‘Why don’t people vote? You asked Google – here’s the answer’, Guardian 27 July 2016.

For those of us who troop down to the polling station at every election, it can be pretty frustrating that not everybody does the same – especially when we end up with a result we don’t like, and which we reckon might have turned out differently if only they had. It’s not as if it takes much effort and, after all, didn’t people die to win us the right to hold whoever’s in power to account?

Maybe so, but the question is probably best approached – at least initially – by turning round the telescope. Instead of asking why people don’t vote, we might reasonably ask why anyone bothers in the first place. Given that the likelihood of any election being decided by a single vote is so small, especially in contests where the eligible electorate runs into the thousands, it makes little or no sense for any of us to devote our precious time to deciding who to vote for and then casting a ballot in their favour.

This so-called “paradox of voting” has intrigued political scientists – especially those who like to see themselves as belonging to the “rational choice” school – for ages. The answer most commonly arrived at is that those who do turn out must derive some utility, however indirect, from the act of voting.

Perhaps they like to see themselves as good citizens – part, or even pillars, of a community – and therefore feel a warm glow of satisfaction after performing their civic duty. Or perhaps they are ideologues or into identity politics – in which case, the warm glow comes from expressing solidarity with those who share the same ideals or characteristics. Or maybe they just worry that if they don’t go and vote, then who else will?

According to this logic, then, people who don’t vote are those for whom the concepts of community and civic duty don’t mean much. Nor does ideology or some sort of politicised identity – unless of course they cleave to an ideology or an identity that sets itself up in such conscious opposition to the mainstream that voting would be associated with conforming to lame or oppressive conventions. Or maybe – and not unreasonably, given that many people still do go out and vote – they’re not overly worried that their failure to do so will have negative consequences for anybody, not least for themselves.

It doesn’t require much imagination then, to realise that some demographics are less likely to vote than others, and the empirical evidence provides plentiful support for that. Those who don’t turn out often have (or at least feel they have) less of a stake in society, and are people for whom informing themselves about candidates and issues would involve taking an interest in stuff to which they wouldn’t normally pay much attention. We are talking, in other words, about the poor, the poorly educated, the young, the transient, the newly arrived, and the less politically knowledgeable and interested. Worryingly, the gap between such people and the rest has been rising over time as bodies such as trade unions, which used to help close it by encouraging these groups to vote, have declined.

But it’s not all about demography or social and educational status. Indeed, one of the standout findings from comparative research is that, for a mysterious mixture of historical, cultural and institutional reasons, low turnout seems to have become the norm in some countries (the post-communist states of central and eastern Europe, for example), whereas other countries (such as the Nordic states) consistently record high turnout.

People’s willingness to turn out is also contingent on political circumstances. In certain situations even those who might normally vote feel less inclined to do so. If the result of an election looks like a foregone conclusion, then that produces a lower turnout. This also tends to happen if one election is held relatively soon after another. Turnout is similarly depressed if people feel that the differences between the choices on offer are small or that the connection between who makes it into office and the policies they pursue is vague.

The way in which elections are conducted can also make a difference. Perhaps not surprisingly, giving people the chance to vote by post boosts turnout, albeit marginally. Holding elections at weekends and making it easy to register to vote, however late, makes a positive difference too. And proportional representation, while it’s far from being the silver bullet that some of its more starry-eyed advocates claim, may well encourage more people to vote – especially when parties make it clear who their likely coalition partners will be, either during the campaign or before it. That has to be balanced against the fact, however, that the complexity and divided governments that PR sometimes produces may actually discourage less educated and politically interested people from voting.

For those hoping to see developments in digital life transform politics, there is some evidence to suggest that VAAs (Voter Advice Applications, which can be used on a computer, tablet or a phone to tell you which party most closely matches your preferences) may increase turnout among young people, although there is also evidence to suggest that those who consult them and don’t find much of a match are actually put off participating. Voting over the web, which is only really done on any large scale in Estonia, could make a difference in the long-term; but the evidence as yet is far from conclusive.

The most robust finding from research on voting and non-voting, however, is something of a no-brainer: compulsory voting ensures higher turnout. Conventional wisdom says we should ignore this: the right not to vote, it is argued, is as important as the right to do so, and there are fears (largely unfounded, according to research from places like Australia where it is the norm) that obliging people to turn out will lead to frivolous or protest voting.

On the other hand, if non-voting is on the increase, then there could come a point where so few people cast a ballot that the essential legitimacy of the polity is called into question. Moreover, we already know that politicians, needing to win elections, tend to cater to – and even pander to – those who do vote and ignore those who do not. If compulsory voting is what it takes to ensure, to quote Abe Lincoln, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, then maybe we need to consider it as an option.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/27/why-dont-people-vote-google

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‘As a surge of supporters sign up to vote in the leadership contest, can Owen Smith save Labour? It depends’, City AM, 20 July 2016.

While it’s tempting to ask whether anyone at all can save Labour, this is a question that deserves a serious answer. After all, Owen Smith may be the only man standing between the Labour Party and imminent implosion. The answer, then, depends not only on whether the challenger can beat the incumbent but also on what we mean by “save”. I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of Smith beating Jeremy Corbyn. However, he has a mountain to climb – one made up of hundreds of thousands of members who, for whatever reason, still seem to have faith in their leader. By positioning himself as a left-winger but questioning Corbyn’s competence, and at the same time capitalising on frustration with the latter’s underwhelming performance in the EU referendum, he’s fighting a canny campaign. But even if Smith somehow pulls it off, he won’t save Labour at the next election. Preventing the party splitting may be the best that he can hope for.

Originally Published at http://www.cityam.com/245862/surge-supporters-sign-up-vote-leadership-contest-can-owen

 

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‘Here’s what we know about Labour’s £3 supporters – and whether they’ll pay £25 to help Corbyn again’, The Conversation, 19 July 2016 (with Monica Poletti and Paul Webb).

Forces on both sides of the Jeremy Corbyn debate are apparently trying to make the most of the 48-hour window within which anyone can register as a supporter of the Labour Party and have a vote in the impending leadership election. Both pro and anti-Corbyn campaignersare hitting the phones and the streets to convince people to pay £25, either to get the current leader out, or keep him in.

The committed Corbynistas of Momentum are apparently doing their best to re-establish contact with people who joined as registered supporters during the last leadership contest at the bargain price of just £3. The aim is to get as many Corbyn backers as possible to pay the increased fee of £25. That way, Momentum hopes, they will deliver another victory for Labour’s sitting leader.

The battle for these £3 supporters is so intense because so little is known about who they are and why they signed up last time. Were they hardline Corbynistas, hard-up party loyalists, or simply troublemakers willing to fork out a few quid to troll Labour? And, just as importantly, what might they do this time?

We surveyed nearly 900 of them a couple of months ago in May 2016, so we thought it would be interesting to take a look at what sort of people they are. Why did they take that cheaper, lower-commitment option rather than going the whole hog and becoming full members of the Labour Party? The answer to this question may, perhaps, tell us something about the £25 supporters who might be clamouring to sign up for a vote now – and whether their interest is good or bad news for Corbyn.

The three quidders

The first thing to say about the £3 supporters is that they weren’t very different from those who joined Labour as full members after the 2015 general election. Although they were slightly more likely to be male rather than female than those who went the whole hog, some 74% fell into the ABC1 category (roughly middle or upper class) and 56% of them were graduates. That’s very similar proportions to full members.

Since they were, on average, 51-years-old, they were also around the same age as the full members. In other words, although high social grade does not necessarily always equate with high social income, the majority of those people are not going to find it too difficult to pay the £25 required to express their support and vote for the leader again.


Owen Smith: also on offer at the new £25 price tag. PA/Andrew Matthews

Interestingly, those who joined as supporters (and remained as such without upgrading, as it were) were slightly less likely to belong to a trade union (17%) than those who joined as members (23%). They were also less likely, ironically enough, to consider themselves members of Momentum (3%) than those who joined as full members (9%). That suggests that Momentum’s ability to get them to pay up again to save Corbyn may be rather more limited than some imagine.

Another difference between those who registered as supporters after the general election and those who joined as full members is that the former were less likely to have voted Labour in 2015 (64% vs 72%) and more likely to have voted Green (19% vs 13%). One reason why they chose a lower level of commitment may well have been because, quite simply, they felt less partisan loyalty toward Labour in the first place. Or maybe they just felt less politically engaged than those who chose to join as full members. Whether Corbyn has upped that level of engagement enough to see them take up the same offer but at a much higher price will be interesting to see.

It is also true – although here we are talking about very fine differences of degree – that those who registered as £3 supporters were ever so slightly less left wing, socially liberal and pro-immigration than those who joined the party as full members.

But, like those full members, this means they were still very left-wing, very socially liberal and very pro-immigration compared with most voters – even most Labour voters. So all in all, if they can be persuaded to re-register to vote in this election – or if the people who register for the first time today and tomorrow are anything like them – that’s likely to favour those hoping to keep Corbyn rather than ditch him.

Originally published at https://theconversation.com/heres-what-we-know-about-labours-3-supporters-and-whether-theyll-pay-25-to-help-corbyn-again-62728

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‘Can Theresa May even sell her new conservatism to her own cabinet?’, Observer, 17 May 2016.

Political parties can be frighteningly small worlds, with a cripplingly limited cast of characters. As a result, people whose careers are widely assumed to be over – either because they once messed up badly or because their face no longer seemed to fit – can sometimes make startling comebacks. It is this, and not just an understandable desire to prevent the headbangers crying foul when Brexit negotiations inevitably fail to deliver everything they want, which partly explains the presence of old stagers such as David Davis, Liam Fox and (the pro-European) Damian Green in Theresa May’s new cabinet.

The prime minister’s decision to bring these colleagues in from the cold may have had something to do, too, with friendship and wanting to project the idea that, after a decade of domination by thirty- and fortysomethings from Notting Hill, the grown-ups, with the signal exception of Boris Johnson, are back in charge of the Conservative party.

There may, however, be even more to it than that. Along with the fact that Davis, Fox and Green, like many of May’s younger picks, come from relatively “ordinary” backgrounds, they also incarnate ideological strains and stresses within her party that go back a long way but which, judging by her recent speeches, Theresa May and her advisers are hoping to meld to address contemporary needs and concerns.

The Conservative party that so dominated politics in the 20th century was essentially an amalgam of two 19th-century phenomena. On the one hand, there was Gladstonian liberalism, with its emphasis on “economy”, “self-help” and “free trade”. On the other, there was Toryism, with its stress on empire, national sovereignty and on incrementally improving “the condition of England” for the majority of its citizens, who, it was eventually accepted, would come to play a full (if hopefully not dominant) part in its governance.

For the most part, the tension between the two compounds that made up modern Conservatism proved creative but it was a tension no less, one best personified, perhaps, by Joe Chamberlain, the man many seem to be crediting as an inspiration to Mrs May, or at least to her consigliere, Nick Timothy, himself a working-class native of Chamberlain’s Birmingham. “Radical Joe” it was who crossed the floor from the Liberals to the Conservatives in pursuit of an end to free trade so as to build a wall around the country and its empire behind which more could and should be done for its people when it came to health, education and welfare.

Certainly, anyone looking for an insight into what, who knows, we might eventually end up calling Mayism should make straight for an essay on ConservativeHome written by Timothy back in March. Entitled “What does the Conservative party offer a working-class kid from Brixton, Birmingham, Bolton or Bradford?”, it attempts both to triangulate between but also to criticise the so-called “Soho Conservatism” associated with the Cameroons and the “Easterhouse Conservatism” associated with Iain Duncan Smith.

Liberal conservatism had its upsides, most obviously equal marriage, but also its downsides, notably its early emphasis on green issues and its continued support for free movement, neither of which is apparently of any interest to that much cited category, “ordinary working people”. Compassionate conservatism’s ambition to help the poorest of the poor may have been laudable but left it with little to say to the many people who, while they aren’t exactly on the breadline, can still struggle to make ends meet and get on in life.

Unless, argued the man who is now May’s joint chief of staff in Downing Street, the Tory party could convince people that it really was on their side, it would not only fail to win a comfortable parliamentary majority, it wouldn’t deserve to either. His solution, however, didn’t lie, as it seems to for some of the Tories who co-authored the libertarian manifesto Britannia Unchained, in robotically pursuing Thatcherism to its logical conclusion: Ayn Rand-style, devil-take-the-hindmost neoliberalism.

Instead, the party needed – yes – to champion fiscal responsibility, law and order and public service efficiency. But it also had to realise that, when savings needed to be made, it should look, say, to trim benefits going to wealthy pensioners rather than tax credits going to hard-working families. It also needed to respond effectively rather than simply rhetorically to their concerns about immigration. Tucked away, too, was a suggestion that the Tories should take housing more seriously.

Fast forward to the speech that Theresa May made to launch her leadership campaign in (where else?) Birmingham, as well as the unashamed pitch for the centre she made just before entering Number 10 for the first time as PM, and a plausible case can be made that, rather than simply being the warmed-over, one-nation platitudes we have heard so many times before from new Tory premiers, her words may hint at a more profound shift.

The source of that shift may not be entirely ideational either. It may also be driven, believe it or not, by the evidence. In a column dedicated mainly (and understandably wryly) to observing some of the similarities between May’s words and that advocated by his old boss, Ed Miliband, for whom he wrote speeches, Asher Dresner refers to a growing consensus that fiscal contraction doesn’t, in fact, lead to more sustainable growth. What’s more, even if it did, he added, growth no longer seems automatically to deliver noticeably higher living standards for all; and that it makes an awful lot of sense to borrow to invest in infrastructure and housing when credit is not just cheap but dirt cheap.

But there is one big problem with this optimistic take on what might become Mayism. For it to have any practical impact on public policy, it will, in a government with a working majority of just 16, have to win the support of parliamentary and cabinet colleagues (including two of the three named above), who will be at best ambivalent about and at worst implacably opposed to this new direction.

Liam Fox, for example, was caught on tape, in 2002, speaking about his plans to talk down the NHS to soften it up for privatisation and “self-pay”. Liz Truss and Priti Patel were two of the Britannia Unchained bunch. Chancellor Philip Hammond may have accepted May’s sensible decision to stop chasing George Osborne’s patently unachievable deficit reduction targets but that does not make him an overnight convert to neo-Keynesianism. And while David Davis may have been brought up in a council house, that doesn’t mean he suddenly approves of them. Sajid Javid, who likewise came into politics after state education propelled him from a humble background into an impressive business career, will be responsible for relations with local authorities and isn’t exactly a fan of the enabling state either. Nor is Chris Grayling or Jeremy Hunt. And as for Andrea Leadsom, the less said the better.

Indeed, the only standout pragmatic centrists in the cabinet are Green (a long-standing stalwart of the left-leaning Tory Reform Group and the modernising thinktank Bright Blue); the cabinet’s two PhDs, business secretary Greg Clark (Economics) and ex-Europe minister, now leader of the house, David Lidington (Elizabethan history), and the ex-miner, party chairman Patrick McLoughlin. Clearly, in the case of the first two at least, the departments they run are by no means bit-players. But they are nevertheless in a very small minority in cabinet.

And then there is the party in the country. Research suggests that while they may support Theresa May, aspects of her agenda will attract rather less enthusiasm – and not just because eight out of 10 grassroots Tories are middle class.

Figures from the British Election Study suggest that 72% of voters believe that ordinary people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded Party Members Projectsuggests that only 17% of Conservative party members feel the same. The gap between the public and the Tory grassroots when it comes to the idea that big business benefits owners at the expense of workers is, at 77%-27%, no less marked.

There is one thing on which the public, grassroots Tories, Theresa May, and probably most of her parliamentary colleagues clearly concur – the need to reduce immigration. That, however, only highlights the most glaring contradiction in the new prime minister’s embryonic “-ism”.

Controlling the UK’s borders would go down well with the “ordinary working families” who May says she wants to serve. But if it involves leaving the single market, it will almost certainly make them poorer. Conservatives cannot always reconcile their simultaneous desire for the free economy and the strong state. Which will Mrs May choose?

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/17/theresa-may-new-brand-of-conservatism

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‘Middle-class university graduates will decide the future of the Labour Party’, New Statesman, 14 July 2016 (with Monica Poletti and Paul Webb).

We don’t yet know whether it will be Angela Eagle or Owen Smith, or maybe both of them, who ends up running against Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.  But what we do know – because we reckon we now know lot about the people who will vote in that ballot – is that any challenger is going to have their work cut out.

We surveyed Labour members just after the 2015 General Election, and then ran a second survey in May this year so we could capture those who joined the party after the election.

Now, for the first time, we’ve put those two surveys together in order to come up with a pen-portrait of those people who, because they were members before the NEC’s February cut-off date, will therefore be eligible to vote over the summer. You can find the more detailed figures here.

Labour’s grassroots members will almost certainly make up the bulk of those who choose the party’s leader over the summer. So what do they look like? And how do they think?

By our reckoning, Labour’s leadership contest is going to be decided, for the most part, by less than 400,000 mainly middle-class university graduates. Nearly half of these members – unlike many of Labour’s voters – live in London and the South of England.  Some 75 per cent of Labour members are ABC1 voters, and 57 per cent of them have a degree.  Around 15 per cent live in London and 32 per cent live in other parts of the South of England.  Only 28 per cent live in the party’s northern heartlands and 20 per cent in Wales and the Midlands, where (think, Nuneaton) any party wanting to win a general election desperately needs to win over voters.

Because a relatively large proportion of those who joined the party after the general election were women, the Labour membership has become a little more gender balanced, with a 55:45 male/female split.  The average age, however, hasn’t changed much: it’s still 51.

That might have something to do with the fact that roughly a third of the post-election joiners had been Labour members previously. Many of them appear to have returned after leaving in the New Labour era. They may possibly have replaced some of those who left the party because they didn’t like the direction it was taking under Corbyn.

Those voting in Labour’s leadership contest are socially very, very liberal. Only 22 per cent believe law-breakers should be given stiffer sentences and only 10 per cent support the death penalty. Some 84 per cent back gay marriage.  They are also very positive about immigration. On a seven-point scale running from immigration being bad for the economy (1) to it being good for the economy (7), they score it at 5.74.  On a similar scale which asks about the cultural benefits of immigration they come up, spookily enough, with exactly the same score.

On economic issues, it’s as if Blair and Brown (or at least the “neoliberal” Blair and Brown of the left’s imagination) never existed. Labour’s grassroots members are almost unanimous in favouring redistribution (92 per cent), in distrusting big business (94 per cent) and in believing that government public spending cuts have gone too far (95 per cent).

Asked to place themselves on a left to right scale running from one to ten, the average Labour member locates him or herself at 2.17.  Nearly one in ten members voted Green in 2015 – something that was notably more common among those who joined the party after that general election. Irrespective of when they joined, however, eight out of ten wanted the UK to remain in the European Union.

When asked what they’re looking for in a leader, Labour’s members are not unduly concerned with a leader’s ability to radiate strength and authority, or his or her capacity to unite the nation. Only around a third of them put a premium on having a leader who can appeal to the average voter. Interestingly, though, this did matter more to those who were already members by the time of the 2015 general election than those who joined after it.

Ultimately, what matters more to Labour members, it seems, is having a leader who, as well as being a good communicator, is in touch with ordinary people and has strong political beliefs – something that is especially true for those who joined after rather than before the last general election.

Whether Jeremy Corbyn or either of his challengers can tick all of these boxes is, we suspect, in the eye of the beholder.  Still, given who Labour members are and how they think, we suspect Mr Corbyn is going to be awfully hard to beat.

Originally published at http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/07/middle-class-university-graduates-will-decide-future-labour-party

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‘With the Labour Party in complete turmoil, does it have any chance of regaining power by 2025? No’, City AM, 13 July 2016.

Labour is going to lose the next general election and very probably the one after that. So whether it can win again by 2025 depends entirely on how soon Theresa May decides to go to the country.

General elections are rarely one-off events. It’s very unusual, at least in the UK, to see a political party which is trounced at one election bounce back in just one term. It can happen, but 1970 and 1997 are exceptions that prove the rule. After a heavy defeat, it normally takes the losing party one or two more goes to overhaul the winner.

The best-case scenario is that May calls a contest in 2017. This would mean another election in 2022, which would give Labour the chance to regain power in 2027. The only thing which is likely to change the odds is if Brexit proves to be an economic catastrophe and/or moderate Labour MPs form a successful new centre party. Neither is beyond the bounds of possibility. But don’t bet on either of them happening just yet.

Originally published at http://www.cityam.com/245328/labour-party-complete-turmoil-does-have-any-chance

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‘What do the Tory grassroots want from Prime Minister Theresa May?’, Conversation, 11 July 2016 (with Paul Webb and Monica Poletti).

Theresa May has secured her place as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives without having to win the direct approval of her party’s membership. The original plan was for her to run against Andrea Leadsom in an election, but the latter pulled out before a vote could take place.

But that doesn’t mean the views of these Tory foot soldiers are irrelevant. Their support is important to the stability and direction of the government that May will lead. They help establish the general mood of the party on issues and set parameters within which the front bench can – or would be wise to – operate.

So while May will be delighted to have easily won the confidence of the majority of her parliamentary colleagues, she will also be aware of the need to keep in touch with the party’s grassroots supporters. She will be particularly aware of this as a former party chairman. But who are the grassroots, what do they believe in, and what qualities do they want from their leaders?

Thanks to the Party Members Project, we are able to shed some light on the matter. In June 2015, we surveyed a sample of 1,193 members of the Tory grassroots, asking a wide variety of questions about their demographic background and their political attitudes.

Portrait of a party

While some of the other parties have seen significant surges in membership recruitment since then (most dramatically in the case of Labour, of course), this is unlikely to have been the case for the Conservatives; although the official membership numbers have not been publicly updated for some time, estimates have consistently placed them at approximately 130,000-150,000 for several years now. This suggests that our sample is likely to be as representative of the Conservative membership now as it was a year ago.


Profile of Conservative members compared to general picture across the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, SNP and Greens Author provided

When asked questions that might indicate where they sit on the left-right political spectrum. On issues such as the distribution of wealth, far lower percentages of Conservatives agree with left-wing statements than we find across all party memberships in the UK.

When asked whether they think public spending cuts have not gone far enough (an obvious reference to the austerity policies pursued by the British government in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis), Tory members are far more likely to agree or agree strongly with austerity than adherents of other parties.


Where do they sit on the spectrum? Author provided

Quite clearly, then, the Conservative grassroots are distinctly right wing. What’s more, they are perfectly aware of it. We asked them to locate themselves on an imaginary left-right scale running from 0 (left) to 10 (right). The overall mean position for members of all parties was 4.44, but the average Tory member placed themselves at 7.76.


A party conference delegate shows her colours. PA

We found party members tend to agree or agree strongly with socially conservative statements. We also asked whether or not party members supported same-sex marriage legislation. Significantly fewer Conservative members agree with this major piece of social reform than members of other parties. That said, there is some evidence of movement on the issue since we surveyed them in a pilot study in 2013.

May’s record on this front is mixed. She has sometimes attracted the criticisms of social liberals for wanting to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights (a pledge she has recently resiled from), but she supported gay marriage legislation. It is hard to pin her down as consistently liberal or conservative, and that might not go unnoticed by her party.


Conservative views?

Tory members hold what might be described as “robust” views on immigration. We asked respondents two questions about immigration: is it good or bad for the economy? And does it undermine or enrich cultural life? For each of these they had to place themselves on a scale running from 1 (bad for economy/undermines culture) to 7 (good for economy/enriches culture). Their mean scores were 4.25 and 3.65 respectively – lower on the scale than other party memberships, for which the mean scores are 4.92 and 4.70.

Plainly, controlling inward migration is something the grassroots will now be hoping for. It is also an objective that singularly eluded May as Home Secretary. In the context of the EU’s commitment to the free movement of people this is hardly surprising, but as the post-Brexit Prime Minister she will have the opportunity of striking out in a new direction. The obvious challenge will be to find a way of doing this that does not inflict significant damage on the economy – something that will take considerable political skill.


Talking Brexit. Author provided

The Conservative membership showed an interesting attitude towards Britain’s membership of the EU when we surveyed them. It appears that a year before the referendum they were not determined come-what-may to vote Leave, but that their attitudes were largely contingent. Nearly two-thirds indicated that their vote would depend on the changed terms of membership that David Cameron negotiated before the referendum. Although we do not have direct evidence of this yet, it looks very like his efforts in this regard left them unpersuaded.

To characterise the majority of Tory grassroots members as head-banging Brexiteers might be misleading, then. This could have a bearing on how they regard their new leader, who was a notoriously lukewarm Remainer. It is probably not important to most of them that May was not a Leaver – especially in view of her clear post-referendum statement that “Brexit means Brexit”.

What they want in a leader

So we know a little of the general political outlook of Conservative members, but what are the specific qualities they will be looking for in their party leader? We offered respondents a list of 10 qualities, and asked them to say which they would pick as the three most important.


Notes for May. Author provided

For grassroots Tories, it would seem that “strong” leadership, ability to unite the nation, and being a good communicator weigh most in the balance. However, the latter matters notably less for Conservatives than it seems to for members of other parties. Surprisingly, perhaps, having strong beliefs and appealing to the average voter do not figure so highly for Tory members. Rather, what stands out about them is their wish for strong and authoritative leaders who can be good in a crisis and unite the nation.

There is, perhaps, something classically Churchillian and One Nation about this skillset. Whether Theresa May has good standing in this area in the eyes of the party membership is something on which we can only speculate right now. She has the advantage of having survived that well-known political graveyard, the Home Office, longer than any politician in living memory, which may commend her to many. In this role she can even claim a notable triumph in her dogged determination to deport Abu Qatada from the UK, in the face of several judicial setbacks.

May’s rhetoric of late has certainly carried with it the timbre of One Nation politics and has shown a certain pragmatism. A longstanding advocate of equal pay for men and women, she has now promised employee representation on company boards of directors, shareholder votes on executive pay and an attack on inequality. She has identified herthree immediate priorities as governing “for everyone, not just the privileged few”; uniting the country; and negotiating EU withdrawal successfully.

True, Theresa May’s Nasty Party conference speech of 2002 angered some Tory activists. The point she was seeking to convey to the more ideologically zealous among them was that the Conservative Party could only hope to govern again if it remained in touch with mainstream society and was not seen to pursue the exclusive, narrow-minded agenda of a select few. In this respect, her stated position this week has remained consistent – and it resonates with the membership’s desire for strong leadership that might bring unity to a fractured nation.

Originally published at https://theconversation.com/what-does-the-tory-grassroots-want-from-prime-minister-theresa-may-62305

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