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.

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