Axis Lines in Charts

The British election campaign is wrapping up as it heads towards the general election on Thursday. I haven’t covered it much here, but this piece from the BBC has been at the back of my mind. And not so much for the content, but strictly the design.

In terms of content, the article stems from a question asked in a debate about income levels and where they fall relative to the rest of the population. A man rejected a Labour party proposal for an increase in taxes on those earning more than £80,000 per annum, saying that as someone who earned more than that amount he was “not even in the top 5%, not even the top 50”.

The BBC looked at the data and found that actually the man was certainly within the top 50% and likely in the top 5%, as they earn more than £75,300 per annum. Here in the States, many Americans cannot place their incomes within the actual spreads of income. The income gap here is severe and growing.  But, I want to look at the charts the BBC made to illustrate its points.

The most important is this line chart, which shows the income level and how it fits among the percentages of the population.

Are things lining up? It's tough to say.
Are things lining up? It’s tough to say.

I am often in favour of minimal axis lines and labelling. Too many labels and explicit data points begin to subtract from the visual representation or comparison of the data. If you need to be able to reference a specific data point for a specific point on the curve, you need a table, not a chart.

However, there is utility in having some guideposts as to what income levels fit into what ranges. And so I am left to wonder, why not add some axis lines. Here I took the original graphic file and drew some grey lines.

Better…
Better…

Of course, I prefer the dotted or dashed line approach. The difference in line style provides some additional contrast to the plotted series. And in this case, where the series is a thin but coloured line, the interruptions in the solidity of the axis lines makes it easier to distinguish them from the data.

Better still.
Better still.

But the article also has another chart, a bar chart, that looks at average weekly incomes across different regions of the United Kingdom. (Not surprisingly, London has the highest average.) Like the line chart, this bar chart does not use any axis labels. But what makes this one even more difficult is that the solid black line that we can use in the line charts above to plot out the maximum for 180,000 is not there. Instead we simply have a string of numbers at the bottom for which we need to guess where they fall.

Here we don't even a solid line to take us out to 700.
Here we don’t even a solid line to take us out to 700.

If we assume that the 700 value is at the centre of the text, we can draw some dotted grey lines atop the existing graphic. And now quite clearly we can get a better sense of which regions fall in which ranges of income.

We could have also tried the solid line approach.
We could have also tried the solid line approach.

But we still have this mess of black digits at the bottom of the graphic. And after 50, the numbers begin to run into each other. It is implied that we are looking at increments of 50, but a little more spacing would have helped. Or, we could simply keep the values at the hundreds and, if necessary, not label the lines at the 50s. Like so.

Much easier to read
Much easier to read

The last bit I would redo in the bar chart is the order of the regions. Unless there is some particular reason for ordering these regions as they are—you could partly argue they are from north to south, but then Scotland would be at the top of the list—they appear an arbitrary lot. I would have sorted them maybe from greatest to least or vice versa. But that bit was outside my ability to do this morning.

So in short, while you don’t want to overcrowd a chart with axis lines and labelling, you still need a few to make it easier for the user to make those visual comparisons.

Credit for the original pieces goes to the BBC graphics department.

From Order to Chaos?

A few weeks ago we said farewell to John Bercow as Speaker of the House (UK). Whilst I covered the election for the new speaker, I missed the opportunity to post this piece from the BBC. It looked at Bercow’s time in office from a data perspective.

The piece did not look at him per se, but that era for the House of Commons. The graphic below was a look at what constituted debates in the chamber using words in speeches as a proxy. Shockingly, Brexit has consumed the House over the last few years.

At least climate change has also ticked upwards?
At least climate change has also ticked upwards?

I love the graphic, as it uses small multiples and fixes the axes for each row and column. It is clean, clear, and concise—just what a graphic should be.

And the rest of the piece makes smart use of graphical forms. Mostly. Smart line charts with background shading, some bar charts, and the only questionable one is where it uses emoji handclaps to represent instances of people clapping the chamber—not traditionally a thing that  happens.

Content wise it also nailed a few important things, chiefly Bercow’s penchant for big words. The piece did not, however, cover his amazing sense of sartorial style vis-a-vis neckties.

Overall a solid piece with which to begin the weekend.

Credit for the piece goes to Ed Lowther & Will Dahlgreen.

Hoyle’s House

John Bercow is no longer the British Speaker of the House. He left office Thursday. Fun fact: it is illegal for an MP to resign. Instead they are appointed to a royal office, in Bercow’s case the Royal Steward of the Manor of Northstead, that precludes them from being an elected MP. Consequently the House of Commons then had to elect a new Speaker.

For my American audience, despite the same title as Nancy Pelosi, John Bercow had a very different function and came to it in a very different fashion. First, the position is politically neutral. Whoever the House elects resigns from his or her party (along with his or her three deputies) and the political parties abide by a gentlemen’s agreement not to contest the seat in general elections. (The Tories were so displeased with Bercow they were actually contemplating running somebody in the now 12 December election to get rid of him.) Consequently, the Speaker (and his or her deputies) do note vote unless there is a tie. (Bercow actually cast the first deciding vote by a speaker since 1980 back in April.)

Because the position is politically neutral, all MPs vote in the election and debate is chaired by the Father of the House, the longest continuously serving MP in the House. Today that was Ken Clarke, one of the 21 MPs Boris Johnson booted from the Tory party for voting down his No Deal Brexit and who is not standing in the upcoming election. The candidates for Speaker must receive the vote of 50% of the House. And so they are eliminated in successive votes until someone reaches 50% of the total votes cast, though not all MPs cast votes, since some have already started campaigning. (Today there were 562, 575, 565, 540 votes per round.)

Notably, today’s vote occurs just days before Parliament dissolves prior to the 12 December election. Bercow, who chose to retire on 31 October, essentially ensured that the next Parliament will have a Speaker not chosen what could well likely be a pro-No Deal Brexit, one of the things which the Tories have against him.

So all that said, who won? Well I made a graphic for that.

A very different accent will occupy the big green chair.
A very different accent will occupy the big green chair.

Credit for the piece goes to me.

UK–Narnia Border

Yesterday the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union. Again. Boris would rather be dead in a ditch. But he’s neither dead nor in a ditch. And the UK is still in the EU. So let’s enjoy the moment and reflect on this xkcd piece from the other day. And then enjoy the weekend.

But what about the UK–Shire border? Or UK–Westeros?
But what about the UK–Shire border? Or UK–Westeros?

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Brexit Deal 2.0

I’ve been trying to work on a Syrian changing alliances graphic, but the Brexit news today scuppered that. Instead, we take a look at Boris’ deal, which differs from May’s in that it chucks out the notion of territorial integrity, creating a border in the Irish Sea where goods will have to be inspected. My old Brexit trilemma graphic shows the new deal’s fundamental choices.

Shifting priorities
Shifting priorities

But how does this exiting the customs union and single market work? Well, the whole of the UK is leaving the customs union, but on the single market, there Northern Ireland remains in, aligned to the EU, whereas the rest of the UK is leaving. Ports will screen for some goods to ensure compliance with UK officials ensuring EU standards.

There are still questions about how this will all shake out
There are still questions about how this will all shake out

The BBC graphic above is pretty straightforward, showing the new border as a dotted line. But the border is there. There is still quite a bit we don’t know. And most important of those questions is can Boris get his deal through Parliament? Remember, he tossed 20 MPs out of the party. And there are signals that the DUP, a conservative Northern Irish party that provides the crucial backing votes to the Tories to ensure the Tory majority (before, again, Boris kicked out 20 of his own MPs), will vote against the deal because it separates them from the rest of the UK.

Credit for the trilemma is mine.

Credit for the BBC graphic goes to the BBC graphics department.

Brexit Trilemma Update

This week is the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester where the Tories unveil their government programmes and platforms. Naturally it has been overshadowed by allegations that Boris Johnson groped one (maybe two) reporters at a dinner in 1999. Just prior to that scandal, however, there was another. In this, Johnson was allegedly having an affair with an American businesswoman for whom he then arranged lucrative business deals whilst in office as the Mayor of London. Johnson has been referred to a police unit for further investigation in that matter. Sounds like some, you might say, golden parallels to…someone or something.

But today’s big news about the government’s plans is that they might have one regarding Brexit. And that plan is to essentially create a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, violating certainly the spirit if not the letter of the Good Friday Agreement that brought the end to the Troubles.

Why is this a big deal? Well, one, remember all the debates during the Brexit Referendum campaign about the Irish border, how the different groups had different solutions to this fundamental problem?

Oh wait, yeah, nobody ever brought this up. Sorry.

So back to my trilemma graphic. I’ve updated it to show which two sides of the triangle Boris Johnson seems to be choosing. To be fair, as I’ve said many times, the UK cannot have all three points of the triangle. They need to pick two. And so, unlike Theresa May, Johnson is at least picking two. My problem is that this was never discussed during the Brexit debates and it seems a rather drastic decision to not have it be confirmed by the people since they never explicitly voted on it.

You may not like it, but at least Johnson is picking sides…
You may not like it, but at least Johnson is picking sides…

Credit for the graphic is mine.

Brexit Crazyness Continues

The British Supreme Court ruled today that Boris Johnson unlawfully advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament. And because the advice was unlawful, the act was therefore unlawful. And because the act was unlawful, the effects of said act were unlawful. And because the effects were unlawful, said effects are null and void. So, you know, prorogation never happened.

So the Prime Minister has misled the Queen. He has failed to pass all but one bill in Parliament (it was a bill for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster totally unrelated to Brexit). He lost three seats, one via a by-election and two by defecting MPs. And then he purged 21 MPs from his party to completely obliterate his working majority. In any other year, this would be cause for the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister. Instead he is sticking around in New York to give a speech about, what else, Brexit, before flying back to London tonight (Eastern US time).

So what’s next? Who really knows. This has never before happened in the history of the United Kingdom. But one possible option is that the opposition parties may hold a no confidence vote. But there will be significant pressure against that, because, as my graphic shows, any election that would likely result, would mean Brexit happening with Parliament dissolved. And that would, ahem, defeat the entire purpose of preventing a No Deal Brexit. Consequently, a no confidence vote or general election is unlikely. (Unless, the opposition and Tory rebels can agree to a non-Jeremy Corbyn caretake prime minister, e.g. Ken Clarke or Margaret Beckett.)

Omnishambles. Even Iannucci couldn't have made this stuff up.
Omnishambles. Even Iannucci couldn’t have made this stuff up.

Regardless, get ready for a crazy day of Parliamentary procedure tomorrow.

Prorogation of Parliament

If you’re among my British/European audience, you are probably well aware Boris Johnson has prorogued, or suspended, Parliament. He and cabinet ministers stated it was a normal, average-length prorogation to prepare for a Queen’s Speech. (The Queen’s Speech is the formal opening of a new session of Parliament that sets out a new legislative agenda and formally closes/kills any unpassed legislation from the old session.) Except that in documents revealed in a Scottish court case, we now know that the real reason was to shut down Parliament to prevent it from interfering in Boris’ plans for a No Deal Brexit. And just this morning the Scottish High Court did indeed rule that the prorogation is illegal. The case now moves to the UK Supreme Court.

But I want to focus on the other claim, that this is a prorogation of average length. Thankfully instead of having to do a week’s hard slog of data, the House of Lords Library posted the data for me. At least since 1900, and that works well enough for me. And so here we go.

Back to the 1930s?
Back to the 1930s?

So yeah, this is not an average prorogument. If you look at only proroguments that do not precede a general election—you need time for the campaigning and then hosting the actual election in those cases—this is the longest prorogument since 1930. (Also, a Parliament does not necessarily need to be prorogued before it is dissolved before an election. And that happened quite often in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.)

And as I point out in the graphic, Parliament was prorogued during the depths of World War II to start new legislative sessions. But in those cases, Parliament opened the very next day, during a time of national crisis. One could certainly make the argument that Brexit is a national crisis. So wherefore the extraordinarily long prorogument? Well, quite simply, Brexit.

Credit for the piece goes to me.

The Trilemma Remains for Boris

This is a repost of sorts, but it is important. Now prime minister, Boris Johnson had an opportunity to seek a more reasonable approach to Brexit. Unfortunately, he is drawing even harder red lines than his predecessor, Theresa May. And that brings us back to my Brexit trilemma graphic from back in March.

Essentially, Johnson wants three things that are mutually—or whatever the word is for three, maybe tri-mutually—semi-exclusive. In other words, of the three red lines, the United Kingdom can only have two, because those two then make the third impossible.

Doing the same thing but expecting results…pick two already, Boris.
Doing the same thing but expecting results…pick two already, Boris.

I made the first version of this back in March. Sad it still applies.

Credit for the piece goes to me.

It’s Boris Time, Baby

Today Boris Johnson begins his premiership as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. He might not be popular with the wide body of the British population, but he is quite popular with the Conservative base.

The Economist looked at how Boris polled on several traits, e.g. being more honest than most politicians, compared to his prime minister predecessors before they entered office. And despite being broadly unpopular outside the Tories, he still polls better than most of his predecessors.

Boris rates higher than many previous prime ministers before they came to power
Boris rates higher than many previous prime ministers before they came to power

Design wise, it’s a straight-forward use of small multiples and bar charts. I find the use of the light blue bar a nice device to highlight Boris’ position amongst his peers.

But now we see where Boris goes, most importantly on Brexit.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.