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Month: January 2016

Why the polls got it so wrong in the British general election

Written by John Curtice.

Since the surprise result of the British election in May 2015, there has been plenty of speculation about why the opinion polls ahead of the vote were so wrong. On average, they put the Conservatives and Labour neck and neck, when in fact the Conservatives were seven points ahead.

Hard evidence on the reasons for their failure, however has so far been less plentiful. But a new report published today provides important evidence on what really happened.

The report presents the results obtained by the latest instalment of NatCen’s annual British Social Attitudes survey, which was conducted face to face between the beginning of July and the beginning of November last year. All 4,328 respondents to the survey were asked whether or not they voted in the May election and, if so, for which party.

What is going on in Ukraine now?

Written by Lance Spencer Davies.

On the face of it, the conflict in Ukraine seems to have stabilised somewhat. Sporadic shelling aside, the last few months of 2015 saw the “hot” phase of the conflict in eastern Ukraine wind down to a relative calm.

Both parties’ forces have been slowly withdrawing in accordance with the latest ceasefire agreement, and while there were some isolated clashes between the opposing parties over the Christmas period, they haven’t derailed the current plans. Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains optimsitic about achieving progress in the negotiations.

A year after Charlie Hebdo, France is still searching for answers

Written by Emile Chabal.

France has had a tumultuous time in the year since two brothers opened fire in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 11, before going on to murder another five people in Paris. Just ten months later, the November 13 attacks showed that the threat of terrorism had not receded.

And just weeks after the second major attack, the far-right’s onward march in regional elections suggested that a significant proportion of the electorate had sought refuge in a language of fear and revenge after everything they had seen in 2015.

These growing anxieties were reflected at the highest level of the political system.

Labour reshuffle: why Benn was kept in Corbyn tent, while others were cast out

Written by Victoria Honeyman.

After one of the most protracted reshuffles in recent years, the new shadow cabinet has finally been announced. Michael Dugher was first to be sacked from his position as shadow culture secretary and, more than 12 hours later, Europe spokesman Pat McFadden went the same way.

Emily Thornberry, who opposes the Trident nuclear deterrent alongside Corbyn, has been brought into the fold as the new shadow defence secretary, replacing the pro-Trident Maria Eagle, who has been demoted to shadow culture secretary.

Even after taking more than 30 hours to reach his decisions, Corbyn faced an immediate backlash. Kevan Jones, the shadow minister for the armed forces, has already resigned , citing his support for Trident.

Real or not, North Korea’s ‘h-bomb’ is part of a well-planned agenda

Written by Robert Winstanley-Chesters.

North Korea’s announcement that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb was met with shock and surprise around the world – but there have been months of indications that something in just this vein was on the way.

Kim Jong-Un’s visit to Phyongchon Revolutionary Site near Pyongyang in December 2015 would have passed with little comment were it not for the young leader’s passing mention that his state was ready to detonate a hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, what it calls its “treasured swords”, has only briefly and tenuously been demonstrated, and when Kim made this unexpected announcement, the outside world was sceptical that Pyongyang had really mastered this complicated and demanding technology.

2015: the year British politics lost its opposition

Written by Eunice Goes.

Like many election years, 2015 was a strange time for British politics. But the vote, which put the Tories in power, was only the prelude. Things got truly bizarre in the latter half of the year when the opposition stopped showing up for work.

Up until May, 2015 was completely dominated by the electoral campaign. The unpredictability of the election meant that the contest was feverish, at times quite nasty, and pretty relentless.

But then a really strange phase began. On May 7, British voters rewarded the Conservative Party with an unexpected parliamentary majority. Until the results of a shock exit poll were announced just after 10pm, it had looked as though a hung parliament was practically inevitable. Many thought Labour would govern at the head of some complex coalition of parties. Few, if any, predicted the Conservatives would win enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. But win they did, coming away with a majority of 12.

After years of proxy war, Saudi Arabia and Iran are finally squaring up in the open

Written by Simon Mabon.

Ever since Saudi Arabia executed Shia Cleric Nimr al-Nimr for terrorist offences, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been escalating by the day. After the execution, the Saudi embassy was stormed by protesters in Tehran. Riyadh has now severed diplomatic relations with Tehran – and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, staunch Saudi allies, have followed suit, spurred on by Iran’s portentous prediction of “divine vengeance” for the execution.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, condemned those who stormed the embassy, but was also critical of the Saudis’ behaviour, suggesting that “the Saudi government has damaged its image, more than before, among the countries in the world, in particular [among] Islamic countries, by this un-Islamic act”.

The concerns that led to Sheikh Nimr’s execution – that he was an agent of “foreign meddling” in the kingdom – are not new. A Shia cleric who spent time in Iran and Syria, Nimr was an outspoken critic of the house of Saud and played a prominent role in the 2011 uprisings in the Shia-dominated Eastern Province.

Japan’s government has politicised a generation with its constitutional reforms

Written by Oana Burcu.

As the Japanese government continues to press ahead with controversial changes to its “peaceful constitution”, it continues to fuel domestic protests and fails to get full endorsement from the members of its own ruling party. Prioritising foreign policy while dismissing domestic opposition is hardly a wise course, and Shinzo Abe’s government seems not to have fully anticipated the political risks.

Trouble has been brewing for a while, but rose to a new level in the summer of 2014 when a man self-immolated in Tokyo in June 2014 to protest the reinterpretation of Article 9, which was intended to renounce war permanently.

2015: the year in elections

The following short articles come from academics with the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR) and discuss the 2015 elections in Nigeria and Poland.  These blog posts form part of a wider series from The Conversation that discussed all major elections that year.

Nigeria: matters of urgency

Written by Catherine Gegout.

When Muhammadu Buhari was elected president of Nigeria in March, he certainly had his work cut out. Nigeria’s economy badly needs to be diversified; petroleum exports revenue represents more than 90% of total export revenue, even as only half of all Nigerians have access to electricity. Education is in a dismal state, especially in the north, where only 6% of children have primary education.

There have already been some promising moves. Buhari has renewed Nigeria’s beleagured fight against corruption, including oil corruption and both he and his deputy took a symbolic pay cut. He must now start honouring his promise to improve gender representation in politics. Currently, only 16% of cabinet members are women, and only 6% of senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Jeremy Corbyn: George Lansbury reborn?

Written by Steven Fielding.

Having suffered a crushing defeat, the Labour party has turned to a London MP of pensionable age, a man of pristine socialist commitment.

I could be talking about Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. But I’m actually referring to George Lansbury in 1932.

Few outside Labour’s ranks have heard of Lansbury. If he enjoys any fame it’s as the grandfather of Hollywood stalwart Angela Lansbury and Clangers creator Oliver Postgate. But for those left-wing activists of Jeremy Corbyn’s generation he remains an inspiration.