Europe: the gift that keeps on giving misery to Conservative whips







With delicious timing, tomorrow’s House of Commons vote on Europe comes almost 20 years to the day since the Conservative whips were in deep panic about one of the key votes held on the Maastricht Bill.  The ‘paving motion’ vote – the vote to re-start the Maastricht bill’s progress – was held on 4 November 1992, and as Douglas Hurd recorded in his diary on the eve of the vote: ‘no one in the know believes we will win at 10 tomorrow’.

Indeed, even as late as eight o’clock on the night of the vote, the Conservative Whips Office still believed that they would lose by one or two votes.

In the end, they won – but narrowly, and only with the support of the Liberal Democrats.  There were two separate votes on the paving motion.

The first was on a Labour amendment; the second, and most important, was the paving motion itself, which inter alia noted that the Bill had received a majority of 244 at its Second Reading and thus invited ‘Her Majesty’s Government to proceed with the Bill’.

The first saw 23 Conservative MPs vote against the Government with around 10 abstaining.  The Government won by 319 to 313, thanks to the support of all but one of the Liberal Democrats.

The second vote – on the main motion – saw the rebellion increase to 26 cross-votes, together with at least six abstentions.  The Government’s majority was even narrower (319: 316), despite the continued support of the Liberal Democrats.

The irony was that this was an issue on which the Labour frontbench officially supported the Government.  They welcomed the Maastricht Treaty, and would have signed it too.  There was an overwhelming majority in the House for the treaty.  Its ratification should have been simple and painless.  Yet despite the Labour leader, John Smith, being avowedly pro-European, he was prepared to use almost any parliamentary device available to drag the process out, finding areas where his party could disagree with the Government, highlighting the Conservative divisions.  It was not, he felt, the Opposition’s job to make life easy for the Government.

As a result, of the unholy alliance between the Labour frontbench and Conservative rebels, it took more than a year of parliamentary debate, marked by continuous backbench dissent on the part of Conservative MPs, before the Bill was passed.  One Conservative MP described the victory over the Paving Motion as ‘like the Battle of the Somme… The Government has gained ten years but at a huge cost’.

Twenty years on, the battle is still being fought.  Tomorrow’s rebellion is merely the latest in a string of rebellions over Europe.  In a particularly rebellious parliamentary party, this is the most incendiary  issue – during the first session of the Parliament, rebellions over Europe were, on average more than double the size of those on other issues, including the whopper two years ago over demands for a referendum.  The nature of the divisions may have changed.   The split of twenty years ago – between ‘pro-Europeans’ and ‘eurosceptics’ (the labels are crude, ugly, and contested, but necessary) are now over; the new battle lines for the Conservatives are between gradations of scepticism, between hard and soft sceptics.  But its ferocity is undimmed.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

Cézanne’s truth










A confession: I have spent five years writing a life of the painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). Another confession: it is another damn’d thick, square book, 500 pages long, though weary readers will have the consolation of forty pages of colour plates, the ringing endorsement of Julian Bell in the Guardian and the knowledge that it is Book of the Week in the Independent.

Why is the life of Cézanne worth writing? Or perhaps more to the point, worth reading?

Cézanne is now recognized as the most important artist of the modern age. He should properly be seen as a world-historical figure, a climate of ideas, and a part of the culture. If in the final analysis a great artist is a man who has lived greatly, as Albert Camus proposed, Cézanne seems to embody what was required. He shows what human beings are capable of. His life story is the exemplary life story of the artist-creator in our time. Countless artists take Cézanne as their model. And not only artists – poets and philosophers, writers and directors, thinkers and dreamers.

Cézanne created a new world order. His way of seeing radically refashioned our sense of things and our relationship to them. He once said of his mighty Woman with a Coffeepot (illustrated above) that a teaspoon teaches us as much about ourselves and our world as the woman or the coffeepot.  The revelations of Cézanne are akin to those of Marx or Freud. The transformational potential is as great. The impact on our selves and our world is as far-reaching.

Put another way, he was a revolutionary. The successor generation knew this well enough. Braque: ‘He was not a rebel, Cézanne, but one of the greatest revolutionaries; this will never be sufficiently emphasized. He gave us a taste for risk. His personality is always in play, with his weaknesses and his strengths. With him we’re poles apart from decorum. He melds his life in his work, the work in his life.’ Picasso: ‘It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. Cézanne wouldn’t be of the slightest interest to me if he had lived and thought like Jacques-Émile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. What is of interest to us is Cézanne’s inquiétude, that is Cézanne’s lesson … that is to say, the drama of the man. The rest is false.’

Inquiétude – restlessness, anxiety – is his signature condition, in life and afterlife. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s celebrated essay, ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’ (1945), made the point in slightly different terms, discoursing freely on his morbid symptoms, his psychological disequilibrium, his ‘schizoid make-up’. Cézanne the musical has yet to appear – no one has dared – but the opera is Cézanne’s Doubt (1996).

The anxiety and the eccentricity have been overdone. The salient thing about Cézanne’s condition was that he had purpose – moral purpose – he was inquiet de vérité: hot for truth. ‘He is inquiet,’ said one commentator, ‘but only to know if his values are true, and the humanity in his paintings rests on the value of a value,’ a pun on moral values and colour values. Cézanne was a Nietzschean revaluer of all values. It was entirely characteristic of him to write to one young artist that he owed him the truth in painting and that he would tell it to him; or to another that he would speak to him more truly than anyone, and that in art he had nothing to hide. Cézanne the revelator could do no other. Painting was truth-telling or it was nothing.

Cézanne was a curious mixture of pride and humility. According to his son, he would say: ‘Politicians, there are two thousand of them in every legislature, but a Cézanne, there is only one every two centuries.’ Who is to say that he was wrong?

 Alex Danchev

Globalisation and the threat to democratic legitimacy






Globalisation challenges national governments on many fronts, as illustrated so clearly by the fallout from the banking crisis of 2008-9. Perhaps the most important threat posed by globalisation is to the very legitimacy of those governments, and their authority to act on behalf of their populations.

This problem is clearest amongst the young, something that suggests that the current crisis of democratic legitimacy will only deepen. Using data from the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement, this blog post explores that gathering threat to representative democracy.

Stuart Fox

Do Government Chief Whips have an afterlife?

Sir David Butler is one of Britain’s most respected and experienced political analysts. In this Guest Post he discusses what happens to Chief Whips when they leave their job. 

The Government Chief Whip is little known to the British public – Andrew Mitchell’s ill-fated moment in the spotlight being one of the exceptions – but the post holder is at the centre of British politics. The Prime Minister has to rely on the incumbent to manage parliament, to quell revolt and to spot talent. The Chief Whip in turn has to employ tact and charm, bullying and bribery to control the troops; it is not for nothing that they are known as the Patronage Secretary. MPs know that their prospects fate, to a significant extent, lies in the hands of the Chief Whip. The voters remain in ignorance because the Chief Whip almost never speaks in public; the carrots and sticks, essential to the job, are seldom unveiled.

Sooner or later however the time comes for the Chief Whip to move on, especially once the Prime Minister – or the MPs – lose faith in them. Perhaps the occupant has come to feel the post is too onerous or too boring.

But is the office the end of a career or a stepping stone to new opportunities? It is worth looking at what has happened to Patronage Secretaries over the last ninety years.

Since 1922 there have been 30 individuals in charge at 12 Downing Street. One (Lord Monsell) took  over the office three times and a further three held it twice (William Whiteley, Bob Mellish and Nick Brown); another four shared the position during the wartime Coalition.

Almost all ended their days in the House of Lords. Among Conservatives, Edward Heath is the shining exception. Seven Labour Chief Whips refused or were not offered peerages (Spoor, Kennedy, Edwards, Whiteley and Silkin and, recently, Hoon and Smith). It was not until the 1970s that a Labour ex-Chief Whip reached the Lords.

A more important question is: how many had a significant political life after leaving 12 Downing Street?

In 12 cases their tenure was ended by a General Election, although six of these had a significant parliamentary career when in due course their party returned to power.

Of the 17 others who left the post in a mid-term reshuffle: 15 jumped straight back into ministerial office; 8 of them into the full Cabinet, including two (David Waddington and Jacqui Smith) who moved to brief spells as Home Secretary, and one (John Wakeham), who had ten years at the top as Leader of the Commons and then the Lords. Francis Pym was later to become Foreign Secretary. Only David Margesson was promoted straightway to the obscurity of the Lords while Richard Ryder retired to the back benches awaiting his peerage in the 1997 dissolution Honours.

Few ex-Chief Whips however became very important on the political stage. Wakeham, and, still more, Heath stand out as the eminent exceptions.

So while many Chief Whips do have a political afterlife, the post is often the most significant that an individual will ever hold. Andrew Mitchell may want to take note of that rather depressing fact.

Reading Gramsci









In my book Unravelling Gramsci (2007) I argued against a mechanical application of the thought and practice of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. Instead, I developed an interpretative method that drew from Gramsci’s recommendation to grasp the leitmotiv or rhythm of thought of a thinker in relation to practical concerns relevant to the present. After all, as Karl Marx relayed in the Theses on Feuerbach, the question of the relevance of theory has to be grounded in the ‘this-sidedness’ of thinking in practice.

Hence, for Gramsci, historical materialism should not be conceived as a total or rigid doctrine beyond question but as a philosophy of praxis. Indeed, in a newspaper article for Il Grido del Popolo entitled ‘Our Marx’, dated as early as 1918, Gramsci rejected any perception of Marx as a ‘shepherd wielding a crook’, or ‘some Messiah who left us a string of parables laden with categorical imperatives and absolute, unchallengeable norms, lying outside the categories of time and space’. Just as Gramsci received Marx in this manner then this is how we should receive Gramsci. How can this approach to the history of ideas in general and the significance of historicising Gramsci in particular be further developed?

A new review article of mine in Capital & Class and available to download here draws on a noteworthy contribution to questions of method and hermeneutic understanding when approaching the reading of texts. In terms developed by Tony Burns in his book Aristotle and Natural Law (2011) the ‘reading’ of a text is an endeavour at the most elementary point of engagement in an attempt to understand a text, assuming that it can be understood in different ways. Flowing from this starting position, he then distinguishes three approaches to reading a text in order to develop an approach to hermeneutic understanding, which involve establishing meaning by interpretation, by appropriation, and by negotiation.

In brief, meaning by interpretation is an attempt to understand a particular text as the author of that text understood it herself or himself. An interpretation of a text is an attempt to understand the ideas in a text in their own terms, or as the author of the text in question might have understood them, based on someone seeking the ‘truth’ in relation to the meaning of the text in question.

Second, meaning by appropriation has a practical or political relevance for the person who produces it. In such readings the ideas of an author are taken up and used by the reader for purposes of their own. The person who appropriates a text, or the ideas which it contains, is not motivated by the desire to offer a ‘truthful’ interpretation of the text. Appropriations in this sense are regarded as distortions of the meaning of a text and radically alter the meaning of the concepts contained within the text. The act of appropriation is an intentional hermeneutic manoeuvre. Additionally, according to Burns, ‘if an appropriation of a text were presented as an interpretation of it then it would be rejected by the vast majority of scholars working within the field, or even all of them, as being false or invalid’.

Third, establishing meaning by negotiation represents a compromise, perhaps, between interpretation and appropriation or a theoretical synthesis of the two. From this point of view, the act of hermeneutic understanding is always an historical enterprise and therefore there is an acceptance that the meaning which is given to texts written in the past can and will alter. Nevertheless, background conditions do set a limit to the range of possible readings that might legitimately be given of a specific text by an individual reader living in a particular society at a certain moment in time. Negotiation represents in effect some sort of dialogue between the author of the text and its reader. The meaning of a text and the ideas which they contain can and do alter over time.

These conceptual distinctions are clearly useful for historians of ideas and students of the history of political thought in that they distinguish between the enterprise of establishing meaning by interpretation, by appropriation, or by negotiation when approaching a thinker. Not least, when disputes between competing interpretations of texts arise these may be evaluated on the basis of recourse to the text. As a result, misinterpretations of texts are possible rather than misreadings. Further, an appropriation of a text can be revealed as a selective reading of a text whereby the ideas of the author are taken up by appropriators and used by them for purposes of their own. Such readings reflect the interests and concerns of the appropriator and not necessarily those of the author.

The import of these conceptual distinctions to Gramsci studies could be highly significant. After all, when approaching his texts readers should be clear in their own minds which of these activities they are performing – interpreting, appropriating, or negotiating – in developing a reading of Gramsci. In my earlier work, Unravelling Gramsci, such interpretative groundwork was attempted, specifically in heeding Gramsci’s own method of absolute historicism when reading texts germane to the past and present.

In recently surveying a “new phase” in the use of Gramsci’s ideas and writings, it has been astutely remarked by Marcus Green and Peter Ives in Rethinking Marxism that one might hope for ‘a turn away from the all-too-common invocation of Gramsci in vague repetitions of compelling but general motifs’. In my view, one result may be the prevalence elsewhere of devout but errant students producing vague repetitions and invocations of Gramsci’s thought that are reliant on an unreflexive appropriation of, rather than negotiation with, Gramsci (see here my post ‘Turkey: what kind of passive revolution?’).

Now might be an apposite moment to provide greater clarity and self-reflexiveness on what method or hermeneutic approach one actually adopts when reading Gramsci.

Adam David Morton

Parties and their pasts






How do political parties cope with electoral defeat? How do they reconcile competing interpretations of their pasts? What happens when their visions of the future collapse?

My latest book, History, Heritage and Tradition in Contemporary British Politics explores these questions by viewing political parties as both tightly-knit communities with strong collective memories and privileged participants in the creation of national historical narratives.

In this clip (available to view online until 28th October 2012) you can watch me discussing issues raised in my book with Mark D’Arcy of the BBC Parliament Channel’s Book Talk series.

Emily Robinson

The new Chief Whip’s first rebellions





Our project monitoring the behaviour of MPs makes it six Tory backbench rebellions out of the first 25 divisions since Andrew Mithcell, the new Government Chief Whip, began in post at Westminster.  That is a roughly rate of one rebellion in every four votes, which is a lower rate than seen under the previous Chief Whip  – although the number of divisions so far is so low as to make any comparisons pretty meaningless.  Of the six rebellions, most are small, involving one or two MPs – although the largest, on a deferred division, involved 16 Conservative MPs, and came over the EU Commission’s regulations on the sulphurous content of marine fuels.

Ironically, the very first rebellion to occur under the new regime came during the Report Stage of the Defamation Bill on 12 September.  It is, given the issue that has caused the Chief Whip so much grief since his appointment, ironic to note the definition of defamation: ‘attacking the good reputation, or speaking ill, of another’.

Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart

Who benefits from a Lib Dem collapse?

The Liberal Democrats have now been flatlining at or just below 10% of the vote for nearly two years. The decision to join the Conservatives in a Coalition government looks more electorally toxic with each passing month. It is thus no surprise that bloggers and strategists for both major parties have begun to speculate about the implications of a Lib Dem collapse for their parties. Some have argued that the Conservatives stand to gain disproportionately, owing to the large number of seats in the South East and South West where the Lib Dems compete with the Tories, with Labour a distant third. If Lib Dem votes in the South East and South West head over to Labour, the Tories are the big winners, or so the reasoning goes.

This reasoning is misleading – such arguments focus on where the Lib Dems are most competitive and ignores the fact that they win large numbers of votes in places where they are not electorally competitive at all. For example, there are around 50 marginal seats with Tory MPs and Labour challengers where the 3rd place Lib Dem vote is more than twice the margin of victory. If the Lib Dem vote heads red in these seats, Labour are big beneficiaries. And there are other combinations, such as Lib Dem seats where Labour are the main challengers.

A more systematic way to look at the issue is to imagine what happens in every seat if we reallocate some of the Liberal Democrats’ votes. Nick Clegg’s party have made this job easier by vowing to vote against the expected changes to Parliamentary boundaries, so we can simply use the 2010 constituency boundaries. We can therefore apply shifts in the Liberal Democrat support at constituency level to get a rough idea about their likely effects on the balance of power

Where have the Lib Dems gone? Mark Pack’s excellent analysis of “lost Lib Dem” voters from autumn 2011 found that 75% of 2010 Lib Dem voters were no longer supporting the party a year later – 26% had gone over to Labour, 24% to “don’t know”, 9% to the Conservatives and 15% to other options. Looking in depth at the “don’t knows”, we find this is a group that is closer to the left than the right – if one measures such things as views of the parties and left-right ideology, they look more like Lib Dem defectors to Labour than Lib Dem loyalists or Lib Dems who have defected to the Conservatives. However, many of them are clearly reluctant to make the shift over to Labour, despite the Coalition, so clearly retain some loyalties to their former party. I therefore split them 50-50 between the Lib Dems and Labour.  For simplicity, I allocate the “other” vote to the Greens, who as the largest left wing minor party are the likeliest destination for disaffected Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems won 23.6% of the Great British vote in 2010 (Northern Ireland is excluded as none of the major parties contest it). Reallocating their votes in accordance with Mark Pack’s poll results, and leaving everything else unchanged in the following national vote shares for each party:

Labour: 38.7% ( +9.0)

Conservative: 39.1 (+2.1)

Lib Dem: 9.0 (-14.6)

Green: 4.5 (+3.5)

The current pattern of Lib Dem vote shifting would thus point to a near tie in the popular vote, all else being equal. But how would this translate into seats? Wouldn’t the Conservatives get an advantage from all the Liberal Democat-Conservative marginals in South England. There are two ways we can test this. The first is to apply a “uniform swing” adjustment to the vote shares in each constituency – reallocating the parties’ vote share in accordance with the national shift in their vote. Doing this results in the following allocation of seats:

Seat allocation – Uniform swing in each constituency

Labour 320 (+62)

Conservatives 294 (-13)

Lib Dems  11 (-46)

Others: 25

Hung Parliament: Labour 6 seats short of a majority Clearly, the Conservatives are not the big winners from a Lib Dem collapse in this model. They do pick up more former Lib Dem seats than do Labour (28 to 18) but this is more than offset by the large gain Labour makes in marginal seats where they are challenging the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are third. A collapse in the Lib Dem vote in these places hands them an extra 41 seats, enough to get them very close to a majority. An alliance with the surviving 11 Lib Dems would put them over the top with a 12 seat majority. This seat allocation suggests that Labour’s  often overlooked advantage in the electoral system would remain significant even if the Lib Dems’ support shrunk dramatically.

The UNS method relies on some rather unrealistic assumptions, however. We are reallocating 15 percentage points of Lib Dem support in each seat, but in many seats this amounts to the entire Lib Dem vote, or even more than the total Lib Dem support base. While vote swings in Britain tend to be quite uniform, it isn’t that plausible to imagine that the entire Lib Dem support base will switch away (and certainly implausible to imagine that more voters will switch than voted Lib Dem in the first place!)

A different way of attacking the problem is to propose a proportional swing of Lib Dem supporters. Rather than deducing 15 percengtage points from the Lib Dem total in each seat, and reallocating it, we split the Lib Dem in accordance with the ratio’s found in Mark Pack’s survey. What happens then? It is not as straightforward to calculate national vote shares using this method, so I focus on the shift in seat allocations.

Seat allocation – proportional swing in each constituency

Labour 312 (+54)

Conservatives 309 (+2)

Liberal Democrats 0 (-57)

Others: 29

Hung Parliament, Labour 14 seats short of a majority

Allocating the Liberal Democrats’ vote proportionally completely wipes them out at Westminster, as there are no Lib Dem seats so secure that the party can hold on with only 37% of its 2010 vote. This is an extreme, though not impossible, outcome: in 2011 the Liberal Democrats lost all nine of their constituency seats in Scotland, clinging on in Parliament only through proportional top up seats and votes from the Shetland and Orkney Isles. While a wipeout on this scale is fairly unlikely, it does provide a neat test of the relative effect of Lib Dem seat changes, as in this case all Lib Dem seats are awarded to someone else. The Conservatives do perform better in this situation, winning 33 Lib Dem seats to Labour’s 23 (and 1 for the SNP), but this is once again offset by Labour gains in Con-Lab marginals, where Ed Miliband’s party pick up 30 seats. Once again, Labour are the major winners from a Lib Dem collapse, although they would be faced with a very difficult hung parliament.

We can see from both scenarios that Labour are most likely to gain from a collapse in Lib Dem support, as any gains the Conservatives make at the Lib Dems’ expense are more than offset by the boost Labour gets in Con-Lab marginal seats. This is evidently not a realistic exercise, ignoring factors such as incumbency effects, local campaigns and tactical voting. However, all these factors are likely to further advantage Labour. If Liberal Democrat incumbents are able to shore up their support, this will hurt the Conservatives more than Labour as the Tories are the second place party in most Lib Dem held seats (38 vs 17 with Labour second). Lib Dem local campaigning will also be more likely to benefit them in seats they hold or have a chance of winning than in Con-Lab marginals where the Lib Dems are out of contention. It still seems plausible that many left-leaning voters will ultimately tactically support the Liberal Democrats to keep out Conservative challengers at local level when Labour have no chance, while at present it is open to doubt whether Conservatives, who regard their junior partner with growing hostility, will be willing to lend their votes to Lib Dem challengers.

The collapse in the Lib Dem vote is therefore most likely to benefit the Labour party and make a Parliamentary majority for Cameron’s Conservatives even more of a stretch, though Lib Dem defections alone would probably not deliver Labour a majority. It would seem, therefore, that the Conservatives have a strong interest in helping to restore the fortunes of their junior Coalition partner. Yet recent Conservative party behaviour – in particular the “white van man” approach shown at their recent conference, with authoritarian attacks on welfare recipients, the EU and crime, while slapping down Lib Dem proposals such as the “Mansion Tax” – seems almost designed to antagonise the Lib Dems and encourage further bleeding of support.  This is a dangerous strategy. Even if David Cameron manages to consolidate his right flank, he is likely to lose the next election if his junior Coalition partner collapses and the centre-left vote consolidates behind Ed Miliband’s Labour.

Postscript – where are the Lib Dem swing seats? My analysis above makes clear that there are quite a lot of Conservative-Labour marginals where the Liberal Democrat vote is large enough to influence the outcome. Where are these seats? And where is the Lib Dem vote most critical? One easy way to answer this question is to look at the ratio of the Liberal Democrat vote to the majority in each seat. If the ratio is 2, that means that the Lib Dem vote is twice the size of the current incumbent’s majority. In the table below I list the Conservative and Labour marginals where this ratio is above 2: seats where a switch by half of the Lib Dems’ voters could change the outcome.


Majority 2010 (%)

Lib Dem vote 2010 (%)

Lib Dem swing ratio (LD share/majority)

1. Warwickshire North

54 (0.1)

5,481 (11.6)


2. Hendon

106 (0.2)

5,734 (12.4)


3. Thurrock

92 (0.2)

4,901 (10.7)


4. Cardiff North

194 (0.4)

8,724 (18.3)


5. Sherwood

214 (0.4)

7,283 (14.9)


6. Lancaster & Fleetwood

333 (0.8)

8,167 (19.1)


7. Broxtowe

389 (0.7)

8,907 (16.9)


8. Stockton South

332 (0.7)

7,600 (15.1)


9. Amber Valley

536 (1.2)

6,636 (14.4)


10. Warrington South

1,553 (2.8)

15,094 (27.5)


11. Plymouth Sutton & Devonport

1,149 (2.6)

10,829 (24.7)


12. Wolverhampton South West

691 (1.7)

6,430 (16.0)


13. Waveney

769 (1.5)

6,811 (13.3)


14. Lincoln

1,058 (2.3)

9,256 (20.2)


15. Weaver Vale

991 (2.3)

8,196 (18.6)


16. Carlisle

853 (2.0)

6,567 (15.6)


17. Stroud

1,299 (2.2)

8,955 (15.4)


18. Morecambe and Lunesdale

866 (2.0)

5,791 (13.3)


19. Bedford

1,353 (3.0)

8,957 (19.9)


20. Brentford & Isleworth

1,958 (3.6)

12,718 (23.7)


21. Pudsey

1,659 (3.4)

10,224 (20.8)


22. Hove

1,868 (3.7)

11,240 (22.6)


23. Dewsbury

1,526 (2.8)

9,150 (16.9)


24. Northampton North

1,936 (4.8)

11,250 (27.9)


25. Brighton Kemptown

1,328 (3.1)

7,691 (18.0)


26. Corby

1,895 (3.5)

7,834 (14.4)


27. Ipswich

2,079 (4.4)

8,556 (18.2)


28. Gloucester

2,420 (4.8)

9,767 (19.2)


29. Hastings & Rye

1,993 (4.0)

7,825 (15.7)


30. Ealing Central and Acton

3,716 (7.9)

13,041 (27.6)


31. City of Chester

2,583 (5.5)

8,930 (19.1)


32. Bury North

2,243 (5.0)

7,645 (17.0)


33. Erewash

2,501 (5.2)

8,343 (17.5)


34. Nuneaton

2,069 (4.6)

6,846 (15.3)


35. Kingswood

2,445 (5.1)

8,072 (16.8)


36. Halesowen & Rowley Regis

2,023 (4.6)

6,515 (14.8)


37. Worcester

2,982 (6.1)

9,525 (19.4)


38. Enfield North

1,692 (3.8)

5,403 (12.2)


Rob Ford contributes to our series of Polling Observatory posts.

Promoting good governance: another EU success story in the making?






For well over a decade the European Union has promoted Good Governance in the Western Balkans as part of its promise to eventually extend membership to states in the region.

The quality of governance is essential for any nation’s economic development and democratic consolidation, arguably reducing public sector corruption and promoting trust in government.

I have recently concluded a research project for  SIGMA which studied the professionalization of the civil service in the region, a key component of Good Governance. My report can be found here. I show that the civil service in the Western Balkans provides a mixed picture, with weaknesses notable in terms of low degrees of rule effectiveness and of reform sustainability.

My research shows however that civil servants are, by and large, supportive of the principles of professional management and very positive with regard to de-politicisation and meritocracy. Positive attitudes among civil servants will be an important asset for future reform initiatives.

Civil service reform in the region is however closely associated with signals sent by the EU. During the first half of the 2000s, the Western Balkan states implemented an impressive number of reforms, aiming to catch up with Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. The prospect of EU membership created incentives for politicians and policy-makers in the region to invest in reform despite difficult domestic conditions.

Recent ‘enlargement fatigue’ inside the EU has inevitably therefore undermined many states’ commitment to civil service professionalization. Montenegro is an important exception. The award of candidate status and the promise of opening membership negotiations has re-vitalised civil service reform initiatives there with the help of the international community and close collaboration with SIGMA.

Good Governance will remain high on the EU’s agenda in the Western Balkans in the years to come. However, the effectiveness of the EU’s promotion of Good Governance ultimately depends on it keeping open the prospect of enlargement.

Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling is on Twitter and has a personal blog.


Votes at 16: no solution to anything







The campaign to lower the age at which an individual can vote in the UK – from its current 18, to 16 – has been given a fresh boost by the Government’s willingness to concede giving 16 year olds the vote in the Scottish independence referendum in return for the Scottish Government agreeing to a single referendum question.

As someone who sat on the Government’s Youth Citizenship commission which reported in 2009 and which considered the voting age amongst other things, .  There is a useful summary of the case against here, which runs through these various myths.

Not much has changed since the Electoral Commission considered the subject in 2004 and rejected it.  But those interested in the subject should also look at the Hansard Society’s Audit of Engagement carried out in 2008.  They examined public faith and understanding in eleven different aspects of the British constitution.  They found just three where the majority of the public said they understood the issue, and only one where the majority of the public said they approved of the current position.  There was just one issue – out of eleven – where the majority of the public both understood and supported the constitution: and that was having a voting age of 18.  So it’s a bizarre way to reinvigorate democracy: find the only issue where a majority both understand and agree, and then do the exact opposite.

Philip Cowley