‘Brexit shows how the populist right can be powerful without winning office’, Washington Post, 2 December 2019.

The populist radical right wins power in different countries in different ways. In Hungary and Poland, what were initially mainstream conservative parties with populist tendencies drifted inexorably, and now, it seems, irrevocably, into illiberalism once in government.

Brexit provides perhaps the most striking illustration yet of populist radical right parties — first the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and then its effective successor the Brexit Party — wielding, and indeed effectively achieving, power without winning office.

These parties have ensured their pet issue — Britain’s membership of the European Union — is now the major dividing line in British politics. How did this happen?

In part, the answer is time and chance. Had politicians made slightly different choices at key junctures, things might have turned out very differently. However, there is also a structural explanation that many people prefer to ignore.

The “respectable” mainstream right and the unashamedly radical right often have far more in common than either of them care to admit. The UK Conservative Party’s choices have been shaped by its relationship and rivalry with radical right-wing parties.

Brexit is a populist project

The perceived message of the 2016 referendum result was that supposedly Europhile elites had ignored and even betrayed the wishes of ordinary people.

Those who were ruled had had the opportunity to express themselves through direct rather than representative democracy, sending their rulers a message they couldn’t ignore and would never forget.

Should those in charge — the “political class,” “the establishment,” “the experts” — ever try to roll back changes, they would be swept from office by fresh faces unencumbered by past involvement in government and dedicated, tribune-like, to implementing the will of the people.

This threat, rather than any long-held ideological conviction, explains why Boris Johnson, Britain’s newly installed prime minister, claims he is willing to see the country leave the European Union without any deal to minimize the disruption.

Johnson is not the first Conservative leader to be forced to make this kind of gamble: His predecessors Theresa May (2016-2019) and David Cameron (2005-2016) found their choices were similarly constrained.

What is most interesting is that they were not forced into this position by the Conservatives’ traditional rival, the center-left Labour Party, but by a political force — the populist radical right — that has only ever won two out of 650 or so seats in the House of Commons.

Conservatives like to talk up populist issues 

To understand how this happened, it’s necessary to understand how British conservatism works. Conservative politicians have long been skeptical about claims for the benefits of ethnic diversity and rehabilitation rather than punishment.

They usually prefer “common sense” solutions and patriotic pride to purported expertise and naive internationalism. They have also tended to place more faith in leaders.

This helps explain why they are so often tempted to appeal to voters’ nativist, nationalist and authoritarian attitudes.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that issues like crime, immigration and foreign policy/overseas aid can help them split the center left’s traditional electoral coalition of the cosmopolitan, liberal middle class and the less cosmopolitan, less liberal working class.

In the past, however, conservatives didn’t fully yield to temptation.

Since mainstream center-right parties were often in government and needed to be responsible rather than merely responsive to their voters, they politicized wedge issues but only occasionally genuinely prioritized them. Conservative politicians flirted with populism but rarely went further.

This opened room for the radical right 

Conservatives’ squeamishness created a space for more radical right-wingers — populist politicians willing not just to stir the pot and keep it simmering but also to turn up the heat and see it boil over.

These more radical politicians appealed to voters (and tabloid media) who wanted to go back to a society that was less inclusive, less insecure, less tolerant, less politically correct, less apologetic and, for some at least, whiter.

These populist politicians were unlikely to make it into government. However, they could and did press their conservative counterparts to actually live up to their rhetoric.

Panic over Nigel Farage’s UKIP, together with the need to keep the Conservatives together, explains Cameron’s promise in 2013 to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union.

Even though UKIP won no seats in the 2015 general election, it did win nearly 4 million votes, ensuring the referendum would actually be held a year later.

Farage’s influence on the referendum led Cameron’s successor, May, to agree to leave not just the E.U. but also its single market and customs union.

When Farage’s new political vehicle, the Brexit Party, took 30.5 percent of the vote in the 2019 European Parliament elections, compared to the Conservatives’ measly 8.8 percent, it was almost inevitable that May would step down and be replaced by a “no-deal” Brexiteer like Johnson.

Farage’s parties have played a huge role in driving the Conservatives to the right, but only because the differences between them and the Tories have only ever been of degree rather than kind.

It is possible that the Conservative Party will revert to a more centrist “one nation Toryism” once Brexit has actually happened.

However, it may also be that the Conservative Party has gotten so used to sounding like a radical populist party to protect its flank that it has, for all intents and purposes, become one.

Originally published at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/02/brexit-shows-how-tiny-party-can-have-big-consequences/


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‘Who is winning the ground war in London?’ (with Philip Cowley), Times, 6 December 2019.

Everyone knows that Labour has the largest grassroots membership of any British political party, aided by thousands of keen Momentum activists. Everyone knows that as a result they will out-perform the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats when it comes to what is known as the election ground war — the grunt work of knocking on doors and talking to voters.

Drawing on responses to the Mile End Institute’s latest YouGov survey of voters in London, it may be that, once again, what everyone knows isn’t necessarily right.

At first flush, it does indeed appear that Labour is on top in the ground war in London. The graphic shows how Londoners have had various forms of contact from the three main parties in the last three weeks.

ground war

Respondents were more likely to report having received leaflets or letters from Labour (47 per cent) than their two main rivals (28 per cent and 34 per cent); they are more likely to have seen Labour adverts online (11 per cent, compared to 6 per cent and 7 per cent) and more likely to have received emails from Labour (6 per cent compared to 4 per cent).

The difference is also clear when it comes to the activities that require people volunteering rather than stuff that can be outsourced or done centrally.

The figure for those who say they have been called by phone or spoken to on the doorstep is 11 per cent for Labour — about double the equivalent for the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

This is probably explained, at least in part, by the fact that Labour can call on an estimated 450,000 members, compared to the Tories’ 180,000 and the Lib Dems’ 105,000, even if some leaflet deliveries — like some phone banking — can be outsourced to private companies.

True, a full fifth of Londoners (21 per cent) report no contact from any of the three main parties. But the number who say they have had nothing from Labour (36 per cent) is notably lower than for either the Conservatives (55 per cent) or Liberal Democrats (50 per cent).

Interestingly, for all the attention currently being paid to the digital campaign battle, it is old fashioned bits of paper pushed or mailed through doors that dominate, being reported at least four times as often as digital ads.

And yes, younger voters are more likely to have been contacted online — 18 per cent of those aged 18-24 say they have seen an online ad from Labour, compared to 5 per cent of those aged 65.

But even for younger voters it is leaflets and letters that have been the primary contact mechanism. Digital campaigning is now clearly in second place as a campaigning tool, but it is still a long way behind.

Of course, campaigns — successful ones, anyway — will focus most of their resources on the constituencies most likely to change hands.

At the last election, the average majority in London’s 73 constituencies was just over 30 per cent and, while in an ideal world a party would campaign everywhere, in reality resources are scare and opportunity costs very real.

So the second set of figures show the equivalent figures, but just for marginal constituencies — those that in 2017 had majorities of under 15 per cent.

In our survey, they account for just 282 respondents, so we need to be suitably cautious about our conclusions; but still, a few things stand out.

The first is that contact rates in these constituencies are indeed higher overall. Almost all of the figures for the different types of contact in this table are higher than their equivalents in the first table.

The percentage of respondents reporting no contact at all falls to just 10 per cent in these marginal seats.

ground war

The second, which perhaps is less expected and more worrying for Labour, is that Labour’s ground war advantage largely vanishes once you focus just on marginal seats. Most of the figures are broadly equivalent from party to party.

The percentage saying they have had no contact from each party is basically identical — at either 31 per cent or 32 per cent.

Even for the things requiring on-the-ground volunteers, the scores are pretty similar between Labour and Conservative: 18 per cent report a call or home visit from Labour, compared to 15 per cent for the Conservatives.

This conclusion holds even if we define marginality in different ways — by looking at, say the most marginal seats (those with just a 5 per cent majority) or those which The Times YouGov MRP model predicts will be the marginal seats come polling day.

In the former, for example, the figure for no contact is 31 per cent for the Conservatives, and 29 per cent for Labour (with Labour’s home visits at 16 per cent, the Conservatives on 14 per cent).

In the latter, the figures are 35 per cent for the Conservatives, and 31 per cent for Labour (with Labour’s home visits at 15 per cent, the Conservatives on 13 per cent).

This slim Labour advantage is perhaps not what we would expect given the parties’ sizes.

Yes, Labour has a more impressive ground operation across all of London but in the seats where the election will be won or lost, its advantage appears to be slim at best.

Of course, these figures don’t measure intensity of campaigning (one leaflet is not the same as six leaflets, but will be so counted here), yet alone its effectiveness.

It may also be that Labour’s ground operation has stepped up since the polling was conducted — and that its bigger membership really comes into its own on polling day when what counts is the kind of “get out the vote” activity that really does require boots on the ground.

But, on the evidence so far, in London at least, the Conservatives appear to be pretty much matching Labour where it matters.


Originally published at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/who-is-winning-the-ground-war-in-london-0p2nj8ldj

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‘Why is the Conservative Party so good at winning?’, Bloomberg, 18 November 2019.

British Conservatives can claim to be the world’s oldest and most successful political party. They’ve been written off more than a few times in the 200-plus years they’ve been around. But they’ve always bounced back. Their secret? The ability and willingness to reinvent themselves – even when that means giving up what supposedly defines them and the values they hold most dear.

The party’s arch pragmatism doesn’t mean that it’s immune from ideological preoccupations. Indeed one can look back at the party’s history and find plenty of examples: refusing to extend the vote franchise in the 1830s, holding onto the British Empire in the 1950s, joining the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union, in the 1960s and, after the global financial crisis of 2007/8, insisting on austerity. It’s just that those ideas, held so passionately at the time, are also mutable.

The Tory party does have a basic disposition – namely, the desire to defend private property and personal liberty against a state that, except when it comes to its core task of maintaining domestic and national security, should be kept from growing too large and too expensive over the long term, primarily by ensuring that it is run by Conservatives rather than their opponents. But anything above and beyond that tends to be a temporary obsession or else a temporary solution.

More often than not, the problem to be solved is an electoral one. It’s often better, think most Conservatives, to compromise in order to capture or stay in office. Even if one is forced to adopt some of the policies of one’s opponents, once in power one can at least limit any damage those policies might do and any financial cost to taxpayers they may involve.

Take the immediate postwar period. After Winston Churchill unexpectedly lost the 1945 election, and with it the chance to unwind the expansion of the state brought about by the need to defeat Hitler, it quickly became apparent to all but the most antediluvian Tory that there could be no going back.

Unless and until the union-friendly, essentially social democratic regime ushered in by the Labour Party could be shown to have failed those it was designed to benefit – something that was to take some 30 years and a crusader like Margaret Thatcher to achieve – then it would have to be met at least half way.

Consequently, from 1951, when the Conservatives (still under Churchill but now armed with an updated, more moderate manifesto) returned to office, the Conservatives managed to win a share of the working class (and union-member) vote not just by dint of being in office during Europe’s postwar economic boom but by appeasing organized labour, ensuring wage-earners could afford all the new consumer goods that suddenly became available.

And while the welfare state may have been kept on relatively short rations, it was never seriously threatened, with the overwhelmingly popular state-run National Health Service seen as off-limits even by the otherwise mostly free-market of Tories.

And as for those temporary obsessions – the preservation of empire, say, or becoming part of ‘Europe’ – all too often they were misinterpreted at the time as somehow integral to Toryism. The reality was more prosaic: They were sacred cows that the party ultimately proved willing to slaughter as time and perceived partisan advantage dictated.

Perhaps the best example of all in this respect is the fact that, after insisting that anything even approaching democracy would be the death of England in 1832, it was the Tories, who – under Benjamin Disraeli – passed the next great reform act some 30 years later, doubling the number of men (including many working-class men) eligible to vote.

And, after decades spent styling itself the party of empire, beginning with Disraeli himself proclaiming Queen Victoria “Empress of India,” it was a Conservative government under Harold Macmillan which in the late 1950s oversaw the bulk of its dismantlement – the same Harold Macmillan who set the Tories on the path to becoming, for a quarter of a century at least, “the party of Europe,” until from the late 1980s onwards it gradually ceased to be so.

Which brings us neatly to a general election which is supposedly all about voters giving the current Conservative leader and prime minister, Boris Johnson, a mandate and a majority to “get Brexit done.”

In order to persuade them to do that, however, the Conservatives have suddenly changed tack on public services, like health and education. Having spent nearly a decade in government since 2010 insisting on the absolute necessity of austerity and denying (very much in keeping with the gospel according to Thatcher) that there was any such thing as a “magic money tree,” they suddenly seem to have discovered a huge one in the back garden of Number 10 Downing Street and are giving it a quite a shake.

Many traditional small-c conservatives are now anxious that the Tories’ new-found enthusiasm for spending completes their transmogrification from mainstream, fiscally orthodox conservatism to devil-may-care radical right-wing populism.

It is certainly true that if the election goes according to plan Boris Johnson will be obliged to deliver at least some of what many of his new MPs will have promised voters. Still, conservatives need not worry. The party’s history is replete with switches and shifts.

If that history is any guide, the new look won’t last long. And — a prophecy that will worry another kind of conservative — even its Europhobia may eventually pass. When it comes to the Conservatives, whatever we see now is rarely forever.


Originally published at https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-11-18/why-u-k-conservatives-are-so-good-at-winning

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‘Nigel Farage will fight Labour seats after pact with Boris Johnson fails – so what’s he up to?’, The Conversation, 15 November 2019.

Some 200 years ago, Britain, France and Austria agreed a treaty designed to counter their common rivals, Russia and Prussia. It was signed in secret by the British foreign secretary Viscount Castlereagh and his opposite numbers, the French Duke of Talleyrand and the Austrian Prince of Metternich.

No one, of course, remembers the treaty but the names of its authors and signatories may ring one or two bells for some people.

Castlereagh was one of Britain’s heartless governing class named in Percy Shelley’s poem Masque of Anarchy, now something of an anthem for Corbynistas everywhere. Talleyrand and Metternich are probably best remembered for a famous quote. The latter, on hearing of the death of the former, is said to have remarked “I wonder what he meant by that”. His reaction beautifully captures how those observing or involved in politics are obsessed with (over) interpreting the every move of the main players.

Which brings us neatly to the decision by Nigel Farage not to stand Brexit Party candidates in the constituencies won by the Conservatives won in 2017. Hours of airtime and acres of newsprint have been consumed in offering more or less convincing explanations for his decision.

And you can see why. Clearly the stand-down was a climb-down from a politician normally inclined to cross the street to get into a fight rather than avoid one. But that isn’t the strangest aspect of the decision. No, the weirdest thing is Farage’s seeming determination to carry on the fight in constituencies that the Tories need to gain to win the election. These are seats that voted Leave in 2016 but have traditionally been held by Labour.

Johnson hopes that support for Brexit in these areas will deliver him a parliamentary majority if he can convince voters who traditionally back Labour to support him. But splitting the Leave vote with Farage puts that in jeopardy. To be effective, any pact with Farage worth the name would have had to centre on marginals in the West Midlands. And the so-called Labour “red wall” that the Conservatives are aiming to breach in the North is a far greater risk in these areas. But, with nominations closed, the Brexit Party still appears set on standing candidates in those (and plenty of other) seats.

Sure, what Farage has offered Johnson improves the latter’s chances of holding off the challenge from the Liberal Democrats in south-west England and the Scottish National Party in Scotland. It also sends a pretty clear signal to those Leave-supporting voters not naturally inclined to support the Conservatives that, if they really do want to “get Brexit done”, then they’d better hold their noses and vote Tory. Yet, as it stands, Farage is only offering Johnson half a loaf. What, then, is he playing at?

The real deal

In trying to work that out – wondering for example whether it’s down to some desperate need on Farage’s part to maintain his place in the limelight for just a little longer – perhaps we are all over-interpreting and over-complicating things. Rather than messing about with Metternich, maybe we should be opting for Occam and his razor. Maybe it would be better to take the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions.

On that basis, then, we should give up the attempt to get inside Farage’s head – which will doubtless come as a relief to many. Perhaps the simple fact is that this is a man who has spent his life in politics campaigning to get the UK out of the EU, ideally in a form that leaves it completely untethered from Brussels.

Having helped push the Conservatives into dumping Theresa May in favour of Johnson – a prime minister who, especially if he wins a comfortable majority, looks likely to be able to pass a hard Brexit through parliament and may even be persuaded to go for a no-deal departure – Farage knows he is close to getting what he’s always wanted. Yet he is simultaneously in danger of throwing it all away by splitting the Leave vote.

However, because Johnson cannot be trusted, it surely makes sense, for a few more precious weeks at least, to maintain the pressure on him to make more and more public promises as to what will happen in post-withdrawal trade negotiations before eventually granting the PM what he really needs.

Putting it bluntly, Farage is paying Johnson to do a job. As in all good gangster movies, it’s a case of half now and half when the job’s done.

In an ideal world, for Farage anyway, that second transaction would only be made once the UK has actually left the EU. But in the real world, a binding (or at least supposedly binding) manifesto commitment covering next year’s negotiations will probably have to do.

If and when that commitment comes, then don’t be surprised to see Farage handing over the other half of the payment. It won’t be in used £50 notes in a big brown envelope but in what Johnson sees as the most valuable currency of all: an announcement a few days before polling day by the Brexit Party’s leader that Leavers should vote, not for his candidates, but for the Conservatives.

That announcement, if it happens, won’t of course guarantee a Conservative victory on December 12 but, for Boris Johnson, could make winning a whole lot easier.


Originally published at https://theconversation.com/nigel-farage-will-fight-labour-seats-after-pact-with-boris-johnson-fails-so-whats-he-up-to-127030

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‘Why do people support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal?’ (with Stephen Fisher and Eilidh Macfarlane), YouGov, 12 November 2019.

Lots of exasperation, not that much enthusiasm and a big dollop of don’t know: support for Boris Johnson’s EU deal and implications for the election

Brexit is going to play a big part in determining who wins the general election, especially if the Conservative Party has any say in the matter. Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU may not have majority support among the public but more people support it than don’t. And when we look in more detail at why people support it, it’s clear that the Tory tagline, “get Brexit done” – or at least the sentiment it encapsulates – is resonating with voters.

When YouGov interviewed a representative sample of 1,689 adults in Britain on 27th and 28th October, 39% said they supported Johnson’s deal, while some 32% opposed the deal, leaving 30% who didn’t know.

And, when asked to give their reasons for supporting or opposing the deal in their own words, there is just one dominant reason people give for supporting the deal: getting Brexit done. No other identifiable category from our manual coding of these freeform responses accounted for even 10% of supporters’ main reasons.

True, our “get Brexit done” category doesn’t include only those repeating Johnson’s campaign slogan word for word. But it is nevertheless testimony to how many people share the sense of exasperation it captures. Respondents said their support was because, “it needs dealing with”, “to end the impasse”, “just get on with it”, “just to get out”, and “want to get it over and done with”. Many also expressed frustration with how the process had “gone on too long” and how it was a “farce”, “rubbish” and “nonsense”, and how they were, “just fed up”, “bored” or “sick of it”. There was the odd expletive too.

Back in January when YouGov asked the 23% who supported May’s deal for their reasons, the mood among them was one of unenthusiastic acceptance of a satisfactory deal. May’s deal was justified as being the “best deal available”, “delivering Brexit” and “better than no deal”. There was already then substantial demand for politicians to get on with it, but now that is the overwhelming mood among supporters of Johnson’s deal.

Interestingly, the call to get Brexit done appeals almost as much to Remain voters who support the deal (52%) as it does to their Leave counterparts (54%).  And those supporters of the deal who voted Labour in 2017 are actually more likely (56%) to be motivated by getting it done than those who voted Conservative (53%).

Digging deeper, it’s pretty clear that the details of the deal aren’t what matters. Talk to the advocates of leave and they will tell you that the most important virtue of Johnson’s over May’s deal is that it allows scope for Britain to reach agreements with non-EU countries on trade in goods. Yet just 2% (a mere 15 of the 681 supporters of Johnson’s deal) mentioned trade deals, some without acknowledging that as a benefit of this particular deal and all without drawing any contrast with May’s deal. A further 1% (just nine respondents) said Johnson’s deal is better than May’s, but only one said anything about how that was the case. There were a further 2% of supporters (15) who claimed that Johnson’s deal resolved the Irish, Northern Irish or backstop problem, but often with reasoning compatible with support for May’s deal or with no explanation at all.

The paucity of references to features of the deal shows that support for Johnson’s deal is barely, if at all, based on evaluations of the deal. Instead most people who want Johnson’s deal just want any Brexit settlement, and they want it now.

As for those who oppose the deal (something we’ll look into in more detail in another post) the biggest reason is that they don’t want to leave the EU at all, especially, of course, if they voted Remain back in 2016. Among those who voted Leave and oppose the deal, however, the biggest single reason is that they want a harder Brexit (a ‘cleaner break’ as some would put it) than Johnson is offering them. Among those currently intending to vote for the Brexit Party, however, only 40% oppose the deal.  On this basis, the Brexit Party is in danger of losing around half of its support to the Tories.

Whether Labour voters are quite so likely to be won over, however, is a moot point. Concerns about leaving the customs union, weakening workers’ rights and environmental protection were mentioned by many who oppose the deal. Hostility to a trade deal with the USA was mentioned by some. Even the lack of an official economic assessment of the consequences of the deal was raised, despite the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, saying that Treasury estimates are not necessary because it is “self-evidently in our economic interest.”

We should remember, too, that a third of voters are still unsure what they think of the deal, and that the campaign should (we use the word advisedly) be a period where people learn more about the deal, including the arguments for and against – a debate that we hope (based on the somewhat surprising fact that the responses threw up very few accusations hurled at “Leavers” or “Brexiteers” among opponents of the deal and very few complaints about “Remainers” and “Remoaners” among its supporters) might turn out to be slightly less poisonous than some assume.

And if that debate does take place, then, with so many people still unsure about Johnson’s deal, who knows?  Just as Theresa May’s call for “strong and stable” government wore thin over the course of her 2017 campaign, so too could “get Brexit done”.


Originally published at https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/11/12/support-boris-johnsons-eu-deal-and-implications-el

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‘How much do Londoners care about Brexit?’ (with Alan Wager), UK in a Changing Europe, 11 November 2019.

How important will Brexit be in deciding the general election in the UK’s capital? To hear some people talk you’d think that London is also the capital of Remainia, jam-packed with voters who can’t wait to send a full slate of EU-flag-waving MPs to Westminster in order to stop Brexit in its tracks.

The truth – as ever – is a bit more complicated. Brexit is a big issue – but not the only issue.

Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute and YouGov asked voters across the capital for their views on Boris Johnson’s deal.

It turns out they split three ways: 26% support the Prime Minister’s deal, 36% oppose it, and the biggest (and, who knows, maybe the most honest?) group of all – 38% – say they don’t know how they feel about the treaty.

Londoners were also asked to name the three most important issues that will determine how they will vote in the upcoming general election. And one thing’s for sure: Brexit will be uppermost in people’s minds when they head to polling stations across the capital on 12 December.

Age matters, though. The older you get, the more likely you are to see the question of whether or not Britain leaves the EU as one of the key factors determining how you vote.

Brexit is a top three issue for two-thirds (67%) of Londoners over 65. Yet fewer than half (46%) of Londoners aged 18 to 24 say the same.

care about Brexit

Key to Labour’s success in December will be its ability to make the general election – for as many voters as possible – about more than just Brexit. And it’s clear from polling in the capital that this strategy chimes with its voters.

Some 78% of people planning on backing Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, along with 71% who are planning on voting for Jo Swinson’s Lib Dems, say that Brexit is a top-three issue for them. But the same is true for just 52% of Londoners planning on backing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

So what do London’s Labour voters care about if they’re not thinking about Brexit?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you’re a Labour supporter you’re more than twice as likely to say that the NHS is driving your vote choice than if you’re planning on voting Tory: twice as many (52% vs 25%) of Labour voters than Conservative voters name the health services as a top-three issue.

Housing is the third issue most likely to be identified as important by London’s Labour voters, with 32% saying they will have the issue at the front of their minds when casting their ballot –a big contrast, once again, with Conservative voters in London, just 10% of whom say the same.

So what is it that the capital’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters do care about beyond Brexit?

The answer for Tories is crime – and if you are a Conservative voter you are far more likely (38%) to say that your vote is being determined by the rise in crime than if you are a Liberal Democrat (11%) or Labour supporter (17%).

This is in part reflective, once again, of a generation gap, but it also reflects where you live in London.

Despite young people being far more likely to be the victims of the spike in violent crime in the capital, they are far less likely to say the issue will define their electoral choice.

If you are over 50 you are twice as likely (28%) to list crime as a top-three issue compared to if you are a voter under 24.

Equally, if you live in outer London you are more likely to list crime as an issue than those living in inner London.

As for the Lib Dems, they seem to be gaining in popularity in London.

Indeed, support for them is up from 8% in 2017 to 19% today. Perhaps reflecting the fact that they were three times as likely to support Labour as they were the Tories back in 2017, their voters are exercised by healthcare (39%), the economy (38%), and the environment (35%).

As we’ve seen, though, for London’s Lib Dem voters, like London’s Tory voters, the biggest issue by far next month will be Brexit. Whether that focus will see a fair few seats switch in the capital, we’ll have to wait and see.


Originally published at https://ukandeu.ac.uk/how-much-do-londoners-care-about-brexit/

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‘The ground war: Conservatives likely to be outgunned’, UK in a Changing Europe, 6 November 2019.

For all the increasing interest in the way parties these days fight elections on social as well as on broadcast and print media, the ground war – fought by ordinary people on streets up and down the country – still matters, especially in marginal constituencies.

Indeed, one of the reasons that Labour surprised many observers back in 2017 may well have been down – in part anyway – to the fact that, since its membership was four or five times the size of its Conservative and Liberal Democrat opponents, it could put far more boots on the ground than they could.

Since then, Labour’s membership has dropped, while the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have increased their numbers. But Jeremy Corbyn can still count on far more warm bodies than Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson.

Quite how warm those bodies will be, particularly in December, however, is another matter: it’s all very well having lots of members but if they aren’t willing to get out on the proverbial doorstep – and/or start bashing their keyboards for the cause – then they may not be quite the asset they seem to be.

Which brings us neatly to a number worth remembering at the beginning of any discussion about the ground war during this general election – one of many hopefully fascinating figures that feature in a recently published book, Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century, co-authored by me, Paul Webb and Monica Poletti.

In the 2017 campaign, as Table 1 shows, some 36% of the 5,000-plus members of the six parties we surveyed (Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens and Ukip) told us they spent no time whatsoever helping their party during those seven weeks. In other words, we need to be careful not to mistake members for activists.

Just as crucially, we need to realise that some party members do much more than their fair share of the donkey work – and, even more importantly, that members of some parties do more than others.

This is obvious whether we look at estimated time spent, as per Table 1, or the specific activities they say they engage in, as per Table 2.

The clear winners in 2017, at least when it comes to activism, were members of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, although it’s interesting to note (in keeping with talk of hate-filled ‘Cybernats’ and endless Focus leaflets dropping onto doormats) that they had strengths in different areas, with SNP being particularly active online and the Liberal Democrats maintaining their reputation as kings of the letterbox.

Labour (and perhaps its sidekick, Momentum, too) can draw satisfaction, however, from the fact that, as well as being pretty active online, its members appeared to be particularly strong when it came to canvassing, whether face-to-face or on the phone.

Combine all that with the fact that Labour had so many more members than any other party and it almost certainly means the party has a considerable advantage in the ground campaign over most of its opponents – and in particular its main rival, the Conservatives.

For the Conservatives, the figures from 2017 are depressing to say the least: essentially four out of ten of their members admitted to doing nothing to help their party during the campaign.

True, the party may well have, say, one-and-a-half times as many members now as it did back then.

But unless those members are significantly more active than their counterparts back then – both online and offline (the latter probably being a function of age as much as anything else) – then, at this election, the Conservative Party is going to need all the paid-for Facebook ads, phone-banks, and leaflet-deliveries it can afford if it’s to come anywhere near matching its opponents’ efforts.

That said, there may be one or two crumbs of comfort for the Conservatives.

Firstly, as more detailed research we’ve published clearly shows, it’s not just paid-up members who do stuff for their preferred party at election time: there are, believe it or not, far more people who really like parties but don’t actually join them than there are people who do, meaning that the efforts of the latter are by no means the only game in town.

Secondly, look at the figures for Ukip. Not exactly impressive, are they? Which points perhaps to a potential problem for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

He and his supporters (the party doesn’t actually have members in the conventional sense) may talk a good game on the telly and at their mass rallies.

But do they actually have the volunteers required to trouble the more established parties in the seats where it matters?

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the activity rates for Ukip two years earlier, in 2015, were significantly better than they were in 2017 – one of the reasons, maybe, why it managed to win nearly four million votes four years ago.

But that difference between what Ukip members did in 2015 and what they did in 2017 points to something that should worry all the parties in 2019.

Our research at those general elections shows a clear drop off in party members’ campaign activity between the first and the second of the two – possibly due to sheer election fatigue.

December’s election might be billed as truly historic in terms of the outcome determining whether or not the UK leaves the EU but, as the third nationwide contest in four short years (the fifth if you count the 2016 referendum and this year’s European elections), it might not excite quite as much effort on the ground as its obvious importance deserves.


Originally published at https://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-ground-war-conservatives-likely-to-be-outgunned/

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