This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Monday, 7 June 2010

New Politics: The Prime Minister Speaks

“Britain can do better. Britain can be better than this.

Building the greatness of our nation through the greatness of its people.

No more squandering the nation’s assets.

No more sleaze ..

No more lies.

No more broken promises.”

(Tony Blair, 1997)

Prof Chris Pierson

Friday, 28 May 2010

Same candidate elected, in two different constituencies, for two different parties

The parliamentary constituencies of Feverford in Kent and Trough in Hertfordshire are not especially well known. But linking these two seats - one Conservative, one Labour - is one astonishing fact, somehow missed in all the acres of coverage about the election. They are represented, with the aid of a false beard, by the same person.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Why we need a stronger Electoral Commission

The election may be over – Thirsk and Malton notwithstanding – but the fall out from the polling station queues continues. The Electoral Commission’s Interim Report came out last week. It makes for fascinating – and at times, revealing – reading.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The next Great Reform Act? Pull the other one, Nick.

Nick Clegg has called the new government’s measures to reform politics ‘the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great reforms of the 19th Century’, indeed since the Great Reform Act of 1832.
"...for someone who says he has embraced a new way of doing politics Clegg’s grand rhetoric bears all the hallmarks of the spin and over-selling which the previous Labour administration was said to be guilty of..."

The new Baldwin?

"I for one think that the past is as much of a guide to the future as our current neophilia. On that basis, LibDems beware!"
Few Liberal Democrats have put their coalition with the Conservatives into historical perspective. This is partly due to all politicians’ intoxication with the supposed novelty of any situation these days, something they share with most of their fellow citizens. How many times did Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg assert their embrace of a ‘new politics’?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

And the election should be called....

"The election battle will be succeeded by the battle of the election books..."
Philip Cowley has asked us what we would call the last election? I think we should name it the Don’t Know Election.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

How bad was the election...really?

"There is a saying in the Philippines that no one loses in elections, there are only winners and those that are cheated. Arguably the cheating has simply entered the digital age..."

How much effort did you put into voting? Did you even vote? Perhaps you strolled down to your polling station in your lunch hour, marked your X and left. It is unlikely you were too inconvenienced. In this respect at least UK democracy does not demand too much of us.

Monday, 17 May 2010

But what would you call it?

"...if you were going to name the 2010 election, what would you call it?"

The opening book in the ‘Nuffield’ election series – The British General Election of 1945 – lists a series of ‘named’ elections: 1874, when the Liberals went down in a flood of gin and beer; the Midlothian election of 1880; the Khaki election of 1900; the Chinese Slavery election of 1906; the People's Budget election of 1910; the 'Hang the Kaiser' election of 1918; and the 1924 ‘Zinovieff letter’ election.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Forget the 55% rule. This is what will really limit Parliament

"...the routine defeats of the government by the upper House, and the subsequent negotiation and compromise between the two – could still be seriously limited..."

Leave aside for now the fuss about the 55% rule and its impact on parliament. For all the talk about preventing votes of no confidence from dissolving parliament, defeats on votes of confidence are already extremely rare. The truth is that most votes of confidence are dull affairs, in which all the MPs of each party simply rally to the flag, and the government survives.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What’s happening to the BNP?

"It’s tempting to write the BNP of Griffin's saving graces will be the distinct lack of leadership calibre among potential would-be-successors..."

Aside from a bigoted woman in Rochdale and the rise of Nick Clegg, one of the stories of the 2010 campaign was the prospect of a breakthrough by the BNP. This was especially true in outer-east London, where all eyes focused on the ‘Battle of Barking’ between Labour incumbent Margaret Hodge and BNP leader Nick Griffin. Eyes also focused on local elections, where the BNP looked poised to take control of Barking and Dagenham council.

Friday, 14 May 2010

What’s 5% between friends?

One of the most striking statements of the last few days was William Hague’s claim that ‘the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May, 2015’. That is, by the way, 7 May. One for the diary, maybe? And it’s all because of this clause in the coalition agreement:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

An end to New Labour...

"Would either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown want to claim the paternity of the Lib-Con coalition..."
The New Labour government is now, finally, at an end. After thirteen years, it passes into history – and in a strangely anti-climactic way. There was no sturm und drang, no (with the greatest of respect to Jacqui Smith) cathartic Portillo moment for its opponents on election night, no flag waving on Downing Street for the incoming government, although I am sure plenty of Bolly will be spilt in the pubs and clubs of Notting Hill over the next few days.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Alternative Vote, why bother?

The campaign for and the outcome of the General Election has put electoral reform firmly on the political agenda. Somewhat surprisingly the alternative vote (AV) has become the most discussed option for replacing the current first-past-the-post system (FPTP), embraced by Labour, and even allowed by the Conservatives to be voted upon in a referendum. This potential acceptance by the two major parties is understandable, as AV is for them the safest option, and least likely to break their joint hegemony over British politics.

Clingendael 1 LibDems 0

"Would you buy a second-hand car from Mr. Clegg? In the end, it depends on how desperate you are to get on the road..."

With a group of eager-to-learn postgraduate students on an MA Programme in International Relations, I recently undertook a one-day crash course in negotiation at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations at Clingendael.

Monday, 10 May 2010


"But what was it that Karl Marx said about History repeating itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce?"

Amidst all the speculation regarding negotiations about the creation of a post-election arrangement between the Conservatives and LibDems I haven’t seen any reference to the last time the Liberals (as they were then) put in a minority government.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Oh dear...

"It turns out to be all leaflets and trudging and stubby pencils..."

Anyone who doesn’t enjoy politics would be well advised to avoid today’s papers. Not only is there the masses of detailed analysis of the election results that always follows an election – loads of wonderful pie charts, tables, and multi-coloured maps – but there’s also story after story about hung parliament discussions and possibilities.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Despite expenses, incumbent MPs do well

One of the most intriguing – and unexpected - features of Thursday’s election was the relative success of local, incumbent, MPs. The BBC/ITN/Sky exit poll found that in Labour held seats with new candidates, the Con-Lab swing was 7.5%. But in seats with incumbents, the swing was just 4%. The former would have been enough to win a majority for the Conservatives.

Localised elections, localised incompetence

“An Englishman, even if he is alone”, said George Mikes, “forms an orderly queue of one.” Some of Thursday night’s queues to vote appear to have been a bit less than orderly. Of all the claims made about the problems at polling stations, the most ludicrous is that poor electoral administration prevented a higher turnout.

Friday, 7 May 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

This has been, without question, one of the most intriguing and unpredictable of elections in living memory. For political scientists and media commentators alike, it generated huge anticipation and a real sense of excitement about the outcome.

“A Nation Divided ..”

This blog, which has offered something for everyone, from the anorak to the anarchist, has come in for some criticism for its neglect of the smaller parties. Here’s nearly a last chance to put this right.

The Unintended Consequences of Electoral Reform

Once the nature of the May 6th poll became clear, Labour figures have keenly reiterated their party’s support for a referendum on electoral reform, seeing this as the means of creating a ‘progressive alliance’ with the LibDems. As Steven Fielding noted back in February on this blog, it was precisely in anticipation of a hung Parliament that led Labour came out in support of the Alternative Vote.

Electoral chaos and surprises aplenty

The most significant outcome of this election campaign is - undoubtedly - the
 Conservatives' inability to win an outright majority in the House of Commons. This in spite of the first-past-the post electoral system, which consistently boosts the proportion of seats of the largest party on the basis of votes won (with some 36 % of the votes, the Conservatives stand to get about 46% of the seats). If this was the most significant outcome, it is then one of the least surprising, given the dynamics of the 2010 campaign.

Election of losers

This has been an election of losers. David Cameron failed to seal the deal and Gordon Brown has seen Labour lose over 90 seats. The biggest losers however are the LibDems. Yet while the high hopes of Cleggmania have taken a very hard knock, they still have a chance to clutch victory from defeat.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Philip Cowley - reactions to results

The BBC/ITN/Sky exit poll shows no one party with enough seats to form a majority. The Conservatives have done well, putting on almost 100 seats, but not well enough. But - if the exit poll is right - there are also not enough Labour and Lib Dem MPs to form a coalition majority either. Most importantly, however, the poll shows things to be on a knife-edge, and close enough so that any strange results could tip the balance. It promises to be one of the most exciting election nights in living memory.

The first three seats - the three Sunderland seats - have seen turnout rise by about 5 percentage points. If that is repeated across the country, overall turnout will remain below 70%. However, it is perfectly possible that turnout will be more variable, and the increase will be greater elsewhere.

Professor Philip Cowley

What counts as a majority?

In all the pre-election discussion, much attention focuses on the number 326. It’s half of 650 (which is the number of seats in the new House of Commons), plus one. And anyone who reaches 326 is therefore guaranteed of a majority in the Commons.

A cautionary note about penultimate polls

"Nothing about a trend ensures its continuation – but beware..."
We’ve had a massive nine opinion polls, on the eve of the election. That’s almost double the number we had in 2005.

“Were you up for Balls?”

"So it is a fifteen-times-in-a lifetime event – and there are not many of those! Perhaps in these anti-political or post-political times, we still think that somehow it matters..."
“Were you up for Portillo?” became a sort of catchphrase in the aftermath of the 1997 Election. Those who could say ‘yes’ were deemed to be those who really cared. Hah! The Enfield result was declared at 2.41 a.m. Barely past bedtime.

Would a hung parliament be bad for business?

According to an online survey - run by The University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) - businesses are worried about the potential impact of an inconclusive election, according to an online survey.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Does the level of turnout matter?

"...does it matter for the prospects of the parties how many people will flock to the polls? "
It is generally expected that turnout in the general election will be somewhat higher than in 2005, when it reached 61%. It is unlikely, though, to reach levels in excess of 70% which were common in the 1990s and earlier.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Looking both ways at once

Last week, we pointed out the interesting finding lurking in a ComRes poll, which showed that on one of the central dividing lines of this election, the public appeared to have contradictory views.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Politician in sex denial shock

I watched the last of the prime ministerial debates with a group of lively postgraduate politics students in a hotel in Leuven, the beautiful medieval town twenty miles from Brussels. No-one showed much interest until David Cameron turned to the subject of inheritance, when he delivered this gem: “passing your family home on to your children” is “the most natural human instinct of all”.

Philip Cowley in Reuters debate on hung parliaments

Sound quality is iffy for for the first few seconds - bear with it!
Watch live streaming video from ilicco at

Sunday, 2 May 2010


"This brief tour through of Britain’s political past reveals something else: to be Prime Minister you do not need to be a party leader or the leader of the biggest element in a coalition..."

The prospect of a hung Parliament has provoked the Conservatives – along with their allies at the Daily Mail - into trying to scare the living daylights out of us.

Friday, 30 April 2010

But what do they believe in?

"Perhaps party manifestos or leaders speeches could contain a short utopian vision of a better world..."

Utopias tell us about people’s visions and dreams of a good life. People who create utopian visions think about what’s wrong with their world. They identify core problems with the present and cast their minds forwards to imagine a world in which these problems have been solved.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Nothing more disagreeable

"We say we want the truth, we say we want them to be honest; but we don’t really – we want them to make us feel good about ourselves..."
‘The trouble with the public is they’re f*cking horrible’. That’s what Peter Mannion, the made-up – and rather sympathetic – Conservative in The Thick of It said after being confronted by the people’s ill-considered – some might even say bigoted - opinions about his own good self.

Small earthquake in Chile

"We might think that what happens in Chile is merely a small earth quake of no significance for us but perhaps it tells us a lot more than we might think about the end of New Labour..."
We seem to be in the twilight moments of the dominance of the Third Way in British Politics with Labour running consistently third in election polls.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Nice Party Turns Nasty?

In her foreword to the Green Party manifesto, Caroline Lucas suggests that the Liberal Democrats have dumped their positive attitude towards government intervention, in favour of the view that ‘the state is a problem’. The ‘nice party’, she writes, ‘have just got nastier’.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Proportional (mis-)representation?

"’s the beauty of politics that predicted outcomes are often confounded..."

The surge is support for the Liberal Democrats has prompted much talk about proportional representation. One of the received wisdoms about PR, one which has been stressed especially by Cameron’s Conservatives, is that it leads automatically to coalition and therefore weak governments.

Leaving aside the question of whether coalition governments are necessarily weak (there is plenty of evidence from our European partners that they do not have to be), is it true that PR always leads to coalitions?

Trust the people?

"As Andrew Hawkins of ComRes noted in his commentary, ‘clearly a lot of people are very confused......’"

Sunday’s ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror contained two questions designed to tap into one of the central dividing lines of the election – what to do about public spending. Its findings are very revealing.

New Labour and the unions

When New Labour came to power in 1997, British trade unions were jubilant. Immediately upon entering office, the Labour government signed up to the Social Chapter of the European Union and introduced the minimum wage.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Pick and Mix

With less than a fortnight to go, here are some of the highlights of the blog over the last two weeks:

The manifestos compared – can you guess which one talks about chaos more?

Why the ippr don’t get the BNP – and why the BNP targets Islam.

Why Newnight Review don’t understand political fiction

How the polls aren’t really moving as much as you think

Why you should be sceptical about all the talk of this being an internet election


Labour’s secret weapon: the World Cup

The benefits of attack ads

Gordon sings a song

And how to lose a TV debate, even if your opponent has punched a child in the face.

Professor Philip Cowley

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The absence

News that Labour is set to change its campaign strategy, moving Gordon Brown more centre stage, brings to mind David Hare’s play Absence of War.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

They think it’s all over…

"Could Clegg win the World Cup? If ever there was a moment to ask that question, just perhaps … it is now..."

With poll after poll putting Labour in third place, it is surely time for those bunkered in Labour HQ to reach for their secret weapon: the FIFA World Cup.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Why is no one criticising Nick Clegg’s Vietnam War record?

"The Daily Mail trumpeted the Conservatives’ success in raising £1.5 million in the first week of the campaign, but Obama could raise that between sneezing and blowing his nose..."
For those of us who treat elections as a spectator sport, the general election campaign is bubbling up nicely. But for a politics-as-sports fan like me, it lacks something in comparison with presidential campaigns in the United States. Sure, we’ve got our own ‘Yes we can’ (albeit ‘probably not’) dynamic going on. And the debates have been fun. But unlike the US, we don’t get to enjoy candidates’ paid-for advertising campaigns.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Ghost at the Feast

"How do these three men in a boat see the world, and our place in it?"
In Roman Polanski’s film, The Ghost, currently doing the rounds, Pierce Brosnan plays a recently retired British Prime Minister, sequestered in his American home-from-home, hard at work on his tennis and his memoirs. With his uncertain accent, impossible tan, ersatz charm, pectoral presence and petulant glamour, Pierce Brosnan makes an unconvincing Tony Blair. He is in good company. Tony Blair makes an unconvincing Tony Blair, for precisely those reasons.

Blame is the Spur

"The honeymoon period is over Rab. We want results"
With the nation swept away on a tide of Cleggmania, it is tempting to think that real life really is stranger than fiction. But for those who cannot get enough politics from the election campaign the arts are doing their bit to help fill the gap.

Mr Clegg Goes to Washington

"This ignorance was, it turns out, Clegg’s greatest weapon..."
When most people turned on their televisions to watch the first leaders’ debate they probably knew – or thought they knew - all they wanted to know about Gordon Brown and David Cameron. For good or bad their images had already been firmly fixed in their minds.

The Harrods Deterrent

"Perhaps a nuclear deterrent from Homebase would be more fitting than a future one from Harrods?"
In Yes Prime Minister, Sir Humphrey Appleby reassures the Prime Minister that Trident is the sort of nuclear weapons system that Harrods would sell. This was a good analogy at the time, relevant to the follow-on system that the Blair government announced in 2006.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Polls stability again (well, sort of)

Again, the polls appear to be all over the place. Last night’s ComRes poll had the Conservatives in front by nine points, Populus by just one. You Gov had the Lib Dems ahead by three, Angus Reid had them ahead by just one. Lib Dem support had either ‘burst’ (ComRes had them back to 26%, albeit a level of support that many Lib Dems would have sold their souls for just a week ago) or was at its highest level (34%, with YouGov).

Put your clothes on Dave!

The Conservatives’ new poster has been launched with the words “our new poster underlines our positive agenda on welfare reform”.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Leaders debates - lessons from Romania

"...finding a balance between using kid gloves and attacking your opponent is very difficult..."
Nearly all the pre-debate coverage last week tried to draw lessons from the US experience of presidential elections. But it’s not just the US that has them. Romania has had televised presidential debates since 1994, just four years after the revolution.

A New Study on BNP Support: Why IPPR Got (Some of) it Wrong

"Extremism of various forms and its support have much greater social and policy relevance than previous years..."
With each election comes a new wave of panic about the possibility of a BNP breakthrough. One problem with debate about the far right is that often remains completely detached from the rapidly-growing evidence base on what drives support for these parties.

Multiple polling days

"Postal votes will be landing on doormats soon.  They could well be doing so when the Lib Dems are enjoying their best election campaign ever..." 
A couple of months ago, I was chatting to a party strategist, and asked what he thought had done most to change the nature of British elections in recent years. His answer: postal voting.

Shorter, fairer, more polluted? The Lib Dem manifeso compared

"At worst, the government has provided too much and voters will actively want less. Either way, other parties can make gains..."

Following on from the previous comparison of the Conservative and Labour manifestos, what about the Liberal Democrat manifesto?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Life’s not fair, son

"Would the Lib Dems prop up a government that had come third in the popular vote? Now, there’s a question many of us didn’t think we’d be asking when this campaign began..."

Three things have changed as a result of the Lib Dems poll surge following Thursday’s debate. Two are (fairly) obvious, the third less so.

Letters From Economists

"The tale of the 364 may simply illustrate that the backing of economists – though rhetorically useful for politicians – is not a reliable guide to good policy..."
Those following the on-going debate about how and when to reduce the deficit will have seen a letter printed in last Thursday’s Daily Telegraph. Signed by almost sixty academic economists, it is the second to back Labour’s plans to delay spending cuts until ‘the recovery is well underway’, and warned that Conservative plans to cut immediately could ‘imperil not only jobs but also the prospects for reducing the deficit’.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Clegg is Cripps not Churchill shock

"Nick Clegg will have to show that he is more than that if he really is going to rival Churchill...."

The Sunday Times quotes a YouGov poll that says Nick Clegg is nearly as popular as Winston Churchill.

Wonderful stuff for those responsible for the story, the justification for which is that in 1945 Churchill had an approval rating of 83% while Clegg’s is currently 72%. The only sting in this particular tale – for Clegg anyway - is that Churchill went on to lose the general election - rather badly I seem to recall - a few months later.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Now that's what I call a poll

"Who said elections were dull?"
Until the debates, every opinion poll during the election had shown the Conservatives on 38+/-3, and Labour on 30+/-3. The YouGov poll published in the Sun today is the first to show movement beyond the sort of fluctuations you get from sampling error.

Creating the Big Society?

"There are many problems with localism, from its potentially damaging effects on democracy and equal and universal services to a bias towards certain groups..."
Despite Labour’s odd choice of cover, it was the Conservative manifesto that looked the most unusual last week. It was presented as an invitation to ‘join the government’ – to set up our own schools, to elect local police chiefs, to run the local post office, and to form co-operatives to deliver local public services.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Still not talking about immigration?

"...this may backfire by pushing at least some voters to the BNP and other small parties, as well as contributing to large-scale public resentment..."

In last night’s debate, the first question put to the three main party leaders was about immigration. Based on the responses, the differences between the parties on this issue are likely to be perceived as relatively marginal.

Spot the politician

"Yet the internet and social networking sites remain poor relations when it comes to political communication..."

One thing you might not have noticed about Labour’s first two election broadcasts of this campaign: there were no politicians. The first consisted of a man facing a crossroads played by one of Britain’s more accomplished actors, with a voice-over from a former Dr Who. The second consisted of Eddie Izzard. But there was not a glimpse of Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Harriet Harman, or anyone else from Westminster.

The BNP and Islam

"It might be tempting to dismiss this strategic shift as political opportunism and move on, but there are good reasons to take the BNP’s embrace of Islamophobia seriously. "

As Nick Griffin made clear in one interview this week, Islam remains a top issue for the BNP during the election. Like similar parties elsewhere in Europe, the BNP has increasingly shifted its discourse away from the crude ‘anti-black’ racism of its predecessors toward placing much stronger emphasis on Islamophobia.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

More MOE

"Move along, there’s nothing to see. Yet."

Yesterday I pointed out how the polls had been remarkably stable during the campaign, despite talk of their ‘volatility’, once you allowed for the margin of error inherent in sampling. Up till then, all but one poll during the campaign had put the Conservatives on 37 +/-3, Labour on 30 +/-3.

It's only words/and words are all I have

"So what happens when we compare the Conservative and Labour manifestos?"
Manifestos not only inform us about the sorts of issues which parties consider important at the election, they also provide crucial insights into how the parties think about these issues.

Forget debates...THIS is how to engage people

"Filipino voters expect to be ‘charmed and entertained’ by their candidates. Surely UK elections would be less tedious if we demanded the same? Gordon Brown, take note..."

In the Guardian recently Hadley Freeman wrote that UK elections are so boring that they might lead people to ‘self-lobotomise with a spoon’. Her comparison was with US - long and tempestuous, and UK - short and boring - elections.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Polls in stability shocker

"Most people involved in politics know about sampling error, but, as last night, they often forget its implications."

There were four opinion polls last night, all showing different sized-Conservative leads, ranging from 3 to 10 points. Cue confusion, and lots of talk about the polls being ‘all over the place’.

“I feel like I win when I lose”

"No-one (in their right mind) would want to find themselves governing in the scorched earth years that lie ahead of us. Not so much a poisoned chalice as a barrel’s worth of the stuff."
A familiar part of any electoral spring is the appearance of our old and counter-intuitive friend – “it’s a good election to lose”.

In varying forms, it has already made an appearance in The Guardian, The Independent and the London Review of Books courtesy of Messrs. Legrain, Lawson and Lanchester, respectively.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Sun worshippers let us lead you

The front cover of Labour’s election manifesto - launched this morning – features a bright sunshine. Given that Labour are in the ‘future business’, it’s a strange choice – because it was a common image before 1945, but not since.

Out with the new, in with the old

" focus on their internet strategies whilst ignoring their direct mail operations, is like reporting on a football game by describing the corner kicks in loving detail but ignoring the goals."
Marcus Aurelius said that a man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions. I’m not sure what that says about me, given that one of my ambitions is to go on Stars in Their Eyes as Diana Ross.

Queen sacks PM: You Heard it Here First

"...not everyone is aware that there is a precedent for the Crown to sack a sitting Prime Minister..."
Whenever the prospect of a hung parliament comes to mind (and given the many column inches and acres of cyberspace that must be filled in the run-up to an election, it always does), the question of the Queen’s constitutional role is never far behind. If there is no outright winner, must she summon the leader of the single largest party? Or (if it is not one and the same person) must she allow the sitting Prime Minister the opportunity to seek to form a government (of all the persuadable talents)?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

And so the first week ends...

This week’s blogs have included what polls aren’t telling you (and why the don’t knows may be crucial). Or when the first time Labour asked its supporters to design a poster (the answer is the distinctly pre-internet 1908). Why the newspapers aren’t powerful in the way everyone thinks (although they might be powerful in other ways). Or why corruption isn’t as electorally damaging as everyone thinks (although it’s harmful in other ways).

Friday, 9 April 2010

The most rebellious parliament ends

"...the 2005-2010 Parliament easily goes down as the most rebellious in the post-war period..."

The 2005 Parliament which was prorogued this week – formal dissolution comes next week – will probably be remembered as the expenses parliament. But it holds one other distinction: as the most rebellious parliament of the post-war period.

And now for something serious...

"... just voting might start a process that leads to the parties taking them more seriously..."

We have been told that this is going to be a Mumsnet election, the parenting website whose users are principally affluent, ‘aspirational’ women in their thirties and forties concerned with ‘quality of life’ issues. They are the latest version of the classic ‘swing voter’ who lives in the kind of marginal constituency that now supposedly decide general elections - the Worcester Women for our own times, the British cousin of the American Soccer Mom. Since 1997 many other names have been coined for what is basically the same group of women. In 2005 Labour focused on the School Gate Mum. Last year the Conservatives said they would woo Holby City Woman. More recently Douglas Alexander referred to Take a Break Woman as critical to Labour’s fortunes in 2010.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Snog, marry, avoid

It’s one of the key questions of the election so far. So we’re happy to clarify the position of women aged 25-34 in social groups C1/2 and D - the ‘Lambrini Ladies’ – in regard to the vital political question of Snog, Marry or Avoid?

Targeting youth engagement - again

"From this perspective, the Conservatives' new proposals suddenly seem significantly less radical..."

If the Conservatives’ plans for a National Youth Service and support for marginalised young people reveal anything it’s that politics has no memory. In this case not even a short-term memory. If it did then the Conservative party would recognise that intensive investment for youth engagement initiatives and preventing the social exclusion of young people are already parts of government strategy, under the combined package of the New Deal for Young People (NDYP), the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ Aiming high: a ten-year strategy for positive activities and the Cabinet Office’s Youth Taskforce Action Plan. Each of these programmes, due to outlive the election, make explicit their aims to make young people aware of their social responsibilities, prevent marginalising young people from policy-making, stimulate youth employment through welfare-to-work, and ensure that young people are drawn towards active participation in political decision-making. From this perspective, the Conservative’s new proposals suddenly seem significantly less radical.

What election polls do not tell us

" spite of the useful information that election polls offer, they are lacking in two important respects..."
We can expect a large number of election polls to be published in the next four weeks. Not all polling agencies arrive at their numbers in exactly the same way, and they need to be read with care. And in spite of the useful information that election polls offer, they are lacking in two important respects, both of which relate to the difference between ‘hard’ choices and ‘soft’ ones.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Avoid, Avoid, Avoid

New research into the political views of a group of women in the 24-35  age group on lower incomes - or the 'Lambrini Ladies' as we call them - has discovered many interesting and serious things (about which more later).

However one of the more amusing findings is that when asked if they would snog, marry or avoid the leaders of our three main political parties 89% wanted to avoid Gordon Brown, 66% would flee
David Cameron and 63% would give Nick Clegg a very wide berth.

As I will reveal later the Lambrini Ladies have more significant reasons for being disengaged from politics but if any of the leaders think they can exploit their sex appeal they had better think again.

Professor Steven Fielding

How powerful are the newspapers?

According to popular wisdom, newspapers are important political actors. Newspapers certainly like to think so. And the public seem to believe it. Claiming 'it's The Sun wot won it' (as in 1992) just would not make sense in any other context. When newspapers declare their positions going into an election, it makes news.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Think tank in sloppy logic shocker

"...doing something that almost 80% think is daft is a curious way to reinvigorate the political process."

The age of majority has been the subject of two major independent reports in recent years. The first, by the Electoral Commission came out in 2004. It recommended against lowering the voting age to 16. The second, by the government’s Youth Citizenship Commission, came out in 2009. It too did not recommend votes at 16.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Counting the cost of corruption

"The formal electoral process has become a game, behind which the realities of politics are played out in a manner which bears little resemblance to democratic accountability..."
Corruption scandals cost politicians votes, so goes the conventional wisdom. Try telling that to Silvio Berlusconi, a man almost synonymous with scandal, but who emerged as the big winner from last week’s regional elections in Italy. What does that tell us about the electoral impact of corruption? One reading might be that it shows voters don’t really care about accusations of corruption amongst their political leaders. The reputation of the political class is now so low across most European democracies that citizens more or less expect them to be involved in corrupt activities. And over time corruption scandals, like most scandals, lose their capacity to shock: what once generated outrage now elicits indifference. So, although voters may have been disgusted by the recent parliamentary expenses scandals in the UK, they are less likely to have been wholly surprised: for many, it will have represented confirmation of what they already suspected about the behaviour of their representatives.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Fire up the Hansom cab

"It seems odd for parties to look back into the relatively distant past, considering that they are in the business of providing better futures..."
In all the fuss about the new Labour poster featuring David Cameron as Gene Hunt one thing has been missed: this is not the first time that the party has turned to its supporters for poster designs. For that, you can go back to the distinctly pre-internet 1908, when the National Executive Committee decided to put an ad in Fabian News soliciting ideas. It’s not clear what ideas this produced, but Labour’s 1910 campaign went on to feature the iconic designs by the Royal Academician Gerald Spencer Pryse, ‘Workless’, ‘Landless’, and ‘Forward! The Day Is Breaking!’ The Conservative party agents journal of 1910 similarly asked if agents had any ideas for posters, and to send them in.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Things to read if the telly's rubbish this Easter weekend

With a Westminster election expected to be called just days away, here’s some things to read if the thought of a rerun of Diagnosis Murder doesn’t appeal.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Not talking about immigration...

"Faced with parties that will be raising it, the major parties must decide whether to ignore or engage with them, and, if the latter, on what terms..."
One of Labour’s five election pledges – unveiled when the Prime Minister visited Nottingham University last weekend – was to ‘strengthen fairness in communities through controlled immigration’. And yet, despite persistently high levels of opposition to further immigration and evidence that it had a significant impact on voting in the 2005 election, immigration is unlikely to be one of the main issues on which the election is fought. Why?

Politics academics all ignorant lefties

"I’m sceptical about much election forecasting...but I confidently acquit my colleagues of the charge of being groupthinking lefties." had some fun this week with the results of a poll of politics academics, carried out back in 2006, which showed the vast majority both wanted and expected a Labour victory after the general election. A full 54% of politics academics wanted a Labour victory, compared to just 15% who wanted a Conservative win. Ditto their predictions for what the Commons would look like after the election: 53% expected a Labour victory, just 18% thought a Conservative victory was likely. And an overwhelming 80% thought Gordon Brown was the best chancellor of the post-war era. Given both this overwhelming Labour bias, and what currently look like very inaccurate predictions, why should we believe the academic election forecasts reported here a few days ago?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Stiffing the politicians?

"...if we no longer trust politicians why should we trust a playwright’s view of politics? "

On 14 April 2010 a new play, Stiffed!, will start a four-week run at the Tabard Theatre in London. Stiffed! has been written by two journalists ‘who have experienced first hand the workings of politics’ and promises to be ‘a riotous satire on the inner workings of parliament, the press and politicians’ which will poke fun at both Cameron’s Conservatives and New Labour. Stiffed! will open in the midst of the general election campaign in which voter mistrust of politicians is at all time high, and presumably the Tabard hopes to tap into that mood.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Mystic Meg says: hung parliament

‘Prediction is very difficult’, said the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, ‘especially about the future’. But a recent academic conference at the University of Manchester tried to do exactly that with the forthcoming election. The conference was featured on the ever-excellent website, and what followed was a shower of abuse from readers of the site, many of whom didn’t like what they were reading. Much of this was ad hominem, much downright abusive, and much of the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) has since been removed from the site. One of the allegations was that the academics were engaged in an exercise in ‘groupthink’.

PM unveils election pledges at University of Nottingham

As was widely reported at the weekend, Gordon Brown was in Nottingham at the weekend. More specifically, he was at the University of Nottingham’s jubilee campus. He gave his speech at the Nottingham Geospatial Building, a new £9m research centre devoted to global navigation satellite systems and geospatial sciences, which has only just opened.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Selling England by the Pound?

The government is understandably furious about the maladroit claims made to undercover reporters by former transport minister, Stephen Byers, that he was ‘a bit like a sort of cab for hire’, able to influence serving ministers for a small matter of £3,000 to £5,000 per day. Alongside similar claims made by his former ministerial colleagues, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, such suggestions of being able to help shape or sway policy decisions in return for private payments strike at the very heart of the accountability upon which the democratic process depends.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Spinning the manifesto

Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has been in charge of drafting Labour’s manifesto since 2007. So he has had a long time to get it right. Over the weekend Miliband claimed in a Guardian interview that the manifesto will prove Labour remains best qualified to lead ‘the next phase of national renewal" and that it "will reform both the market and the state" and help “rebuild our politics”. This is good, classic New Labour stuff – ‘renewal’ ‘rebuild’ and ‘reform’ all evoke memories of 1997.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Public meetings can be fun

The decline of the public meeting is one of the staples of any discussion about changing electoral tactics. David Butler’s study of the 1951 election found a full 30% of the public claiming to have gone to at least one public meeting; by the 1966 election, an NOP poll found the figure had declined to just 4%. Public meetings organised by the parties have now died out almost completely. Yet cross-party meetings – with the various candidates on display, showing their wares – still occasionally continue, and when they happen they can be both fun and informative.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A step backwards with new MPs, says Ken Clarke

Whenever he comes to speak at the University – and as one of our local MPs he’s a frequent visitor – Ken Clarke always packs the room out. Students always turn up in droves to hear him speak, despite the fact that it’s now over a decade since he was in government, when most of them were still at junior school.

In this podcast, recorded just after a recent visit to the University, he talks about the state of Parliament and his hopes for reform. The current parliament, he says, has ‘disgraced itself’; in fact he claims it hasn’t really returned properly since the Christmas break, shell-shocked MPs just staying away and waiting for the election to end their collective suffering.

Monday, 22 March 2010

David Owen on hung parliaments

He may, as Ben Brogan argues, have been rather over-selling it, but news that Vince Cable has discussed Lib Dem policies with Treasury civil servants to help them prepare in case he becomes Chancellor in a post-election coalition government has added fuel to the current bonfire of speculation about the likelihood of a hung Parliament. The latest polls suggest that Labour and the Conservatives are currently both short of winning a Commons majority.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Same old Tories?

Saturday’s Guardian featured a very lavish article on some high-profile Conservative candidates at the election. ConservativeHome – the website for Conservative activists and supporters – wearily labelled it as ‘the Guardian profiles the same Tory candidates that always get profiled’, and it certainly was. In part, this fixation is because of the novelty value of these candidates. Until David Cameron became party leader and prioritised the reform of the party’s candidate selection it was rare to find so many women, ethnic minority or openly gay Conservative candidates in winnable seats, so it’s understandable that the media are getting oh so excited about some of them.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Don't expect much electoral accountability

There was a lively article by Fergal Davis on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site last week, arguing that voters in this election should hold their MPs to account for the way they’ve voted. Davis’s concern was civil liberties – but the argument could hold for a range of other things, from abortion to Trident, from post offices to Heathrow. Do we punish (or reward) MPs for the way they vote?

For some of his article, Davis uses a book I wrote in 2005, which looked at the voting record of MPs, and which showed that far from being the spineless bunch that everyone claimed, they were in fact becoming increasingly rebellious, with the Parliamentary Labour Party between 2001 and 2005 being the most rebellious of the post-war era. But the book also showed that there was no evidence that voters took much notice of this when it came to casting votes at the ballot box.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Managing welfare

What was most notable about the recent Gove-Balls clash over the access of children from poorer households to Oxbridge was not that Gove got his numbers right. Would it really make much difference if 145 rather than 45 of those receiving free school meals had found their way to the pinnacle of our university system? Neither wanted to engage with the real issue of limited social mobility, perhaps because neither of them have any idea of how this issue could be addressed. More likely they do know (for just the most recent survey of what’s wrong and what needs to be done, see the Marmot Report) but they are also aware that there’s no political will to see the problem addressed.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Why the environment is an electoral non-issue

Ask people if they think the environment is an important issue, and they will tell you that it certainly is. A ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of concern about global warming is reported by 67% of the British public respondents in the UK, and 84% of car drivers are ‘very’, or ‘fairly’, concerned about the effect of transport on climate change (indeed drivers show a higher level of concern for the effect of transport on climate change than non-drivers).

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

How the internet is changing politics

One of the dullest statements about the forthcoming election is that it's going to be the election in which the internet comes into its own as a campaigning tool.

For one thing, it's not the first time we've heard it -- people said it in 2005, 2001, and even in 1997. But more importantly, as Mark Pack shows in this fascinating talk, the reason it's a boring thing to say is because the reality is much more complicated, more nuanced than this.

Mark, who was in charge of the Liberal Democrats internet campaigns in both 2001 and 2005, gave this talk as part of Nottingham's Distinguished Practitioner series, which provides our postgraduate students with an invaluable opportunity to interact with distinguished names from the 'real world' of politics and international relations.

Professor Philip Cowley

Friday, 26 February 2010

Cameron and the renewal of the 'property-owning democracy'

The Conservative Party has recently won considerable publicity by renewing a pledge to allow workers' co-operatives to own and run public services.In so doing, the party has been accused of 'stealing political clothes that will never fit them'. Co-operatives, it is alleged, are an intrinsically left-wing concept and will never be natural Conservative terrain - despite claims to the contrary by Jesse Norman, founder of the Conservative Co-operative Movement, and Phillip Blond, the 'Red Tory'.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

On expenses - interview with writer Tony Saint

The MPs’ expenses ‘scandal’ of 2009 created an unprecedented moral panic about the shortcomings of our political representatives. However, while some MPs had clearly taken advantage of a flawed claims system, the public’s reaction owed its origins to a wider mistrust of how we are governed.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

What this election means for the far right

One story at the forthcoming general election will be the performance of the far right, specifically the BNP. Following gains in local elections, the Greater London Assembly (GLA) and the European elections, all eyes will focus on Barking where the not-so-charismatic BNP leader Nick Griffin will attempt to achieve something hitherto unknown on the British far right: representation in the House of Commons.

Posters in history

Why does a huge image of David Cameron dominate the Conservative's new election poster? Is it because, with his shirt-unbuttoned, this Man of Action is telling us that he personally will crack the deficit problem? Or is this just another example of Cameron aping the former Labour leader Tony Blair, another instance in which he wants to be the heir to Blair and continue his supposedly presidential style of politics? Or is this style of leadership marketing part of a longer, political tradition?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

New MPs, quiet Parliament?

We’ve been running a project, at Nottingham, looking at backbench dissent for the last seven years. Late last year, it revealed that Labour MPs were on course to be the most rebellious group of parliamentarians in the post-war era (anyone who can’t face the full report can read this summary, from Progress). And, in January, we showed how the Conservatives were much less likely to vote against government legislation than people thought (again, anyone who doesn’t want to read the report can read its coverage in the Times or on ConservativeHome). And occasionally, it’s even benefitted charities, when people are prepared to bet their opinions against our evidence.

Recreating our political history

If journalism is the first draft of history the biopic is now a close second, having become the staple output of many television drama departments. Recently figures as diverse as the Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Winnie Mandela have been given the treatment.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Why AV, why now?

Nobody likes the know-all who says ‘I told you so’ but in my book The Labour Party  (2003) I really did write (on page 53 if you want to look) that Labour would change the electoral system for MPs only ‘when it was absolutely necessary’ to sustain the party in power.  

So it has proved.