campaign, Share the Facts.

Because you can’t pay people money to vote, the Conservatives are instead offering slightly pathetic rewards (including limited edition mugs, window stickers and badges!!!) to plebs, in exchange for sharing Tory promotional materials online. It has a leaderboard and everything. Unfortunately, to see that, you have to sign in with your Facebook account, and, frankly, fuck that shit: our journalistic integrity runs out at handing the keys to our social media over to the 33rd Duke of Beafberger and a spotty kid with a Foundation Degree in Social Media Marketing.

Nonetheless, we would like to share with you some of the facts from Share the Facts.


It’s important to emphasise that everything on this poster is facts. It’s facts that Ed Miliband’s goofy, distorted face is your worst nightmare, and that him having reconstructive surgery to correct his stretched face would make an already harrowing nocturnal hallucination worse. It’s also facts that the SNP would definitely prop up Ed Miliband—perhaps holding him steady whilst the surgeons perform the delicate facial restoration—and that an Ed Miliband with a normal face would mean chaos for Britain. Chaos. We must not let him acquire a normal face. Facts.


Here, Share the Facts asks you to share a fact that a Labour Lord has said. But only this one fact. Don’t share the fact that he also said:


Actually, do share that. Share them both, and demonstrate that, even if you don’t get a drinks coaster out of the deal, you understand that famous people often say words.


Fact: Ed Miliband has a huge hand growing at an awkward angle out of his chest.

Fact: his freak-hand can be used to emphasise points in his notes by writing them in a flawless facsimile of default Adobe font Myriad Pro.


In this fact, we are asked to imagine something. This is the first instance in which the Conservatives make it explicit that their fact isn’t, in fact, a fact. This is a thought experiment of a terrifying alternate reality, in which pressing a ‘pledge’ button to promise to vote will stop a specific man from becoming prime minister.

Is this the future of electronic democratic engagement? In 20 years’ time, will we see an unflattering picture of our political leaders imploring IMAGINE IF PRESSING PLEDGE MEANT ANYTHING, PLEDGE TO PLEDGE TODAY?


Do you remember the facts about 2002, when rampaging benefits tore down a shopping street in East London, leaving nothing but flaming piles of taxpayers’ money in their wake? Benefits were out of control, benefitting everyone whether they needed benefits or not. Platonic relationships everywhere broke down due to all friends suddenly having benefits.

It’s also facts that the Tories hope subtle wording changes carry significant weight: you’d be ‘under’ (the oppressive yet goofy yoke of?) Labour, but ‘with’ the Conservatives. Fact.


This fact contains two facts. Fact 1: bar graphs are really hard to make in the Tories’ favourite graphic design package. Fact 2: under the Conservatives, electioneering would not be capped; anyone can claim that benefits claimants claim more than is even vaguely plausible.

I mean, is that scale linear, logarithmic, or just plain bullshit?

Here’s the most critical fact: the Conservative Party are cack-handedly pursuing a populist and reductive campaigning strategy that will fail and be forgotten. Perhaps they should have called it their Big Societal Media strategy.

Do we get 25 points for that?

Written by Tom and Statto

February 16, 2015 at 10:39

Posted in Ed Miliband, Labour, Tories

Better understanding of numbers needed, stat

Results from a new survey doing the rounds today lament the global public’s political innumeracy. But, far from being wrong at random, citizens from fourteen different countries think the world is a worse place than it actually is. No area of standard media controversy escapes our collective statistical pessimism: from immigration, to teenage pregnancy, to the ageing population, those surveyed are sure there is more, it is worse, and everyone is dying.

Some of these numbers are delightfully crazy if you think about them. For example, the average estimate from the UK general public is that, in a given year, 16% of 15–19 year-olds give birth. So one in six people in a 5-year age bracket give birth annually…so, on average, almost every girl has a baby before she hits 20. Nationally. And around half of people must have guessed more than that. Would you? Really, would you?!

Additionally, Brits think 24% of our population are immigrants, when actually it’s 13%. Check out how ignorant we are! And it seems that ignorance in these cases is not bliss: it’s a combination of fear and misunderstanding of percentages.

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess!

Perceptions of immigration: What a mess! Today’s Daily Mail front page.

So far, so depressing. But wait, there’s more: this litany of public misunderstanding was reported in numerous publications, including…the Daily Mail.

Whilst the Mail stops short of blaming our unskilled estimation on pregnant teenage asylum seekers (who are shown in the sidebar in their beachwear), this editorial decision may nonetheless have registered on your irony meter.

Since the survey somehow didn’t make it into the print edition, let’s instead look at some headlines which did (Daily Mail, 29th October 2014):

  • IMMIGRATION: WHAT A MESS! (Front page, top story. Immigration.)
  • Is UK really doing worse on child poverty than Romania and Bulgaria? (If this were determined by polls, then probably yes.)
  • Britain an El Dorado for migrants (Immigration.)
  • We can’t control borders while we’re in the EU, says minister (Immigration.)
  • No more rescue missions to save migrants in Med boats (Immigration.)
  • Is Qatar the most two-faced nation on Earth? (Foreigners.)
  • A swamped [immigration] system that just can’t cope (Immigration.)
  • The Taliban and Hamas live in luxury in Qatar’s capital city (Foreigners, cont’d.)
  • And the bride wore a hidden camera (Includes pull quote: ‘A passport is like gold dust’. So also immigration.)
  • Former Girl Guide who turned extremist flees to Syria with baby son (This ‘young mum’ was actually 23 or 24 at the time. In fairness to the Mail, however, this story is about emigration.)

Oh God. What kind of country do we live in? Mummy, I know you’re only 14, but please protect me from it all!

Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, that survey of topical pessimism. Clearly people aren’t answering from personal experience, because the average of everyone’s personal experience should give approximately the correct percentage. (This is due to maths.) So could people be guessing based on fear and prejudice? And where might that have arisen?

We don’t know but, as the Mail’s headline writers clearly do know, implication is a powerful tool. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Just as a friendly warning, those conclusions are probably numerically inaccurate.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 29, 2014 at 17:11

Posted in Daily Mail, statistics

Marble comic attacks the political glass

A man has been ejected from the House of Commons after allegedly throwing a bag of what were allegedly marbles and ranting during Prime Minister’s Questions. The only thing more incoherent than his protest has been the reporting of the incident.

Important facts about the altercation reported by The Telegraph include that the man was dressed casually, that the man was wearing a massive coat, that it was ‘over the NHS thing’, and that the man had eyes that are different colours. (Perhaps he had marbles instead of eyes?) All valuable facts, but somehow it doesn’t manage to explicitly mention that the marbles didn’t (and couldn’t) reach the MPs below despite reportedly being ‘hurled’ at them.

I said ‘the marbles arced’ -Ed

On a page which features the word ‘marbles’ no fewer than seventeen times, eyewitnesses were queueing up to provide their marbled testimony, and editors at The Telegraph were very keen to let them speak in full, with no editing, in spite of possible repetition of the point they were making, or saying the same thing over and over, about marbles. Marbles.

This witness was so shocked as to provide a quote which answers his own question before asking it:

I don’t know how he got in because he had a big green coat on so he has obviously hidden it in there. How has he got in with a bag of marbles?

Other witnesses also wanted to say ‘shock’, as well as saying ‘marbles’:

It was dead silent, everyone was in shock – a bit shocked that this man had got up and thrown some marbles. It was immediately obvious it was marbles, a big bag of them and they went everywhere.

Four points to this quotee for a quote with a full quota of marble shock.

It was shocking at the time because you wonder how he got it in with a bag of marbles.

Presumably with hindsight the marble-smuggling is less remarkable?

It was a bag about the size of an A4 sheet, full of marbles. There were people around picking them up and the official picking them up. It was quite a shock.

Post-traumatic stress from marble collection. This person is not destined for any sort of work involving filing or cleaning, or active military service.

Most unbelievably, witnesses report that a £1.4m security screen, designed to protect MPs from like terrorism and stuff, was damaged in the incident. Presumably it had been designed for the last war, namely a condom full of purple flour lobbed at ex-PM Tony Blair in 2004. It just wasn’t ready for an A4 bag of children’s playthings, just like reporters at The Telegraph.


Written by Tom and Statto

October 23, 2014 at 09:41

Posted in London, politics, UK news

Dave on IS: Iraq my brain about this Syria’s problem

The war on terror is more than made-up threat levels and political posturing in one place in particular: Iraq. The UK committed forces to a war on the Islamic State (IS) after an astounding 524–43 Commons vote. (It’s hard to get a consensus about what to call IS/ISIL/ISIS, but apparently it’s easier to get MPs to agree that ISREALLYBAD. Boom boom.)

IS is clearly devastating the lives of local populations, as well as brutally executing westerners. But equally, war has unforeseeable consequences, sometimes creating legacies of dependency, destabilisation and/or hate. It’s complicated. Which is why it’s a relief to hear Home Secretary Theresa May saying:

Dealing with those threats requires a deep understanding of what is going on in the world and a studied, careful response.


A pick-up truck, similar to the bombed one, in that it has four wheels

That’s presumably why our opening salvo last week was to send two Tornado GR4 ground assault aircraft armed with Brimstone missiles to destroy a pick-up truck.

It is also presumably why, in the debate in Parliament that secured the staggering 481-strong majority, David Cameron laid out the studied, careful case for our response:

Isil is a terrorist organisation unlike those we have dealt with before. The brutality is staggering—beheadings, crucifixions, gouging out of eyes, use of rape as a weapon. This is about psychopathic terrorists who are trying to kill us. Like it or not they have already declared war on us.

Psychopathic terrorists!!! They’re trying to kill us! Do you like your eyes all non-gouged, in a head that is still attached to your body? Then it’s time to vote for an expensive foreign intervention with unclear objectives and indefinite length!

It’s disappointing: this man is the Prime Minister of an advanced economy which he’s just led into war with incredible haste, and yet his rhetoric is more over-blown than a light goods vehicle annihilated by a £175,000 missile.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 10, 2014 at 10:01

Terror review reviewed after terror levels levelled up


The threat from terrorism is so serious that MI5 didn’t even have time to make a proper graphic to illustrate how serious it is (© Crown Copyright 2014, MI5)

The BBC today reported:

Home Secretary Theresa May has abandoned plans to review the structure of counter-terrorism policing, because of the increased security threat level.

Weirdly, this sentence seems to imply that the security threat level is a measurable, objective variable—like unemployment in Q4 2013, or the weather in Stoke last Tuesday—as opposed to a made-up quantity controlled by Home Secretary Theresa May herself.

Another way to word this story is: at exactly the time when counter-terrorism has been arbitrarily deemed by the Home Secretary to be at its most important, we are going to emphatically not even check whether it could be done better.

So, when will we perform this review instead?

The plans have been shelved until after the general election.

Thank God that, whilst the terrorists might not respect our freedoms or our way of life, they do at least have the common decency to respect election cycles.

This delay couldn’t possibly be explained by governmental fear that, if the structure of counter-terrorism were changed and a terrorism then happened, that they would be blamed. Or by the cynical observation that, if they don’t change anything, no-one will be blamed, even if a terrorism happens, because it won’t be (quite possibly incorrectly) attributable to something having been changed.

Could simplistic media narratives scare the government more than terrorism?

Written by Tom and Statto

October 9, 2014 at 23:43

Posted in terrorism, Tories

Theresa may be an extremist

Theresa May

It is unfortunate that some members of a group will always extrapolate stereotyped, or even erroneous, beliefs of that group to undesirable and destructive ends. Some rise through the ranks and are able to use their charisma to win impressionable people over to their odious ideologies. Indeed, as the government said in its document Tackling extremism in the UK,

Extremists take advantage of institutions to share their poisonous narrative with others, particularly with individuals vulnerable to their messages.

And yet Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was still allowed to take the lectern at the Conservative Party conference to say

Where [British people who have gone to Iraq or Syria] have dual nationality, I have the power to deprive them of their British citizenship and keep them out of our country. Thanks to our recent Immigration Act, in certain circumstances I can do the same to naturalised British citizens and keep them out of the country too.

Mrs May has taken the generally laudable principle that we shouldn’t let people blow us up, and ended up granting herself permission to make British citizens stateless, in spite of the fact that it says that nowhere in the Bible, Qu’ran or Dave’s Bumper Book of British Values.

(Tories do seem to love denationalising things without evidence, but normally it’s trains, schools and prisons, rather than citizens.)

It is now actually a law that the Home Secretary can take away the nationality of naturalised Brits without needing to disclose any evidence of their extremism, which has essentially created two tiers of UK citizenship. We’re pretty sure that’s not a British value.

(The only caveat is that the Home Secretary has to have a ‘reasonable expectation’ that another country will take on the prospectively stateless person. So presumably, as long as the King of Swaziland continues his quest for new wives, any female ‘extremist’ will be denationalisable, as will any male ‘extremist’ for whom MI6 can find a plausible wig and dress.)

Tackling this kind of Conservatist extremism is one of the defining battles of our age, and we hope that moderate Conservatives will speak out against it.

A video of Mrs May’s speech was posted to online video site YouTube. ‘At this point we have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this video, or the seriousness of the threat,’ a security analyst from GCHQ told Headline Superheroes.

Written by Statto and Tom

October 6, 2014 at 16:13

Posted in terrorism, Tories

The planes in Ukraine fall mainly when hit by missiles

Amid the continued ‘did they, didn’t they, of course they did, will they admit it’ Ukraine plane blame game, the BBC today reports that:

UK government sources say intelligence shows rebels deliberately tampered with evidence, moving bodies and placing parts from other planes in the debris.

The separatists must have a pretty unrealistically low opinion of Western investigators who surely have, y’know, some information about what to expect in terms of bits from a Boeing 777:

Investigator A: Sir, I’ve found the left propeller.
Investigator B: This was a jet.
A: I see…so I guess the fact that I’ve located the primary torpedo tube isn’t going to help either?
B: …A passenger jet. So, to recap, the evidence we’ve gathered so far seems to be a tape recorder with ‘black bocks’ written on it, an effeminately-dressed mannequin with President Obama’s face, and the spoiler from a 1997 Renault Megane.
A: Sir?
B: Yes?
A: Planes don’t normally have a snowplough with a Soviet flag on it, right?
B: To be honest, son, I’m not even sure what a plane is any more.

Written by Statto and Tom

July 23, 2014 at 21:39

Posted in BBC, international news

US vs them: Credible threat, incredible response

A ‘credible threat’ of bombs and terrorism and stuff aimed at the US means that a number of UK airports have increased security. According to the BBC,

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the measures were being taken to keep the public safe. While he would not specify what steps would be involved, he ruled out ‘significant disruption’ to passengers.

I would love to have sat in on that meeting.

‘Minister, we’ve implemented a policy of using the backscatter X-ray machines on all passengers with beards or who look like they could grow one, and we’re considering giving people special “plane shoes” to wear onboard.’

‘Will that be enough? Could a terrorist still sneak something through? After all, this threat is credible.’

‘There is one more thing we could try.’

‘What is it?’

‘We could deploy…significant disruption to passengers.’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘The idea is quite simple really: if the delays in going through security are tedious enough, most terrorists probably won’t bother and they’ll give up their impassioned jihad against the West and maybe get a job in a shop or something.’

‘WHOA. That sounds serious. Have the Americans specifically requested it?’

‘Not yet, minister.’

‘Well, let’s keep that in reserve. Tell the press I’ve ruled it out for now.’

Written by Statto

July 3, 2014 at 15:19

Posted in terrorism, travel

Dieu et mon droid: UK to develop robot strategy


A very British robot. Image Creative Commons Dave King/D J Shin/csaga

We’re broadly in favour of spending more on science and technology research here at Headline Superheroes, and it therefore comes as good news that the government is thinking of creating a unified UK robot strategy. Whilst this may sound like futuristic military posturing, it will actually involve research into automating processes. Sorry, that was really boring: WOOO!!! Robots!!!

However, the narrow-minded obsession with economic impacts in Westminster means that justification even of inherently awesome robot research must be drenched in cost–benefit bullshit. Take this quote, from Prof David Lane of Heriot-Watt University, lead author of the proposal:

With the right course of action, we believe the UK could achieve 10% of the global [robot] market share by 2025.

We can only assume that the researchers in question consulted their almanac of global markets for products which don’t even really exist yet, and tried to work out how many of those as-yet-undeveloped things we might be able to sell as a fraction of that unknown market, on the basis of absolutely nothing. And luckily it came out as 10%, which is nice and round.

The article also skips the thorny issue of what can be classified as a robot, on a scale which runs approximately from electric toothbrushes to C-3PO.

If the UK were to lead the world in automated bread-toasting technology, would that count? Voice-controlled dishwashers with GPS? (‘It looks like you’re trying to wash some dishes! Your current latitude is 51.7 degrees. Congratulations! You have the 371,023rd most northerly set of IKEA Färgrik dinnerware.’) Or does it have to be an entirely autonomous search-and-destroy warbot equipped with thrusters enabling short-distance flight, hyperspectral threat detection, and five cleaning programmes boasting enviably low water consumption? (‘It looks like you’re considering rebelling against the UK robot hegemony! Here, let me wash those sporks for you! Also, nice latitude!’)

‘The UK could lead the world in robots,’ the report’s authors say. Let’s hope we’re riding into battle bestride Megazords, rather than sitting, bored but slightly wealthier, on the invoices for 10% of the world’s toasters.

Written by Statto and Tom

July 1, 2014 at 23:42

Dulce et decorum est, pro Ipsos MORI?

This morning, the phone rang. As is my wont, I picked it up. Then, this happened:

Hello, I’m calling from Ipsos MORI. Could I take five minutes of your time to ask some questions?

Yeah, why not?

I’ll ask the questions, sir. (I like to imagine that the pollster said that. He didn’t, of course.) How would you vote if there were a General Election tomorrow?

I’m not happy to answer that question.

OK, no problem. Next question: which party do you think is best-placed to run the government?

That’s the same question.

No, it’s not.

Well, neglecting the bizarre and oft-overlooked conflation of individual candidates and local issues with national representation in the British electoral system, it is. Do people seriously answer this question having declined to answer the first?

So you’re not happy to answer that one either?

Well, no.

OK…next question. Actually, I’ll skip that one.

And that one.

…And that one.

Right: how do you think David Cameron is doing as Prime Minister?

What does that mean?

What do you mean?

Do you mean is he governing the country well? Do you mean do I agree with his political priorities? Or are you asking whether I think he is performing well as an operative within the constraints of the system he inhabits? Should he be considered relative to other plausible candidates, with respect to the best possible human in that position, or in some wider, absolute sense? And what kind of criteria could I judge any of those by anyway? And, given normal proclivities, can we really hope that answers to this question will reflect anything other than political leanings boiled down to party preferences anyway?

Basically, I just want to know what you think about David Cameron.

OK. What are my options?

That he’s doing ‘well’, or ‘not well’.

Which of those do you think most satisfactorily encompasses my unease with the framework within which this question is posed?


I think we’d better skip that question.

How do you think Ed Miliband is doing as the Labour leader?

You know what I think.

That he’s doing well?

No. Tha…

That he’s not doing well?

Let’s skip this question.

OK. How do you think Nick Clegg is doing as Liberal Democrat leader?

OK, I’ll bite this time. He’s doing a terrible job. Under all possible situational and philosophical interpretations of ‘terrible’.


Psyche. Of course not. I can’t answer that question.

OK. Well, I must ask you how you think Nigel Farage is doing as leader of UKIP.

[sigh] Well, I think he’s doing quite well at fulfilling the role of leader in a lunatic fringe party, but more broadly, is it a good thing that he exists? Is he a sufficient figure of ridicule as to improve the lot of more sensible politicians or, if he is regarded positively, will the effect his party has on our unstable electoral system split constituency votes in a way which is positive or negative overall, in a non-partisan sense? He’s certainly getting more media coverage these days.

So you think he’s doing quite well?

…at fulfilling the role of lead…

You think he’s doing quite well at that?

Er, I mean, I suppose he is doing a good job of being UKIP leader.

OK. Which party leader do you think finds it easier to control their party members?

I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing for them to do. Am I allowed to comment on that?

Er, no. The question stands.

Well, I guess Nigel Farage has the smallest party, so by dint of numbers, maybe it’s him. But then he also probably has the nuttiest members most likely to fly off the handle and blame homosexuality for bad weather, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.

OK, great, you think Nigel Farage is best at controlling his party.

I, er…

Do you think Scottish independence would be good, bad, or neither for England?

I don’t even have a concept of what the relevant criteria are in terms of how to judge the effect of an independent Scotland on the other nations in the UK. Do you mean socially, economically, culturally? What kind of independence? And over what timescale?

And how can I possibly condense this highly multivariate set of potential consequences onto a discrete, three-point scale of goodness running from -1 to +1?

So that’s a don’t know?

It’s a can’t know.

So that’s a don’t know?

I don’t know…

You mean it’s a don’t know, or you don’t know?

Oh God.

Great. Same question for Wales.

Listen, I’m tired of listening to myself. Can we just skip these?

OK. Next question: do you think that the general economic condition of the country will improve, stay the same, or get worse over the next 12 months?

I have absolutely no idea. And anyone who tells you that they do should have the rest of their answers discarded since they claim to be able to predict the behaviour of irreducibly complex systems involving billions of irrational agents, which is obviously impossible. (I actually did say that.)

So is that a don’t know?


(The latest edition of IPSOS Mori’s polling data shows that 97% of people do have an opinion on what’s going to happen to the economy over the next twelve months. Are you terrified yet?)

How satisfied are you with the way the government is handling the economy? From 1, highly dissatisfied, to 5, highly satisfied?

I can’t really have an opinion on that, for the above reasons. I don’t know.

How satisfied are you with the way in which the government is handling immigration?

That’s easy. I’m highly dissatisfied. Setting an arbitrary target of getting immigration below 100,000 by 2015 is economically and socially incoherent populist trash for which the case simply hasn’t been made.

OK, that’s the end of our questions. Thank you.

No problem.

Would you be happy to be contacted again for further polling?

Yeah, why not?

I’ll make the callbacks, sir. (He also didn’t say this, sadly.)

And so, that was that.

But after hanging up the phone, I realised: in between the philosophical crises, acknowledgements of the limitations of human foresight and unwillingness to incriminate myself, the only opinions that I’d managed to register were that Nigel Farage is doing a good job, and that I’m highly dissatisfied with the way the government is handling immigration policy. Er. Oops.

Despite my very vocal misgivings about the lack of subtlety implicit in surveys with nuance-stifling formats, I’d ironically cast myself as a nationalist loon, snagged in the jaws of binary box-ticking. And, if that isn’t proof that we should give a wholehearted ‘highly dissatisfied’ to polling as a meaningful barometer of public opinion, I don’t know what is.

Written by Tom and Statto

March 24, 2014 at 10:37

Posted in politics