Saturday, June 28, 2014


Which Website Is Attracting 86.3% of Parliament’s Bandwidth? Or – Showbusiness for Clickbaitors

The air of Westminster is today seething with wi-fi so overheated that some researchers have actually* been microwaved (*not actually. Actually that goes for much of this article). Personality politics is often dismissed as just a beauty contest; now, at last, politicians have a genuine* beauty contest about themselves (*no, seriously, against all reason this bit is completely true). Among usvsth3m’s array of “Fights”, you can now vote for “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?” Other votes pit songs, films, cities and scary clowns against each other, but I know this one floats your boat (and the Doctor Who choices). Warning: this is a post-watershed blog post. …

The usvsth3m set-up is familiar from the well-known exercise, ‘Which of X and Y is best? There’s only one answer – FIGHT!’ and here people create lists of anything that takes their fancy, from which two items are pitted against each other at random each time you click. This sorts the list by what or who’s won the most head-to-head battles. Simple as that.

Two Lovely Pairs of usvsth3m Votes – and a Poll Where Lib Dems Do Best!

Of the many available, four have caught my eye and my mouse clicks: inevitably, two for politics and two for Doctor Who. The pairs curiously mirror each other. “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?” offers a choice of 504 men combining in random pairs (if that sort of thing turns you on), so I doubt I’ve chosen between more than a tiny fraction of them, while “Which government minister do you loathe the most?” gives you a choice of 21 Cabinet Ministers, so it’s much easier to ‘collect the set’. Similarly, “What is the best Doctor Who story EVER?” suggests not only that television is the basis of all reality but also that the world will end before August Bank Holiday, but even so provides an eye-blearying array of 241 stories, while “Who’s the best Doctor Who?” offers only 14 versions of the Doctor to choose from, and not even (spoiler) Michael Jayston.

The most confusing to pick from if you have several tabs open and are on a hypnotised clicking spree between multiple pages – I know nothing of this – is the “Which government minister do you loathe the most?” which, as you can spot, is the only one of these four where you want your favoured candidate to score not towards 100% but towards 0%, like an especially pointless round of Pointless. This means it’s very easy to mix up who should be up and who should go down. At the time of writing, Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne are hitting it out as the most unloved (not my picks, but high profile) at around 80% apiece, while Alistair Carmichael rejoices in being the only member of the Cabinet to score under 20%. Hearteningly, every Liberal Democrat scores below 50%, with the winner-by-which-I-mean-loser inevitably Nick Clegg, though still hated in only 45% of battles. So here at last is a poll in which the Lib Dems are doing comparatively well.

The main other conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that Iain Duncan Smith is a low-grade copy of William Hague, but lacking the looks, charm and redeeming social concern, and that Chris Grayling is a low-grade copy of Iain Duncan Smith, but lacking the looks, charm and redeeming social concern.

Favourite Doctors and My 85% Difference From the Average Fan

As for the Doctor Who choices… Well, at the moment I’m quite cheered by the results for favourite Doctor, which are significantly out of line with most polls and rather closer to my own views, though it’s possible this may change when more people vote on it. Not wishing to dwell on the unloved here, I’m delighted to see William Hartnell and Matt Smith currently in second and third place, and Colin and Sylv not inappropriately at numbers six and seven. The best story poll is the one in which I’ve voted least, counter-intuitively, as it’s the only one I could see myself going, ‘No, that’s wrong!’ and getting lost in it for days trying to affect the outcome of something completely meaningless (and even here the pictures matter: screengrabs, book covers, posters, many make the stories involved look much more or less appealing than they ought to be. I don’t think much of The Monster of Peladon, for example, but I have a Pavlovian response to Alpha Centauri, and as for The Smugglers…). At least, right now, my favourite story is doing about 25% better than in last month’s rather wider and more settled Doctor Who Magazine poll, so that’s something. But if I click 120 times, statistically it’s very likely to turn up in there for me to vote for it… No. No.

What I should do, I suppose, is post some of the more entertaining differences between what I think of various Doctor Who stories and how the average fan’s votes turned up in Doctor Who Magazine 474, just now disappearing from the shelves (but I’m sure you can find one, or buy the download). Should I? For the moment I’ll tease by saying that, out of 241 televised stories so far, my biggest differences either way with average fan opinion were one that I would have put 170 places higher – and another that I would have put 205 places lower! And both by the same author. Any guesses?

And Now the Main Attraction – Hot MP Totty

So, “Which gentleman MP is the sexiest?”… A serious project to bring sexual objectification to the attention of our lawmakers? A Parliamentary researcher with particularly varied tastes, or some other steamy clickbaitor? Or just taking the piss?

My own pet theory is that the poll has been created by the Labour Party in order to find an opinion poll that they can win: analysing the vital statistical correlation between the current top entries, the most plausible hypothesis is that all Labour researchers are under orders to vote and vote again for every member of the Shadow Cabinet. The null hypothesis would be that Labour’s Shadow Cabinet genuinely is a beauty contest, but while my tastes tend significantly away from society’s ideals of beauty, I don’t think I can be that out.

I found myself clicking on this quite a bit, though often with the ‘pass’ option, it being weirdly compelling more for my interests in politics than in men. Never have I been invited to pass sexual judgement on people with such a bizarre variety of internal reactions. All right, so some male MPs do indeed look attractive; others I recoiled from on looks alone. But for most of them, things were more complicated (or it would be their politics rather than their looks that made my flesh creep). For a start, I’d often vote for some of those with the most unflattering photos: I tend to look terrible in photos too, but it’d be interesting if someone did a (subjective) statistical analysis to see which MPs had had ‘good’ photos chosen for the site and which were clearly designed to put people off. Or which ones were just a little apart from the norm of Commons, conference or canvassing shots. What to make of the one covered in teddy bears? Did the person who compiled the list and pictures for the site have a particular thing for the sole MP pictured with his top off (and wood in each hand)? What have you got on your head, sir? Does anyone really think that being plastered from head to toe in Labour Party stickers is becoming? And how about the Tory posing by bales of hay, all the better to roll in it?

The disturbing thing about click, click, click is that very soon I stopped thinking about it. From being disturbed at being asked to sexually objectify people I may know, I quickly drifted into particular patterns to click through more quickly. Tending to vote the party line on Liberal Democrat MPs – tending to, with more than a few exceptions for more than a few reasons. Lib Dem readers, you may like to know that at the time of writing Duncan Hames is our highest-placed hottie, so congratulations, Duncan. The MP I’d have had top was disappointingly low (though while you’re down there…).

Or there were the wider political reactions. MPs of other parties that I’d met or heard speak usually got me clicking against them, because they’d moved from potentially off-putting to not on your nelly (with a few exceptions, like the backbencher I remembered as a nice old buffer who liked Doctor Who and might be surprised to get ‘sexy’ clicks as a result). Or the ones I’d never heard of but assumed if they were in the DUP they’d be downright unspeakable. Or the ones that are disgustingly homophobic – should I vote for them and send them a message to say so, in the hope that it would hurt them more than it would me? And of course that select bunch who, whatever their looks, I thought ‘unspeakable fascist’ and would vote against with anyone at all – though special points to the poll’s devisor, who managed to find a picture of Liam Byrne that seems to have captured his inner soul (an impressive feat in itself to find it).

Or there were the ones who were quite attractive and I didn’t know anything especially against them; or the ones who weren’t conventionally attractive but looked like they might be goers – several gentlemen’s eyebrows looked intriguing (as opposed to thinking of some, ‘He’s had lots of affairs – so he’s probably good at it’ or ‘He’s had lots of affairs – but I still wouldn’t touch him with yours’); or, I’m afraid, as my brain stopped processing images at all and I clicked ever more robotically, the names. I am of course in the top 0.1% of the population for being mocked about my name and should know better, but as words swam up before pictures I started thinking of Mr Crabb or Mr Clappison, not in my bed, or Mr Pincher, and with the court case so close, or wondering what filthy practice ‘Prisking’ is, or Mr Woodcock – does he have one? I’m sure the poor MP for Ogmore heard even more ‘jokes’ in the playground than I did. And looking at one of the currently highest-placed Tories, who by the vagaries of the algorithm popped up as a choice several times, I wonder if other people voted as I did for Mr Drax because he sounded like a Bond villain? And is it just me, or does Hugo Swire have the most Tory-MP-sounding name of any Tory MP? But when you start misreading names as ‘Tom Greatsex’ or ‘Michael Lubricant’ it’s just too close to Dilbert’s “You’ve ruined sex for everyone” and time to stop.

On the bright side, this is surely the most memorable tool yet for educating us on what the largely anonymous mass of Parliamentary Members look like – and encouraging us to be kinder to some – so I can recommend it as a valuable service to the public.

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After zapping a spam comment offering to sell quite predictable items, I thought I'd check the results again this afternoon, including the hot MPs. Since last night there has been what can only be described as a surge for Liberal Democrats. I feel so proud. And, clicking a few more times before sense overtook me, I see some pictures I didn’t catch first time around, which prompts the questions: was David Tredinnick really cloned from Cecil Parkinson? Is my local MP really seen as a silver fox? And just how many Tory and Labour MPs did got the job because their father or brother had it (that one’s quite a looker, and my age, but… Dear God, of course, because of him)…?
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