On 23 November, the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in collaboration with the Birkbeck’s Department of Politics brought together a panel of leading commentators and scholars to discuss the implications of Europe’s migrant crisis for the rise of the populist right.
As somebody who teaches negotiations at the London School of Economics (and whose elder daughter is a junior doctor) I have followed the junior doctors’ dispute very closely. What I have gradually discovered is that one of the key obstacles to the successful resolution of the dispute is that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has violated almost every basic principle of effective negotiation.
Thousands of people apply to work in MPs’ parliamentary offices every year. Why? Robert Dale, author of How to Be a Parliamentary Researcher, visited the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life on 16 November to explain.
Working in an MP’s office is an opportunity to operate at the centre of British politics. In an insightful discussion with comments from Tony Grew (Lobby journalist for The Telegraph, founder of the Parly app) and Susan McLaren (Birkbeck PhD student), Robert Dale explored how to get a job in an MP’s office, the challenges of these positions and the culture around working in parliament.
The panel featured Ed Bacon, Matthijs van den Bos, Antoine Bousquet, Rob Singh and Barbara Zollner. Assistant Dean Alex Colás chaired the discussion.
The panel assessed the origins and dynamics of the crisis in the Middle East, considering why ISIL’s recruitment practices have been so successful in the West, possible solutions to the Syrian civil war and the ramifications of the conflict for the relationship between Washington and Moscow.
The Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life welcomed author and journalist Polly Toynbee to the Keynes Library yesterday, where she appeared in conversation with Birkbeck Professorial Fellow in Politics Tony Wright.
The wide-ranging talk, which was followed by a Q&A with the audience,
mixed biographical detail with political insight, covering Toynbee’s education, early work experiences and the effort behind writing two columns a week. It also addressed the challenges facing the Labour party in upcoming votes in London and Scotland, and the pitfalls for the Yes campaign in the EU referendum.
On 4 November, Professor David Runciman visited the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life to speak on the subject of Jeremy Bentham and conspiracy theory.
The lecture explored what Bentham had to say about conspiracies real and imagined and how his ideas of conspiracy changed in line with his shifting view of democracy. It asked whether it makes sense to call Bentham a conspiracy theorist, and if so, what that tells us about the relationship between conspiracy theory and political theory.
John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor and former Birkbeck student spoke to staff and students at an event organised by the Politics Department. He was questioned by Joni Lovenduski over gender representation and came out in support of legislative quotas for women and job shares, though he challenged the ‘19th century’ idea that the top Shadow Cabinet jobs such as Foreign Secretary were still the most important. He acknowledged that the Parliamentary Labour party was not wholly in favour of its new leadership but promised that the party would remain a broad church and democratic, with space for dissent and different views. The new activists who had joined since September, he hoped, would radicalise the party.
This General Election is the most unpredictable in decades. From the SNP in Scotland to UKIP’s assault and the Green insurgency, this election is full of uncertainties. We tried to make sense of a contest even pollsters are seeing as too close to call.
Last night Birkbeck staff from the Politics Department each gave a five-minute pitch and bite size assessment on a different aspect of the election, chaired by Professor Tony Wright. Did we piece together who could win?
Listen to the talk as a podcast here to find out (the pitches and Q and A are separate).
We discussed a whole range of issues:
- Who is voting for who, and how has it changed? Rosie Campbell made the point that fewer and fewer people are voting for the main two parties and women voters (who make up, remember, 52% of the electorate) will be crucial.
- Jason Edwards looked at what’s happening in Scotland and argued that, whether there will be a clean sweep of all 59 seats for Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP or not, the UK will be profoundly disrupted.
- What will be the UKIP effect? Eric Kaufman argued that their influence in marginals, despite their supposed fall, will be crucial, and they may kick start a new English nationalism.
- Diana Coole pitched for the Greens, fresh from by far the best and funniest election video (see the Boyband here), who are attracting votes and attention, especially from younger parts of the electorate. Even if we are unlikely to see a Green Prime Minister, could they capture another seat?
- How did social media influence things? From Milifans to Brand, social media has disrupted, upset and entertained, showing it is a new media force, if a very unpredictable one. But who is so keen on getting our data?
The discussion then covered English nationalism, who stays technically in Downing Street, how you get to be a government (Tony Wright advised us to read the Cabinet Manual – it’s all written there) and whether the election may be more like 1945 (in a certain way) than 1992. Most importantly, as Tony Wright pointed out, voters are now getting used to voting for the party they want, not who will be in government. This means more and more governments will be made through bargaining after elections.
So what did we predict for 2015? A Labour Minority? A Left Rainbow Coalition? Or a sneaking in of the Tories, powered by ‘shy’ Conservative voters?
All of the above, and we changed our minds.
To help you try and make more sense of this election, below are some helpful links:
- Poll of Polls explaining the actual position of the parties (updated daily)
- The Polling observatory’s election forecast
- Polling wizard Nate Silver, who successfully predicted the last two US Presidential elections, predicts UK 2015
- For the more historically minded-all the UK’s General Elections since 1945 in 12 graphs
- Find out about your constituency at democratic dashboard and your candidates at Yournextmp
- Finally, a guide to what will happen post-election (and what the rules and myths are about it) looking at the Queen’s Speech and how the Fixed Term Parliament Act changes it-the trick is to survive the Queen’s Speech…
By Dr Rosie Campbell, Reader in Politics, Department of Politics, Birkbeck
On 11th February Harriet Harman launched the Labour party’s magenta battle bus intended to reach out to women voters. The bus generated a fair amount of publicity and was explained on the basis that women have been less likely to vote in previous elections.
Women are less interested in formal politics than men, but there is little convincing evidence that significantly fewer women than men have voted in recent British General Elections. Take the last general election. The 2010 British Election Study post-election face-to-face survey shows that 77% of men and 76% of women said that they had voted, a gap between men and women of just 1% that is not statistically significant. As well as self-reported turnout the survey includes a validated vote variable (the survey team used electoral registers to establish whether respondents voted in the election). Using these figures, 57% of men and 56% of women in the survey were found to have voted in the election, again producing a gap of just 1% between men and women, and a gap which is again not statistically significant. In my view it is difficult to use this miniscule difference between men and women in the survey to claim that there were a disproportionate number of missing women voters in 2010.
So why else might women voters be receiving so much attention? First, women are often over represented in the ‘don’t know’ category in political survey questions (as reflected in the figure below). But given the lack of a significant turnout gap between men and women it is likely that a sizeable proportion of the women represented in the ‘Don’t Know’ category will vote for a party’s candidate on May the 7th. Women are also somewhat less likely to be strong partisans than men, and again, as a result there are slightly more women among the undecided voters who are the target of the parties’ activities during the campaign.
Vote intention by sex, 2015 BES online panel wave three
Second, there are some differences in men and women’s political attitudes. Women are on average a little more hostile to cuts in public spending than men, with 5% more women than men judging that cuts to public spending have gone too far and 10% more women than men believing that cuts to the NHS budget have gone too far. Given attitudes to austerity are likely to be a crucial decider in this election these small gender differences between men and women may have some impact on the result.
However, as things stand there are only relatively minor differences between men and women’s vote intention evident in the BES 2015 wave three. After removing non-voters and the ‘don’t knows’ 31% of men and 30% of women intended to vote Conservative, 33% of men and 36% of women intended to vote Labour (the largest gap between men and women in vote intention). Thus it would seem from this data that Labour have a marginal lead among women, but the differences are small indeed and should not be overstated.
This blog was originally posted on the British Election Study website.
By Danny Rye
Neither individualism nor therapeutic withdrawal from the political arena are enough to empower people to make the fundamental changes needed in their lives.
This article was first published at OurKingdom, the UK section of openDemocracy – click here
British politics is in a fragile state. Levels of trust in politicians are low, traditional measures of political engagement indicate an increasing dislocation between a distant ‘political class’ and the electorate. People are less inclined to vote at all (as turnout figures for recent elections indicate) and those that are seem in increasing numbers to be more attracted to ‘insurgent’ parties and charismatic individuals from George Galloway to Nigel Farage who appear to offer simple answers to often complex questions. Underlying this is a sense of powerlessness, anger and disappointment that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the political system itself, and which mainstream politicians seem powerless to address without making worse.