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.

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?