The Electoral Commission has just published the spending of the main political parties for the 2015 general election last May. I had a brief look at it earlier today, but I thought I’d go back to it and pick out a few interesting tidbits.
1. Conservatives dominate social media
This pie chart tells the story. The Conservatives trounced their competitors in spending on social media and Google ads in May.
Labour were a distant fifth, behind the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.
Ed Miliband’s former party spent much more on social media marketing companies, such as £155,611.20 on Experian Ltd and £74,400.00 on Alchemy Social, which also features on Experian’s website.
2. Travelling in style
The Tories spent a hefty £119,634.48 with Sovereign Business Jets. Based in Biggin Hill, Kent, they offer private jets and helicopters to charter. David Cameron’s party also spent another £14,688 with Eastern Atlantic Helicopters Limited.
They weren’t the only ones to take to the skies. The Scottish National Party spent £35,450 with PDG Helicopters, while UKIP spent £16,055 with Jota Aviation.
There was no sign of air travel in the Green Party’s records. The pro-environment party’s largest transport expenditure was £13,000 with The Big Red Bus.
3. Starting early
Not only did the Conservatives outspend their rivals overall, they also started much earlier. This chart looks at the dates that expenses were marked ‘paid’. By the turn of last year, the Conservatives had already spent almost a fifth of their final total. Labour had spent just 1.8%.
Getting off to an early start wasn’t essential for success. The SNP spent all their money in 2015 and virtually swept the board in Scotland.
4. Value for money
The first-past-the-post electoral system rewards parties that have concentrated support in certain areas and makes life difficult for parties whose support is spread out around Britain.
UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems found this out to their cost. They spent £7.5m between them for a grand total of just ten seats.
The system is much kinder to the parties that compete in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Their support is concentrated in these areas. This means more chance of winning seats, as well as huge savings on transport costs as candidates don’t need to zip from one corner of Britain to the other. The SNP’s ‘Sturgeon-copter‘ may have looked presidential, but her party could afford to splash out – the SNP spent less than a tenth of Labour on transport.
There is much to ponder in this data for Labour strategists trying to work out why they lost in May. The Conservatives spent heavily on Facebook and started burning through their war chest much earlier. According to BuzzFeed, the Tory focus on Facebook was deliberate – Twitter was thought to be the domain of journalists and political activists rather than undecided voters.
Coincidentally, the Beckett report into Labour’s election defeat was also published this week. Here is what Dame Margaret had to say about social media:
We should develop and promote the possibilities of social mediafor communicating with the public at large, while recognising the risk it carriesof self-reinforcing messages and assumptions.
Lastly, there was no data for the Ed Stone. The widely-ridiculed stone pledge was missing from the Electoral Commission data – an ‘administrative error’, Labour said.
The party is seeking to ‘rectify this error as soon as possible’ – no doubt political hacks will be keen to learn exactly when they do.
Here is a copy of the spreadsheet I used. You’re welcome to download it and run your own analysis.
The Daily Mirror, February 11th, 2014. The Mirror also used my data, obtained under Freedom of Information, that showed a sharp rise in the number of police officers taking days of leave for mental health reasons.
The Sunday Mercury, February 23rd 2014. Reporting on my analysis of dog attacks in the West Midlands.
The Daily Post, February 20th, 2014. I scraped data from the MPs’ register of interests on overseas visits. The Daily Post, based in North Wales, reported on local MP Ian Lucas’s travels. The paper used our map, created with Tripline, retracing his air miles.
The Liverpool Echo, February 9th, 2014. The Echo reported on our analysis of the high reoffending rates in Merseyside.
British companies have been allowed to export arms and military hardware worth nearly £300m to countries that the Foreign Office has named as serial human rights violators this year.
China, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the FCO’s 27 “Countries of Concern” to which the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has sanctioned sales of weapons and other controlled goods.
As the world’s defence industry convenes today for the start of DSEI arms fair at the ExCel centre in London, BIS data, compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, shows the extent of the demand for, and potential British trade in, weapons and other defence products to repressive regimes.
The Government has approved licenses worth £10.2bn so far in 2013. Israel was by far the largest target buyer with £7.8bn of equipment that requires licenses to export.
The FCO lists Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories among its “Countries of Concern”, citing the situation in Gaza and what the FCO believes is Israeli obstruction of the peace process, as well as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority activity in Gaza and the West Bank.
It’s important to stress the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” part of that designation – the FCO says that human rights violations are happening on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, but BIS’s license data only covers Israel. But it seems extremely harsh to group Israel with countries such as North Korea, Syria and Saudi Arabia for human rights, which might explain BIS’s willingness to sanction arms to the country. Freedom House, for example, rates Israel as a “free” country (although Gaza and the West Bank are listed as “not free”).
This chart drops Israel and focuses on the other 26 countries of concern. China becomes the biggest intended target of arms sales. BIS has approved licenses worth £222.7m to the one-party state so far this year. Another big contract is Russia, which is allied with Syria, a country that last month David Cameron unsuccessfully tried to drum up parliamentary support to bomb. BIS approved £9.4m of weapons and other goods to Pakistan, a country where US intelligence is particularly concerned that weapons may fall into the wrong hands.
The list of countries of concern that aren’t open for business to Britain’s arms manufacturers is a short, sad one. Just five of the 27 had no licenses approved for them at all – they are Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria and Fiji. Last year, with the Syrian civil war raging, BIS granted licenses to export chemicals to Syria that would have been able to be used to make nerve agents.
In this world map, you can see the countries of concern to which BIS has allowed sales in green, and the ones it hasn’t in purple:
The map excludes many more countries to which Britain sells arms and about which the FCO has no serious human rights qualms. While much of Britain’s manufacturing base is gone, we are still a world leader at making the things that foreign armies and police forces say they need.
If the Government does do that, it will be Grayling’s department, the Ministry of Justice, that it should focus on. In the last financial year the MoJ spent £283m on G4S’s services, or 71 per cent of all government money, according to data collected by Barry Sheerman MP (data here).
The Home Office was the next biggest client of G4S last year. It spent £43.7m in contracts with the company in 2011-12. One of those contracts, which is now run by Tascor, in the Capita Group, involved handling deportations from Britain. One man, Jimmy Mubenga, died on one a plane due to leave the country in October 2010 after being restrained by three G4S guards. An inquest jury found he had been unlawfully killed.
Elsewhere, G4S received £32m from the DWP. Some of that money will be for running part of the Work Programme, which G4S runs with 17 other prime contractors. Of the people who joined in March 2012 and stayed for a year on the programme, just 13.4 per cent have found employment for three to six months.
For anyone uneasy about the Government’s outsourcing of more and more services to private companies, the promise of a review into G4S and Serco contracts is not much comfort.
“I would not countenance a situation…where we allowed a debate about two contractors [G4S and Serco] to taint the reputations of outsourcing organisations that work and do a good job across government,” Grayling said in the House of Commons today.
In other words, the privatisation bandwagon rolls on.
Note before you start reading: this is just over 3000 words long. It takes between 10-15 minutes to read. It’s best enjoyed with a cup of tea, a comfy chair and your favourite music playing softly in the background. Read on…
When Keith Richards starts up his distinctive riff on (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction at Glastonbury Festival tonight, he will be playing to a crowd on average just under half his age. He is 70 this year.
The Rolling Stones are the latest in a procession of ageing rockers to grace the Pyramid Stage. Stevie Wonder, who rounded off Glastonbury’s fortieth birthday celebrations in 2010, made his debut as a precocious 12-year-old nine years before the first music-lovers descended on Worthy Farm. The triumph of baby boomer era rock came the year before, when headliners Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Blur had 95 years of experience between them.
The data confirms a definite shift towards older bands at major British music festivals. The average Glastonbury headliner between 2008 and this year released their first album 12 years before stepping on to the Pyramid Stage. The average for the previous five editions was six years, and the five before them was seven. At the Reading and Leeds festivals, the average age has gone up from six years from 1995 to 2001 to 16 years from 2008 to 2013. Green Day and Eminem, two of this year’s headliners, have been going since before some of this year’s crowd were even born.
Your new favourite band
The digitization of music, through both legitimate music services such as Spotify and illegal downloading and file-sharing, has opened most of the world’s supply of recorded music to a new generation. With gigabytes of music at our fingertips, why is it that the old guard are still topping the bills?
According to James Scarlett, one of the organisers of 2000trees, a music festival in Gloucestershire that focuses on new music, this access is precisely the point.
“Music is so accessible for free now, so people jump on a daily or weekly basis from one favourite band to the next,” he says.
Digital music gives the consumer more choice – you can skip from Abba to Jay-Z in one click – but it makes it harder for new artists to attract a devoted following that can translate into a sizeable festival crowd. Consequently they struggle to move up the bills of major festivals. The irony is that the increased choice on our computers has led to less choice on stage.
“I do think that means that the bigger rock acts are not actually coming through. They don’t get that obsession that people used to have with Green Day or Nirvana or back further with Metallica,” Mr Scarlett says.
Both legal digital music services and file-sharing programs have “unbundled” music. Before iTunes and Spotify, making a playlist of your favourite music was beyond the reach of almost everyone except club DJs and radio presenters. CD players and tape recorders could only play one record at a time. With Spotify you can create infinite combinations of your favourite music.
“I’m in my thirties and when I was young I used to get obsessed with a band and you’d listen to them for months and months,” James says.
Spotify offers the option to rank an artist’s songs by popularity. With over 24 million active users, it has a vast repository of data on users’ listening habits. Ranking an artist by song popularity will read like a Greatest Hits compilation. That is perfect for the casual consumer, but makes it hard for organisers to feel confident that 20,000 fans will turn up to a festival performance for a relatively new band.
Never ending tours
When Bob Dylan played to a crowd at Concord Pavilion in California in June 1988, no one there could have known that he would still be on tour 15 years later. Dylan has toured more or less continuously on the “Never Ending Tour” since according to fan website Still on the Road.
With a reported net worth of $80 million, it is unlikely Dylan does it for the money. However for many acts large and small, being on the road constantly is now a way to make up for lost CD and digital music sales.
“Headliners are making less money from recorded music. Their live performances are their way to compensate for that,” says Helienne Lindvall, a musician and journalist at The Guardian.
“When you take a look further back in the history of music, when you get to the old festivals like Woodstock and the original Isle of Wight festival, there weren’t nearly as many gigs as there are now.
“If you wanted to listen to music you couldn’t just turn your laptop on and go on YouTube or Spotify. You could put on a festival in a field, book some current acts and not have to worry about booking massive older acts,” he says.
Acts such as Chris have to compete against other bands on tour, such as the Rolling Stones, who have been able to build up enormous fan bases through recorded music over decades.
“Their only UK festival show”
A search on eFestivals for festivals this summer reveals over 600 matches. As the number of festivals rises and choice multiplies, the pressure on organisers to stand out in a crowded market becomes more and more intense.
“They want to have a line-up that is unique but also appears heavyweight,” says Alex Trenchard, who founded the 5000-capacity Standon Calling festival in Hertfordshire.
According to Mr Trenchard, this can make it tempting for organisers to pay a premium for an exclusive appearance at their event.
“Larger festivals pay particularly for exclusive appearances. Perhaps what that says is that there’s a lack of acts around at the moment that pack the punch of Blur or the Rolling Stones.” he says.
“I don’t know how much they charge but I can imagine it’s in the thousands of pounds,” says Paul Robins from Exile music festival.
“They’ve obviously got to make that back with the fanbase so they know these big bands are almost guaranteed to sell out because lots of people still want to go and see them.”
As the old guard continue to tour and headline, this means that new artists who are lucky enough to get a record deal are under more pressure to impress on their debut album.
“There is less money to nurture new artists. Labels will give less time to artists to develop,” says Mr Trenchard.
“If your first album flops, that’s it, whereas in the past you might have had a crack at a second album that could have been the making of you.”
There are exceptions to this rule. In 2011 Elbow were on the Pyramid Stage just before Coldplay, the Saturday headliner. It was only with the release of their fourth album The Seldom Seen Kid that they began to achieve mainstream success. The National, a band from Brooklyn, New York that specialise in melancholy rock, are another band that have taken time to draw large crowds.
Many of the world’s top festival draws had unremarkable first albums. Radiohead’s first album Pablo Honey contains fan favourite Creep, but little else from their debut is still played. Their third album, OK Computer represented a musical leap forward for the band and regularly appears at or near the top of “best albums” lists. Eminem, who headlines Reading and Leeds this year, released Infinite, his debut LP, in 1996. It flopped, but his next album The Slim Shady LP achieved mainstream success.
Unusually this year’s Glastonbury has two headliners from the post-Napster era, the Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons, but crucially both these artists achieved worldwide success with their first albums. Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, by the Sheffield band, became the fastest selling debut album in British history when it came out in 2006. Simon Mumford’s group has sold over one million British copies of their 2009 debut Sigh No More.
Glastonbury, or a week in Lanzarote?
Trying to get into a major British festival offers the clearest sense of the business behind them. The first Glastonbury festival in 1970 cost £1, £13.09 at 2012 prices, which got you into Worthy Farm with free milk. Now festivals have walls to keep out gatecrashers and some, such as Glastonbury, require you to register before you can try to buy a ticket.
The prices have rocketed. In 1983 a Glastonbury ticket would have cost £34.29, adjusted for inflation. In 1993, that had nearly trebled to £100.05. In the intervening twenty years it has doubled again. A Reading and Leeds ticket would have cost £107.88 in 1997, now it is £202.50, an 88 per cent increase.
According to a survey cited in MSN Money, 32 per cent of music fans do not attend as many music festivals as they did in the past. 58 per cent said the rising costs were a reason for staying away.
Festival-goers don’t just have to worry about the ticket prices themselves. Gigwise reported that the average cost of going to a weekend festival was £423.07, factoring in the ticket, travel, food and drink and other costs. The average Glastonbury goer is now 36 years and six months old.
However, Dan Rogers disputes the idea that young people are spending less on live music.
“I suspect that a lot of people have decided against higher cost activities. Rather than going for a week’s holiday in Lanzarote, they have decided to go to Glastonbury instead,” he says.
Meet the BBC Introducing stage
One opportunity for people to meet new bands is on the special stages that feature young talent. The best known of these is the BBC Introducing stage at festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds. T in the Park has a similar stage called T-Break. Household names such as Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran have played on BBC Introducing stages.
Artists that want to play these stages send demos to the organisers. If they are deemed good enough, they will get a slot.
“In terms of moving up the circuit it was absolutely fantastic,” says Laurie Collett Donald from Discopolis, an electronic band from Edinburgh who played on the stage at Reading and Leeds in 2011.
“That was our first English show. Reading was outside, quite late at night. People have to walk past the BBC Introducing Stage to go to other stages. A lot of people stopped and it ended up that we played to quite a lot of people,” he says.
Radio presenters and record labels keep an eye and an ear focused on the Introducing stages, Mr Collett Donald explains.
Rob McCleary, from Spotlight Kid, a Nottingham-based guitar band, was on the same stage at Glastonbury that year.
“Straight away people were getting in touch. We were fortunate to get on the Red Button. It might not seem like much but the fact that we got on the Red Button meant that we were on television.
“A booking agent saw us on there. He got in touch pretty much straight afterwards. He said he saw our performance and asked whether we would like to join our booking agency. That was a big deal for us because that meant we could go on tour,” he says.
However, a slot on the Introducing stage is not a guarantee of further success. Mr McCleary tells me that since 2011, his band’s agent has struggled to get them on to more festivals because to save time, festival organisers tend to go through the bigger agents.
“Listening in your car music”
“They have to try and meet all these different diverse needs. These bland, middle-of-the-road headlining bands are going to fit because they’re so popular. It’s listening in your car music,” Mr McCleary contends.
Glastonbury Festival requires you to buy a ticket before any of the major acts are announced.
“How can people be bothered about the music if they’re buying tickets for a festival before they have even announced the line-up?
“To be fair, at Glastonbury we had an amazing opportunity through the BBC Introducing stage. They do want to support local and up-and-coming bands,” he says.
Revelling – in nostalgia?
How much does it matter that bands like Spotlight Kid struggle with the downward pressure exerted by the heritage acts at the top of festival bills? The best way festival-goers could oppose ageing line-ups is by staying away or going elsewhere to smaller festivals that tend to have younger line-ups. This does not seem to be happening, so what is the problem?
“I think it’s worrying that younger people can’t afford to go. Particularly rock acts need to be exposed to younger audiences otherwise the younger audiences aren’t really going to take to them,” says Ms Lindvall.
“Acts such as the Arctic Monkeys cut their teeth playing earlier slots. Slowly they have moved down the line to become a headliner but if the audience is going to be in their forties or fifties then you are not creating a new generation of fans.”
Bands that haven’t “cut their teeth” further down the bills are unlikely to have the clout to persuade organisers that they will draw the requisite number of fans. That leaves a smaller pool of headliner-calibre bands with little variety.
“It’s a really interesting problem for the likes of Live Nation and O2,” says Mr Rogers, from Songkick.
“Who are they going to put in these stadiums in 10 years’ time? There isn’t going to be anyone. Once Coldplay and Madonna retire, who is going to play in the stadiums?”
“I think the UK could do better. Whenever I look at a line-up now I’m not surprised,” says Mr Collett Donald.
Dance your troubles away
Not all genres of music festivals are necessarily seeing this trend towards middle-aged acts.
The traditional production of a rock album and going on tour will require three to five members, their instruments, possibly session musicians and production teams.
As the money to sustain that model slips away, nimbler single-person dance acts with fewer overheads are faring well.
“If you’re a dance act it’s much cheaper to make your record,” says Ms Lindvall.
“That scene is so much more accessible to new acts than rock music. That’s why you look at these festivals and the younger acts tend to be Disclosure and similar acts that are mainly DJs with featured artists.”
Furthermore, the barriers to starting a festival are low. As we have seen, there is an oversupply of bands in the market ready to perform. Promotion can be inexpensive with a savvy online and social media strategy.
“Concert promoters in general get quite squeezed. A lot of the time they are just in the background. Festivals are a way for promoters to develop their own brand,” says Mr Rogers.
“A lot of promoters went out and tried to build strong brands such as the Big Chill or End of the Road. A lot of the people who go to those festivals go because of the festival not because of who is headlining. That puts more power into the promoters’ hands; it gives them some leverage over the acts.”
This bubble burst when the recession hit, as organisers simply could not pay the bills in a crowded market. Sonisphere was one high-profile festival that was cancelled last year, with organisers of sister editions abroad blaming “a weak economy”.
Thinking big and small
With artists touring into their sixties and beyond, festival organisers have a bewildering array of potential acts to choose from. With these established acts available and pressure to offer a unique line-up, it is clear that major organisers are increasingly going with familiar favourites.
How, then, can a festival thrive in such a market? Glastonbury, V Festival and T in the Park have to appeal to as many different genres as possible. In the last few years pop and hip hop acts have featured more and more prominently at Glastonbury, culminating in Jay-Z’s acclaimed headline appearance in 2008, followed by his wife Beyoncé three years later. These festivals must appeal to as broad a spectrum as feasible to pay the bills.
Other festivals are doing the opposite: finding a niche and making themselves attractive to a niche market.
“There are four or five hundred festivals out there and I don’t see any point in trying to compete with them all so we try and do something a bit different,” says James Scarlett of 2000trees.
“Once you get bigger you lose that intimate experience,” says Alex Trenchard from Standon Calling.
“The best gig may happen on a stage with thousands of people watching but the best musical experience could happen in a little wood in a corner that you stumble upon.”
Small festival owners “run their business as ‘super-fans’ whereas the big guys run their festivals as a business,” says Dan Rogers from Songkick.
“The ones who are doing well are very in touch with their customers. The reason they are in touch with their customers is because they are similar to their own customers. They are putting on festivals that they would want to go to, not festivals that they think will make the most money.”
As the sun sets on a long June Saturday afternoon with your favourite band playing to an adoring crowd, it is easy to forget that festivals have to make money. Moreover, they are trying to make money in a music industry whose business model has been fundamentally disrupted. Promoting new bands is a commercially risky business. But the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen can’t keep headlining festivals for ever. New artists will have to take their place. There will be no shortage of takers, but there may be a shortage of bands with enough hits to draw the big crowds.
For our data journalism course on the Interactive MA, we had to do a story using a non-public dataset. I chose to use the Freedom of Information Act to see how many vehicles have been abandoned on London’s streets in 2012 and 2013.
Over eight hundred vehicles were removed from London’s roads and scrapped in 2012.
London’s councils identified at least 3735 cars, motorcycles and vans that had been left to rust in 2012. Over one thousand were removed and at least 861 were crushed.
Croydon had 3348 reports of abandoned vehicles and identified 1395 as possibly abandoned last year, the highest in the capital. Newham removed 221 vehicles from its streets last year and sent 169 for scrapping, more than any other borough.
“Changes in the value of scrap, high motoring and maintenance costs, fines for unlicensed and untaxed vehicles are often greater than the value of the vehicle itself, which leads some drivers to abandon them,” said Helen Bingham from Keep Britain Tidy, an environmental charity.
“Abandoned vehicles are a visible blight on neighbourhoods and have a hugely negative impact on a community. They contribute to a fear of crime and, alongside litter, fly-tipping and graffiti, they are signs of community decline,” she said.
Expensive and unwanted?
A Maserati and a Bentley were among the 175 abandoned vehicles reported in Hackney last year. However they almost certainly did not end up on the scrapheap because only two of those 175 vehicles were removed and destroyed.
Among the other expensive makes reported abandoned were at least eight Jaguars. Sixteen different boroughs reported at least one Mercedes Benz left neglected.
Other unusual vehicles reported abandoned were two burger vans in Newham and a boat on Whitchurch Lane, Harrow. One Triumph was reported in Haringey. Triumph model cars stopped being made in 1984. Triumph motorcycles are still made.
Many of the vehicles to be disposed of are crushed at Redcorn, which is a contractor based in Tottenham and Rainham for 28 local authorities.
Thirteen boroughs gave detailed enough data plot where vehicles were abandoned in 2013 on an interactive map.
Croydon Council said in a statement:“The fact that the number of vehicles removed from Croydon is greater than most other boroughs largely reflects the fact that more people live here than anywhere else in the capital.”
However, Croydon had one report for every 109 residents and one abandoned vehicle for every 262 people, the lowest ratio in the capital out of the boroughs that supplied usable data.
Bromley Council identified 959 abandoned vehicles in 2012, the second highest of the responses.
When asked to explain the figure, Councillor Colin Smith, Bromley’s Executive Councillor for Environment said: “There is no definitive answer to hand, but it probably has something to do with the fact that Bromley has one of the highest car ownerships per capita in London and that Bromley Council is extremely proactive in removing such vehicles.”
It also appears that the public reported far more abandoned vehicles to local authorities in 2012 this year than in 2008, the latest year for which we have comparable data.
Twenty-eight London boroughs received 15,023 reports of discarded vehicles in 2008. In 2012, there were 13,971 reports from just 17 boroughs. It seems very likely that the real total therefore far exceeds the 2008 figure.
A spokesman for Newham Council said: “The number of vehicles is no different to other London boroughs, we have simply prioritised their removal higher than other boroughs.”
“We have an effective enforcement team who are pro-actively working to make our borough a place where people want to live, work and stay,” he added.
We cannot be more specific about which cars were left around London because there is a difference between vehicles that are reported abandoned and those that are identified as abandoned.
When a vehicle is reported, the council will investigate whether it has genuinely been left to rust. Usually the owner is found and nothing more happens.
Newham Council, for example, told us in a response to a Freedom of Information request that 966 abandoned vehicles had been reported between January and August 2012. It gave details for each of these cars. It also told us that it identified 232 vehicles as abandoned in 2012.
It did not tell us which of the reports turned out to be genuine and which were false or duplicates. It is unlikely, for instance, that the ten Jaguars reported abandoned in Newham were genuinely discarded.
For this report I sent Freedom of Information requests to all 32 London boroughs and the City of London. 29 boroughs and the City of London sent some kind of response.