By Wyn Rees
Election fever is in the air and the party platforms are busily being debated. Amidst this febrile atmosphere, defence is coming under the spotlight. Although not an issue at the top of voters’ agendas it is a subject that attracts attention because of the heightened threat environment resulting from terrorism and events in the Middle East. What are the issues in defence that will figure in the General Election in May?
Like other government departments, the Ministry of Defence has experienced four years of austerity. The Conservatives conducted a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010 that inflicted painful cuts on all three Armed Services. Based on the premise that a £37billion shortfall had emerged between defence commitments and resources, the Regular Army was cut from 102 000 to 82 000, the surface fleet was reduced in size and the Harrier and Nimrod aircraft were retired. The legacy from these decisions creates the context in which a future government will conduct an SDSR in 2015. There was an expectation that by the time of the 2015 Review the defence budget would be growing again but the persistence of the national debt renders this unlikely. Anything more than a slight increase in the defence equipment budget, to take account of major weapons programmes, looks overly optimistic. Continue reading
By Matthew Goodwin
Spend time with senior people in UKIP and it will not be long until you hear about the ‘2020 Strategy’. Buoyed by their recent success, Farage and his party are already talking openly about their plans for after May. And there is little disagreement about what they should be.
The 2020 Strategy is geared toward establishing Ukip as a permanent feature on the political landscape, transforming it from a short-term revolt into a long-term insurgency. It is anchored in an assumption that the party has already established ownership over its two core issues – immigration and Britain’s relationship with the EU.
By Steven Fielding
Armando Iannucci, the man who gave us The Thick of It and Veep, has just called on Britons to make sure they vote in the upcoming general election.
Iannucci points out, rightly, that politicians only notice those who vote. Yet, while arguing against Russell Brand’s claim that the British political system is so flawed it is only by non-voting that change will come, Iannucci suggests that it is perhaps only comedians like Brand who offer a “proper, mature engagement with democracy”. Britain’s political parties in contrast only come in for criticism. They engage in negatives, Iannucci claims, such that it is almost impossible to know for what they actually stand.
This is all a little rich from the man responsible for television situation comedies that on both sides of the Atlantic show politicians and their spin doctors to be lying, incompetent careerists. The current popular hostility to representative democracy is by no means all due to comedians’ jokes about politicians: office-holders have hardly done themselves many favours on that count. But the likes of Iannucci have played some role in framing the exaggeratedly negative way we see our leaders.
By Matthew Goodwin
Which political party do voters back on immigration?
It is a question that has been asked during many election campaigns in the past and one that has influenced the strategies of the main parties. Ever since the 1960s, the most popular answer given by voters was the Conservative Party.
Historically, the centre right has held a strong advantage on this issue, being seen as the party that is most likely to deliver on what consistently around seven in ten voters want to see; a reduction in the level of immigration into the country. Despite concerns among some Tory ‘modernisers’ about possible reputational damage, the simple reality is that the Conservative Party has traditionally remained closest to public opinion on this issue and has been rewarded accordingly.
By Matthew Goodwin
Nigel Farage arrived in the Labour-held seat of Rotherham yesterday, preparing to launch the most important campaign in his party’s 21-year history.
Ukip, which spent 20 years in the wilderness, is currently third in the national polls and widely expected to increase its tally of two MPs.
The party has neither the manpower nor money to match the established parties. But after two successful by-election campaigns in Clacton and Rochester & Strood it has learnt how to overcome first-past-the-post. Its success at the European elections last May has also inspired its plan for a short but loud general election campaign in about 30 seats, with a smaller number of “top targets” receiving much greater support.
A book co-written by a Nottingham academic has won the prestigious Political Book of the Year award in the Paddypower Political Book Awards 2015.
Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain, by The University of Nottingham’s Dr Matthew Goodwin and Manchester’s Dr Rob Ford, was praised as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘an essential and enjoyable reading’ by the judges.
The award-winning book beat off stiff competition from Alan Johnson, Luke Harding, Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker, Anne de Courcy, Andrew Roberts and Chris Bryant.
By Louise Kettle
The news that the publication of the findings of the official Iraq war inquiry is once again to be delayed has outraged MPs and the families of the soldiers involved. Familiar accusations of a whitewash and concerns over public confidence have already been raised. Now it is not only the content of the Chilcot report that must be questioned but also the delay itself. The continued procrastination undermines the very reason for the inquiry’s existence.
After the vast array of difficulties experienced throughout the Iraq War, the inquiry was set-up with one clear objective: to identify lessons for the future. Since 2009 the UK government has pumped more than £9m of taxpayers’ money into the inquiry in order to identify these lessons.
By Alison Gardner
The Smith Commission’s recommendations towards ‘devo-max’ for Scotland have dragged the question of English devolution out of Whitehall’s cupboard of forgotten political options and thrust it blinking into the political spotlight. English local authorities have seized this opportunity to lobby Parliament to move beyond the Westminster-centric debate of ‘English votes for English laws’ and decentralise key powers and funding streams to local authorities.
In 2011, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, promised a public service revolution built around the principles of “localism”. However, local government academics, Jones and Stewart, found that the subsequent 2011 Localism Act contained multiple centralising powers, particularly in respect to finance. By 2013 the English local government funding system was declared to be “broken” and in need of fundamental overhaul. So what are the prospects for the current localist movement to reach beyond technical reforms to overturn the existing pattern of central-local relations? Are there now favourable conditions for a ‘localism revolution’?
By Philip Cowley
Everyone knows that people don’t much like MPs. But spend any time around Westminster and you’ll hear a much-repeated caveat: whilst people don’t like MPs as a species, they quite like their MP. For politicians it’s a bit of a comfort blanket; after years of press and public hostility, they can reassure themselves that the animosity is nothing personal, that whilst other politicians may be disliked, they personally are OK. More than a few are banking on this helping them out come next May.
It’s only partially true, though.
There is a difference between how people view MPs in general and their own MP, but the difference is often exaggerated.
By Matthew Goodwin
FOLLOWING several turbulent years for the far-right in the UK, Britain First is probably the most significant group currently in operation.
Nick Griffin’s British National Party used to be the dominant movement but has now essentially collapsed after financial issues, disastrous election results, and political infighting.
Similarly the English Defence League, which first emerged in 2009 to oppose what it claimed was the ‘Islamification’ of British society, has also disintegrated following the imprisonment of its young leader and internal divisions.
Britain First, which focusses on opposing Islam and British Muslims, is led by former BNP member Paul Golding who in earlier years was Nick Griffin’s right-hand man.
Despite being a registered political party, they seldom contest elections. When they stood in the parliamentary by-election in Rochester and Strood, they failed to win even 60 votes.