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, 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.