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Month: April 2015

Could the pro-Labour bias in the UK electoral system disappear at the 2015 election ?

By Tim Smith

At the 2010 election there was a considerable pro-Labour bias in the electoral system.  Despite a 7.3% lead in votes over Labour in Great Britain, larger than had been achieved in outright victory by Ted Heath in 1970 and Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the Conservatives finished 19 seats short of an overall majority.  The bias in the electoral system was estimated to have been 54 seats in Labour’s favour, such that if the two parties had achieved the same vote share, Labour would have won 54 more seats than the Conservatives.  This bias in the system was actually considerably smaller than that estimated at the 2005 election, (111 seats).  Labour had won an overall majority of 66 seats on a vote share of just over 3% more than the Conservatives in Great Britain.  They had won 93 more seats than the Conservatives in England despite polling 70,000 fewer votes.

Pathe does elections: The Tory years

By Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley 

Having governed, in coalition and as a single party for eleven years, the Labour Government which had scrapped back into power in 1950 was looking increasingly lethargic and directionless. As this Pathe film notes, ‘with a hard winter ahead and with the threat of a split in his party’ Clement Attlee in 1951 decided to put his case once more to the country in hope of a greater majority.

Throwing Stones from a Glass House

By Caitlin Milazzo

People are quick to criticise political parties for ‘going negative’. Just a day into the official campaign, David Cameron was already defending himself from allegations about his party’s use of negative tactics. While the Conservatives have been the recipients of most of the accusations in the current election – particularly after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s personal remarks about Ed Miliband – one has only to look to Twitter to see that no party can credibly claim an entirely positive campaign.

The term ‘negative campaign’ is often used to refer to campaign messages that people deem derogatory, overly personal, or perhaps even untrue. However, a more sensible way to understand negative campaigning” is to use it as a description of political messages in which politicians are talking about their opponents. Discussing one’s opponent(s) can take many forms – including referring to their policy positions, qualifications, or previous record – but the content is almost always negative in the sense that it focuses on the weaknesses of the opponent. (Parties rarely talk about their opponents to praise them.) Figure 1 contains excerpts from two leaflets – one Labour (top) and one Conservative (bottom) – where the parties engage in negative appeals by attacking the policy positions of another party. In order to avoid negative messaging altogether parties would need discuss only their own merits and qualifications, with no mention of their opponent.

Disadvantage, Squared

By Chris Pierson 

In this last posting on the state of British welfare, I consider the cumulative consequences of disadvantage and what, if anything, is likely to be done about it.

No-one’s post-code or age is their destiny.  There are always (as John Hills points out) some who make it from rags to riches; (though there is rather less traffic moving in the opposite direction).     But, in the long run, the law of averages grinds pretty small.   Those who start out near the bottom of the profile are likely to end up there.  And the same goes for those at the top.   And this means that the attempt to recast welfare politics as having transitioned from class struggle to intergenerational struggle is an over-simplification.  Not all baby-boomers are wealthy retirees or near-retirees sitting in their gently-appreciating owner-occupied homes planning a string of foreign holidays funded by their generous and index-linked pensions.   Nor are all of the late-born poor (or destined to remain that way).  (Some illustrative figures here).    In a context where previously accumulated wealth and inheritance may be ever more important, having wealthy parents, even for those who are now capital-poor, may have a decisive effect on their lifetime wealth and opportunities.    And the accumulation of disadvantage is not a linear but an exponential process.   Those who are presently resource-poor and have chosen the ‘wrong’ parents face the prospects of disadvantage, squared.

Disadvantaged: The Young

By Chris Pierson 

In my previous post, I reported how the Coalition government had discharged many of the costs of economic crisis upon the (working) poor.  Today, I consider the ways in which young people in Britain have been systematically disadvantaged by government policy since 2010.

One of the great achievements of the welfare state in Britain is that it has stopped old people being poor, or at least it has ensured that old people are now no more likely to be poor than anyone else.   As recently as 1986, some 40% of pensioners were living in low-income households. By 2012/14, this number had fallen to 13%, compared with 21 per cent for all working-age adults and 27 per cent for children.   The now much-maligned Labour Administrations of 1997-2010 directed enormous additional resources towards older people, but they also directed unprecedented resources towards children living in poverty.  Kitty Stewart (2013, 5) estimates that spending on child-contingent benefits and tax credits more or less doubled across the period of Labour government, while child-related services saw a dramatic increase from around £671 per child in 1997/8 to £2,514 per child in 2009/10.   Spending per child more than doubled in real terms from £1,334 to £2,913.

One small step

By Philip Cowley

When did humans first land on the moon? 1969.

Unless, of course, it was all faked, as part of a conspiracy to protect American pride and money.

Around 7% of Americans think that the moon landings were faked; another 13% say they are not sure.  That 7% figure is lower than the 13% who think Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ (another 13% aren’t sure about that one).

There is a growing literature in the US examining conspiracy theories and their relationship withpartisanship and voting, with (contested) claims that a growing divide is opening up between the parties over their supporters’ propensity to believe in conspiracy theories. What about here in the UK?

I asked You Gov to run a simple question testing whether Britons believe the moon landings occurred or not.  I deliberately chose a conspiracy theory that wasn’t focussed on Britain – Tony Blair is actually a lizard in human form or MI5 was involved in fixing the Scottish referendum – to get at a wider sense of belief in conspiracies, rather than anything which might be obviously partisan. The question wording was:

Some people believe that humans first landed on the moon in 1969; other people believe that the landings were faked as part of a conspiracy to protect the pride of the USA. What is your view?

Disadvantaged: The Poor

By Chris Pierson 

In my previous post, I suggested that we could not hope to meet the several challenges that face the welfare state by simply demonizing a part of the population that depends upon the welfare state or by defraying the costs upon those who are already poorest. Yet this is more or less exactly what the Coalition government has been doing over the past five years. Faced with the need to address the size of the public deficit (itself largely a product of the banking crisis of 2007/8), the Coalition government determined that most of this reduction should be achieved by reductions in public expenditure rather than by increases in taxation.   It also chose to ring-fence the budget for healthcare and for schools and to protect pensioners’ incomes by applying the so-called ‘triple lock’ (guaranteeing an annual upgrade of at least 2.5%).

Disadvantage, Squared: The poor, the young and welfare

By Chris Pierson 

In a series of four linked posts, Professor Chris Pierson looks at the politics of the welfare state over the period of the last parliament in the context of the upcoming election.   Since our political classes are asking the wrong questions, they are likely, he concludes, to come up with the wrong answers.

Questions of welfare loom large in the 2015 General Election.  But the contest we are witnessing is a strange one.   The main UK parties fall over themselves to pledge their commitment to increase resources for the NHS, to protect spending on state education, to uprate the incomes of pensioners and to promise to build hundreds of thousands of new homes, in much the same way that a magician produces rabbits from a hat.  At the same time, they all suppose (to very varying degrees) that the budget for ‘social security’ or ‘welfare’ can be (and should be) cut or capped.  The ‘good’ bits of welfare are to be funded at least in part by screwing down on the ‘bad’ bits.  But if we really want to understand what is happening to the welfare of people in Britain today, we need to raise our eyes a little higher and to widen our vision.  We need to consider a much broader political economy of welfare and to recognise that the welfare state, to use that old-fashioned term, is best understood as part of a broad and complicated apparatus for the distribution and redistribution of costs and opportunities, in which government has a central role.  Looking backward, government action since 2010 has systematically disadvantaged the young and the poor.  The challenge for the welfare state now is not to find still more ways of cutting costs, but rather to think of ways of reversing this trend in the face of the real challenges arising from demographic change and a globalized economy.

Predicting Liberal Democrat seats at the election: incumbency, swing, tactical voting and unknowns

by Timothy Smith

Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.” – George Eliot – Middlemarch

It has always been difficult to predict the likely numbers of Liberal Democrat MPs ahead of an election, and with the exception of 2010, predictions based on exit polls have generally been at least 10% off beam, sometimes much more.  At the 2010 election, the Liberal Democrats lost a net five seats despite increasing their vote share from 22 to 23%.  The results saw seats moving in both directions with the party gaining and losing seats from both the Conservative and Labour parties.  The big drop in support that the Liberal Democrats have suffered since joining the coalition in 2010 means that it is next to certain that they will lose a large number of seats at this election.  This post discusses the factors that will decide how many of the 57 seats the party won in 2010 it can hold.

Pathe does elections: The Attlee Years

By Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley 

As the Second World War neared its conclusion there was some hesitancy as to when the first General Election in almost a decade would take place. Although some constituencies had held by-elections during the hostilities the vast majority of voters had to get back into the rhythm of electioneering.

The widespread expectation was, that having led the nation to victory in the war, Churchill would go on to be elected by a grateful nation to carry it on into peacetime. Such were the crowds that greeted Churchill wherever he travelled during the campaign this result seemed more than likely. Pathe caught him at one huge gathering apologising for his lateness because of the ‘large enthusiastic crowds’ he had already encountered.