‘Counting the Cost of Brexit Inaction’, Politico.eu,12 August 2018.

Close your eyes. Imagine for a moment that you’re waking up on June 24, 2016 and turn on the TV to hear that Remain had won the U.K.’s EU referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron is standing at a lectern in front of No. 10, flushed with success but also keen to reassure Brits that he’ll be dedicating the final three or four years of his premiership to reuniting a divided country by tackling “the big issues we all know need addressing.”

OK. Now wake from that dream — or maybe that nightmare. What would those big issues be? Since the vote, Britain’s political debate has been so overtaken by the tortuous practicalities and politics of Brexit, that the notion of government tackling anything else — let alone “big issues” — seems remote.

Everyone’s list will be different, of course, but here, in rough order of said issues’ importance to voters, is mine.

* * *

Health

The National Health Service is under severe strain as the state funding required to keep it free for those who need it fails to keep pace with the growing demands placed upon it. If experience is anything to go by, the default solution (if solution is the right word) is rationing via longer waiting times, narrower coverage and less capital investment.

Unless, that is, someone finally grabs the bull by the horns and goes for hypothecated taxation and/or some kind of mandatory insurance. But even if they do, is social care — the stuff that goes on in homes rather than hospitals — going to be included?

If not, how on earth is it to be paid for, other than, as now, by forcing the unlucky to run down any savings they may have made during their working lives?

Immigration

Notwithstanding the crucial — and some would argue outsized — role it played in the Brexit “take back control” campaign, quite who is going to be allowed to come to live and work in the U.K., and on what terms, has barely been discussed during the last two years.

That’s presumably because the government, unless it really is happy to “f*ck business,” knows it is going to end up disappointing an awful lot of Leave voters.

Had Brexit not happened, it might have responded more rationally to voters’ concerns by restoring, albeit under a new name, its predecessor’s migration impact fund — and by actually using the rights given to it under EU law with regard to new arrivals from member countries who proved unable or unwilling to find work.

Instead, Brexit has inflamed the debate and made delivering a workable solution to address people’s concerns even more unlikely.

Education

Pre-school provision in the U.K. remains patchy and expensive, making it far harder than it should be to combine work and child-rearing. It’s also one of the few things that can help offset damaging differences in readiness for school between children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Fast forward to post-16 education, and you discover that the U.K. still hasn’t got its act together on vocational education, that “further education” colleges are still woefully underfunded and that universities are still all over the place — providing too many courses to too many students who, despite the debt they are piling up to pursue them, don’t take their studies seriously enough and can’t, in any case, be guaranteed a “graduate job” at the end of the process.

Government needs to have one eye on the future. Instead, on this as on so much else, it has trained both eyes on Brexit — even as it ignores the repercussions of its pending March 2019 exit, which could make universities less attractive to EU students and trigger a major loss in research funding from the bloc.

Housing

The U.K. hasn’t been building enough homes for decades. Its highly restrictive planning regulations aren’t fit for purpose. Home ownership is shrinking, and the young in particular are being priced out of the market, particularly in the more affluent parts of a country plagued by huge regional disparities.

Government attempts to do anything about the situation have so far ranged from the pointlessly anemic to the positively counterproductive.

At a time when it has already hacked off nearly half the country with its pursuit of a hard Brexit, the government has likely realized it can ill-afford to risk offending even more people by doing anything that might devalue their most precious asset.

Taxation

Last but not least. The U.K.’s local authorities raise relatively little of their own revenue. One of main ways they do it — the so-called council tax — is based on property valuations that, believe it or not, were last carried out in the early 1990s and is nowhere near as progressive as it should or could be.

Nationally, the U.K. has failed utterly to respond to the key challenges of a 21st century characterized by inequality and the ongoing march of digital progress: how to properly tax wealth rather than income and how to make the tech companies pay their fair share.

A number of county councils face acute financial difficulties as a result, while Amazon’s British tax burden has shrunk even as its turnover has increased. A government less consumed by Europe might have had the bandwidth to take at least baby steps to prevent either scenario from happening.

* * *

Admittedly not all the items on this list would have made it onto the U.K.’s political agenda even if voters had killed Brexit stone dead back in June 2016. Nor would Britain have abandoned its obsession with EU membership overnight. But the virtual absence of significant action on any of these pressing issues by a political class mesmerized by how, when and whether to leave the EU represents an opportunity cost that, for once, deserves to be labelled massive.

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‘To Defeat Far-Right Nationalists, Don’t Try to Imitate Them’, New York Times, 16 July 2018.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government in Britain is in turmoil. But the resignations that have rocked it in recent days — even that of Boris Johnson, who was until recently her obsessively ambitious foreign secretary — risk blinding us to a simple truth: The big reason Mrs. May’s party is in so much trouble over Brexit is that it is determined at all costs to end “the free movement of people” that, even for those European countries outside the European Union, is a condition of belonging to the bloc’s single market.

Why are Britain’s Conservatives so set on that course, despite the fact that access to that market is vital to the prosperity of the country they govern? Because promising to “take back control” of their country’s borders gradually became the party’s default response to a challenge that so many of Europe’s center-right parties have been trying to deal with for a decade or more.

The rise of anti-immigrant nationalist insurgencies claiming to represent “the people” against a corrupt and uncaring political establishment has deep economic, political, social and cultural roots. Yet the reaction of the Continent’s mainstream conservative, market-liberal and Christian democratic parties can be boiled down to four fairly shallow, and equally ineffective, approaches. Only if the center-right fully faces up to the fact that they are all dead ends can it begin to come up with better, more creative and probably more combative ways to deal with the challenge it’s facing.

The first approach is to try to ignore the populist radical right — and even treat it as some kind of pariah. That’s essentially what the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and the Moderates in Sweden did for years. In the end, it hasn’t worked.

The far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany took a remarkable 13 percent of the vote in last year’s federal election. The party’s rising popularity has so spooked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior partner, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, that its leader, Horst Seehofer, recently came perilously close to resigning in protest of her supposed failure to act on the matter — a resignation that might easily have brought down her government.

Meanwhile, the fact that the Sweden Democrats originated in that country’s white supremacist underground didn’t prevent them from gaining 13 percent in the 2014 general election. Many predict they will do even better this year, even in the wake of attempts by the Swedish government to strengthen border controls.

The second approach taken by the center-right is to toughen its stance on migration and multiculturalism, promising to make life more difficult both for those who want to come to the country and for those who’ve already made it. Countries where the center-right has tried this include the France, the Netherlands, Denmark — and Britain.

Again, though, the results haven’t exactly been impressive: The far-right National Front made it into the runoff in the 2017 French presidential election. The equally extreme Dutch Party for Freedom hasn’t gone away. The Danish People’s Party became Denmark’s second-biggest party when it took 21 percent of the vote in the 2015 general election — at which point it resumed a role it had already played between 2001 and 2011, namely guaranteeing the survival of a minority government led by the center-right.

In Britain, the Conservative Party’s decision to try to outflank from the right the U.K. Independence Party, the populist radical-right party that under Nigel Farage (a big fan of Donald Trump) helped bring about Brexit — delivered it only a pyrrhic victory. True, the U.K.I.P.’s vote share plummeted to just 2 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2015. But by alienating better-educated, more liberal voters, Mrs. May ended up losing her parliamentary majority. Since then, she has been forced to rely on the support of Northern Irish evangelicals to stay in power — and now, given the disagreements within her own party, even that might not be enough.

The third approach takes this kind of support arrangement to the next level. Since the turn of the century, center-right parties in Italy and Austria have been periodically involved in full-blown coalition with populist radical-right parties, at least partly in the hope that doing so would expose the latter as blowhards incapable of delivering on their ramped-up rhetoric. The results? Policies on migration and multiculturalism have grown ever tougher without doing much — at least in the long term — to dent the standing of the populists.

Last year saw the Austrian People’s Party, nominally Christian democrats, obliged to invite their radical competitors, the Freedom Party, into government for the second time. And the policy consequences are now becoming clear: The state has been empowered to seize cash and cellphones from asylum seekers and is planning to reduce welfare benefits to migrants who don’t pass language tests and to ban girls under 10 from wearing head scarves. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia finished this year’s general election behind La Liga, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, is now the country’s interior minister and the man responsible for Italy’s recent refusal to allow boats carrying desperate asylum seekers to dock in its ports.

The fourth and last approach is the most radical of all. Rather than trying to isolate, borrow from or govern together with a populist radical-right insurgency, a center-right party actually turns itself into one. This is effectively what has happened in Hungary, where Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz has over the past decade transmogrified from an apparently market-friendly mainstream party into an ultranationalist champion of closed borders and “illiberal democracy.”

Has it worked? Well, only up to a point. In Hungary, in spite of Mr. Orbán’s efforts (or who knows, partly because it has shifted the system’s center of gravity so far to the right) Jobbik, which is still very much a far-right party notwithstanding recent attempts to render itself more respectable, nonetheless took 19 percent of the vote in 2018 — down just 1 percent from its best ever showing four years previously. And there has been a pretty high price to pay.

So, trying to beat a radical right-wing populist insurgency by becoming one — or for that matter, by adopting its agenda and even inviting it into government — turns out to be a fool’s errand. Just as important, it also has a huge ethical, as well as economic, cost. As the Bible puts it, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” That’s a question that Europe’s center-right politicians (and maybe their Republican counterparts in the United States, too) seriously need to ask themselves, and soon.

 

‘To Defeat Far-Right Nationalists, Don’t Try to Imitate Them’ by Tim Bale originally appeared in The New York Times on 16 July 2018 at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/opinion/to-defeat-far-right-nationalists-dont-try-to-imitate-them.html.

 

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‘Here’s Tory Brexiteers’ real plan for 2019: a leaner, meaner Britain’, Guardian, 13 July 2018.

It’s a truth pretty universally acknowledged that the reason the Conservative government has struggled to come up with an agreed negotiating position in the wake of the country voting for Brexit is that many Tories who campaigned for leave didn’t really think they’d win the referendum. Even those who dared to dream were determined not to muddy their “take back control” messaging by getting dragged into discussing precisely how they’d go about it.

But there was another reason behind their reluctance to talk about what came next – the fact that the UK’s departure from the European Union will necessitate a change to the country’s political economy that risks proving as electorally unpopular as it will be profound. This is the love that dare not speak its name – at least until March 2019, when we are suddenly likely to start hearing a whole lot more about it.

For the party’s hyperglobalists, Brexit doesn’t just mean Brexit. It means a leaner, meaner Britain where the costs – financial and otherwise – of doing business are lowered in order to allow companies, and the country, to compete on the world stage.

This means cutting both tax and public services. State provision, after all, is deemed by its very nature to be a vested interest, inefficient and inferior to what markets can be enabled to provide. It also stymies incentives toward entrepreneurialism and creates welfare dependencies – as well as crowding out private (and charitable) sector activity.

Brexit also means cutting what these true believers like to call “red tape”. Indeed, one of the main reasons for wanting out of the EU, as well as the opportunity to do trade deals of our own, is the desire to escape the externally imposed regulation that supposedly hobbles and handicaps us in the so-called global race. No matter that the UK already has a relatively easy-hire, easy-fire culture – it needs to be even more dynamic.

So, what is this guide to how the UK can rebirth itself – primarily by learning, not so much from European countries (unless, of course, they are busy cutting welfare entitlements and making their labour markets more flexible) but from Asian dynamos such as South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as places such as Brazil and Israel? It is – and maybe the title tells you all you need to know – Britannia Unchained. Its authors? Rising stars of the parliamentary Conservative party.

True, a couple of them have a lower profile than the others, although Kwasi Kwarteng is parliamentary private secretary to the chancellor, and Chris Skidmore has just been put in charge of a new policy commission set up by Theresa May. True, too, that one of them, leave cheerleader and disgraced former international development secretary Priti Patel, has recently crashed to earth. But the other two are definitely making their mark: uber-Thatcherite Liz Truss is now chief secretary to the Treasury, and hard Brexiteer Dominic Raab has just been appointed secretary of state for exiting the European Union.

Their recent rise to power does not represent the success of some carefully planned conspiracy to hijack the Tory party hatched in 2012, when their book was originally published. But it does provide strong clues as to the direction it may take after 2019 – presuming, of course, that the UK does actually manage to formally extract itself from the EU by that date.

We need those clues precisely because those responsible for steering the Conservatives’, and therefore the country’s, course from then on have been so coy with “the people” in whose name the referendum was fought and won.

If this is more than a little ironic, it is also understandable: after all, there is little or no evidence from opinion research that their prospectus for post-Brexit Britain would find many takers. This is true even among the famous 17.4 million who voted leave in 2016 – particularly if, along with shrinking the state, it also means an end (which if free marketeers are consistent it certainly should do) to migration targets.

Does this disjunction between what “the people” currently say they want and what they supposedly need actually bother Tory hyperglobalists, except insofar as it prevents them, at least for the moment, from revealing all?

No – the reason being that they are Leninists, in the same way that Margaret Thatcher, their inspiration and icon, was a Leninist. Just like her, in 1979, they believe they know what we want better than we do ourselves right now. And just like her, they have a crusading vision whose details, inasmuch as they’ve been fully worked out, are best kept under wraps until the time is right and we can be made to realise – they hope gratefully rather than grudgingly – that there truly is no alternative.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/13/tory-brexiteers-plan-2019-britain-conservative

 

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‘Grammar schools are indefensible. I should know – I went to one’, Guardian, 11 May 2018.

This morning, not for the first (or the last) time, I had to be patiently reminded not to rant and rave at the radio while taking a shower. The trigger? The government’s announcement that it was bunging an extra 50 million quid at grammar schools that wanted to expand. It’s the ultimate zombie policy. Just when you think the 11-plus is, if not finally dead and buried, then at least quarantined, it’s rising from the grave once again.

What explains its survival? After all, the internet reliably informs me that there are plenty of ways to actually kill a zombie. By the same token, a quick search on Google and its pointy-headed sister site, Google Scholar, throws up decades worth of research that comprehensively debunks the claims of 11-plus fans that it improves aggregate outcomes and boosts social mobility. And this research has been replicated in more publicly accessible forums by blogs and thinktanks (even right-leaning thinktanks) and journalists, most obviously the indefatigable Chris Cook of the BBC.

The only explanation is a toxic combination of nostalgia and ideology that the Tory party (and its erstwhile outside toilet, Ukip) seems unable to shake off . This is in spite of the fact that it was a Conservative education minister, Edward Boyle, who effectively gave the green light for the replacement of grammars by comprehensives and one of his successors, Margaret Thatcher, who did little (although not, to be scrupulously accurate, nothing) to turn back the tide.

To realise quite how powerful the right’s faith in selective secondary education is, just think back to the last time it was seriously challenged from within. In May 2007, probably the high-water mark of David Cameron’s modernising phase as Tory leader, David (now Lord) Willetts, then the party’s shadow education secretary, tried telling it the truth in a speech to the CBI. “We must break free,” he said, “from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids … there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage; it does not spread it.”

The reaction? The Conservative party went nuts – especially after Cameron issued “a clear and uncompromising message to those who think they can perpetuate a pointless debate about grammar schools: we will never be taken seriously by parents and convince them we are on their side and share their aspirations if we splash around in the shallow end of the education debate”.

Things became even more heated when Cameron doubled down a couple of days later, declaring it was “completely delusional” to talk about building more grammars and claiming it was “a key test for our party. Does it want to be a serious force for government and change, or does it want to be a rightwing debating society muttering about what might have been?”

This proved too much for Graham Brady (now the well-respected chairman of the 1922 Committee, and one of my favourite Tories, but then an opposition frontbencher), who resigned his post in protest. At this point Cameron (characteristically, some might say) plumped for appeasement rather the proverbial “clause IV moment”. More grammar schools, it transpired, could be built in areas that still used the 11-plus exam if population increases required. Oh, and Willetts was pretty soon relieved of his responsibility for the education brief.

Hence where we are today, wasting yet more desperately needed cash on under 5% of the country’s secondary schools – schools that are pointlessly divisive, and which don’t do the job they are supposed to do even when it comes to social mobility.

The classic comeback, of course, to any such criticism is not to dispute the research, which demonstrates this beyond reasonable doubt. Instead it is to point out that people like me, who went to grammar schools, are pulling the ladder up with them, selfishly determined to deny others the chance to experience the supposedly glorious education were once lucky enough to receive themselves.

Ad hominem bullshit, of course. But, hey, what else is there when you’re defending the indefensible?

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/11/grammar-schools-dont-work-tories-socially-regressive

 

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‘A Labour party that couldn’t even smash the local elections should be seriously worried’, CityAM, 8 May 2018.

At first glance, Thursday’s local elections seemed to offer something for everyone (except for Ukip, of course).

But Labour should be worried – really, really worried.

First, the upside – at least for self-styled progressives. The referendum has clearly removed Ukip’s main raison d’etre, and a series of soap-opera-style leadership contests has rendered it a laughing stock. Purple is now officially as unfashionable as the Black Death – until, perhaps, it finally dawns on former Farage fans that post-Brexit Britain is going to look pretty much like pre-Brexit Britain, only poorer.

The main beneficiaries of that collapse appear to have been the Tories. Not only did they hold on in London, but they seem to have won over erstwhile Ukip voters in places – most obviously in towns like Dudley in the West Midlands – which could deliver them a bunch of gains at the next election.

The loss of one or two true-blue councils elsewhere – Plymouth, for instance – will sting, but these really aren’t that serious, although they will worry a few sitting Conservative MPs.

That said, the Lib Dems’ impressive performance in Richmond should give the Tories some genuine cause for concern – particularly because (along with results in other parts of South West London and, indeed, the South West more generally) it suggests that Vince Cable’s party is finally out of intensive care and, if not quite fit for discharge, at least sitting up and talking.

It’s all too easy to forget that one of the main reasons why David Cameron was able to win a surprise overall majority in 2015 was because Britain’s traditional third party came a very distant fourth that year.

Any signs that the Lib Dems might be capable of snatching back a handful of seats next time need to be taken very, very seriously by Brandon Lewis and James Cleverley and their team at CCHQ – not least because any return to form by the “yellow peril” opens up the possibility of Vince and his colleagues becoming king-makers once again.

At a deeper level, the results are also a reminder to Tory strategists that the party will continue to struggle to put together a convincing parliamentary majority unless it can somehow find a way to appeal to urban, ethnically-diverse, and pro-European Britain – the Britain of the future, not the past.

Still, that’s for the long term. For the moment, a combination of Ukip’s collapse and the public’s evident lack of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues could well see the Tories emerge once again as at least the biggest party in the next election. Indeed, if they finally start spending some serious money on the NHS and schools, and, of course, start building some houses, even an overall majority can’t be completely ruled out.

For Labour, however, the locals were a washout – and not simply because campaigners allowed the bar to be set too high beforehand, or because the party’s performance three years ago made big gains less likely.

Any opposition facing a government that has been in office as long as this one and that is so clearly struggling to deliver in so many ways should have absolutely smashed it last Thursday. But Labour didn’t. Fact.

Forget about London for a moment, and look at places like Swindon and Nuneaton. Without winning towns like them, there is no way back to power for Labour – even as the largest party in a hung parliament where the Lib Dems hold the balance of power.

Corbyn and co. can over-promise and virtue-signal their way to stunning victories in big cities and university towns. But if Thursday’s results are anything to go by, that won’t be enough in the end to get them into government.

Originally published at http://www.cityam.com/285399/labour-party-couldnt-even-smash-local-elections-should

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‘Same difference? Female (and male) members of Britain’s political parties’ (with Monica Poletti and Paul Webb), Democratic Audit, 22 March 2018.

Six out of ten people who belong to political parties in the UK are men, although there are some pretty big differences between parties. There are also some smaller, but nonetheless significant differences between parties’ male and female members – differences we recently explored by bringing together four prominent women parliamentarians (Nicky MorganKirsty BlackmanJess Phillips, and Jo Swinson) to discuss findings from the ESRC-funded Party Members Project (PMP) run from Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University. Those findings were presented on 5 March at the London headquarters of the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank, with the cross-party panel of MPs invited to reflect on them in the light of their own experience as activists and elected politicians.

The PMP membership surveys (the most recent of which took place just after the 2017 general election and are summarized here) found that, although there were more male than female party members, both were more likely than not to be middle aged and middle class. When it came to ideology and policy, female members tended on balance to be more favourable to redistribution and more concerned about austerity than their male counterparts – although there are of course some notable differences between parties on this and other matters. Except when it came to the need for censorship, women tended to be more socially liberal. Women members were also keener on a softer Brexit and on the idea of a second referendum. As for campaigning, women tend more than men toward the more expressive activities, like using Facebook, rather than knocking on doors.

The PMP found that men and women joined parties for very similar reasons, although leaders appeared to be a slightly bigger draw for women, whereas more men than women saw membership as leading to a political career. That said, there was no difference in how male and female members got round to joining parties. Having joined, though, women tended to be more satisfied with what they got out of membership even if they were less likely to stand for election for and in the party. And when it came to reasons for leaving – something the PMP can explore because its survey research not only covers party members but people who’ve given up their membership – men were more likely than women to call it a day when they disagreed with the direction their party was taking; women, on the other hand, were more likely than men to do so for financial reasons.

All this seemed to strike a chord with the MPs. Women, Nicky Morgan felt, only tended to get involved if they thought their doing so would make a real difference – something which could be hard to persuade them of if a party limited members’ role in choosing leaders and helping to formulate policy. It wasn’t unusual, she added, for men to join with higher expectations about the prospects for rapid advancement and so to leave if those expectations were dashed; women on the other hand, were often prepared to play behind-the-scenes roles if they felt those roles were practically important to the running of the party.

Kirsty Blackman echoed some of these points, noting that she felt the SNP should be at an advantage in this respect because it was relatively easy for members to play a part in candidate selection and policy-making. She would, however, like more women to get involved in campaigning and suggested the key might be to better explain why some of the activities that women appeared to be less keen on were actually important – not least because activities like canvassing and leafletting were often the way people who wanted to become candidates proved their commitment. Getting more women involved in carrying out those activities, then, would probably lead to more women standing for (and winning) selection contests in the long run.

While agreeing with all this, Jess Phillips was adamant that parties needed to make a particular appeal to women members, running, for example, women-only campaign sessions to overcome some of the initial concerns some women had about such activities. She also noted that women, often because of family responsibilities, found that the traditional times canvassing and leafletting were carried out (early evenings and Saturday mornings) didn’t suit them. Partly (but only partly) because of this, women were often rather more reluctant than their male counterparts to sign up – something she navigates, when asking members if they’d be willing to volunteer, by including a ‘Maybe’ box which, she finds, women are more willing to tick (after which they get a follow-up phone call that almost always results in them saying ‘Yes’). She also made the point, though, that there were other inequalities that fed into lower participation by women at the grassroots, in particular class, especially now that fewer working-class women seem to be organised by unions than was the case in days gone by.

Jo Swinson concurred that parties simply had to do something about all this, particularly if they were concerned – as they ought to be – about female representation both in local authorities and in parliament: since grassroots members were the talent pool and the start of the pipeline, then more women needed recruiting. That means being more pro-active than they have been before: structural and cultural inequalities often meant that women were less likely than men to take the first step unless they were explicitly invited to do so. Existing female MPs and councillors had a part to play as role models but parties had to be careful, too, to bill things like introductory meet-ups in ways that didn’t unconsciously appeal more to men than women – the ‘Lib Dem pint’ evenings in a local pub being an obvious example.

In the Q&A with the audience of journalists, party officials and the odd academic, there was widespread agreement that parties might also need to re-think the definition of what being a good, hard-working activist meant, since this was in itself clearly gendered. The live issue of sexual harassment was also discussed: while it was vital to talk openly about it, people felt, it mustn’t be allowed to discourage women from joining and getting active in parties – or in other political and campaigning activity which, at least initially, doesn’t necessarily involve joining a party but might be a gateway to doing so down the line. Finally, everyone agreed that, although there was clearly a greater reluctance among women than men to become party members, we need to be careful not to implicitly blame women for not coming forward: in the end, there was a lot more parties on all sides could and should be doing to encourage their involvement.

Originally published at http://www.democraticaudit.com/2018/03/22/same-difference-female-and-male-members-of-britains-political-parties/

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‘Where have all the women gone? The Tories have a serious gender problem’ (with Monica Poletti and Paul Webb), The Conversation, 15 March 2018.

The latest findings on the gender imbalance among the rank and file memberships of Britain’s biggest political parties make for worrying reading – particularly for the Conservatives.

Over-time comparison suggests that there are now fewer women belonging to the Conservative party than there were nearly a quarter of a century ago. The Tories have, in recent years, increased the number of women representing them in the House of Commons to 21% – an achievement that owes something to David Cameron’s modernisation project and to the sterling work of Ann Jenkin’s Women to Wincampaign, but perhaps even more to the unexpectedly strong result that the party chalked up at the 2015 general election. However, no such progress is being made in the grassroots.

The findings come from the latest surveys by the ESRC-funded Party Members Project (PMP) run from Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, carried out just after the last general election in June 2017.

The lack of women among the Tory rank and file could well turn out to be a serious problem for those interested in getting the party to look more like the country it wants to govern. As the recently-published comparative study by the Swedish political scientist, Drude Dahlerup, makes clear, anyone who is truly serious about getting more women elected to parliament is going to have to consider the introduction of quotas. But they will also need to pay attention to the pool and pipeline of potential candidates available to political parties since, if there aren’t enough women at the grassroots, then achieving anything like equality of representation will prove an uphill struggle.

What happened to Tory women? Party Members ProjectAuthor provided

Overall, far more men than women join Britain’s political parties, although the 61:39 ratio our 2017 surveys reveal means that the UK isn’t that unusual (or even that terrible) in comparative terms. Data suggests the gender imbalance in Germany is considerably worse and only a little bit better in the famously more egalitarian Nordic countries. And, in large part because more women than men have joined the British Labour Party in the last two-and-half years, things are more equal in the UK than they used to be. But, sadly, that’s far from true for the Tories. Right now, fewer than one in three grassroots Conservative members is a woman.

Change over the years. Whiteley P, Seyd P & Richardson J, Bale, Poletti and WebbAuthor provided

The situation might not be so worrying if the Tories could somehow tell themselves (and the rest of us) that the direction of travel was positive.

But all the surveys ever done on Britain’s three biggest parties clearly show that it’s anything but.

In marked contrast to Theresa May’s, Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots membership is (like the Greens’) not that far off achieving gender balance. The SNP doesn’t do too badly either, relatively speaking at least.

UKIP – assuming for the sake of argument that it still exists – lies at the other end of the spectrum. Men make up three quarters of its members.

The gender imbalance in the Lib Dems is nowhere near that bad. That said, the party, which has never done particularly well when it comes to electing women MPs (even though it now has a female deputy leader in Jo Swinson), will be keen to improve on a situation where getting on for two-thirds of its rank-and-file members are men.

More women needed

For the Conservatives, a failure to expand the pool and the pipeline by attracting more female members will make it more difficult to build on whatever has been achieved so far at the parliamentary level. And with this long-term goal in mind, there is another statistic which should surely give the Conservatives serious cause for concern.

Corbyn: the future looks gender balanced. PA

The flood of new members into the Labour party since 2015 might not represent as much of a youthquake as the now familiar footage of photogenic teens and twenty-somethings mobbing Mr Corbyn suggests: after all, plenty of middle-aged and older folk have rallied to his (more or less red) flag, too. But, by our calculation, out of every 100 Labour members aged between 18 and 24, some 57 are women compared to 43 who are men. That should bode well for the party’s gender balance in years to come.

But the equivalent figure (and therefore the future) for the Conservative Party is truly frightening. By our reckoning, only five per cent of rank and file Tories are aged 18-24 but, shockingly, as many as 85% of those young adults the Tories have persuaded to join them are male rather than female.

Brandon Lewis and James Cleverly were recently appointed to the top jobs at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) in order to up the party’s membership game. Our research suggests they’ve got their work cut out. Doubtless they’re the best men for the job – but they may be part of the problem.

Originally published at https://theconversation.com/where-have-all-the-women-gone-the-tories-have-a-serious-gender-problem-93398

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