Polling Observatory #39: Big two recover as UKIP fall back

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This is the thirty-ninth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 06-08-14 anchor on average

This month’s Polling Observatory comes after a month of political twists and turns – most notably with the resignation of Baroness Warsi over the Israel/Gaza crisis and the general election gate-crashing act performed by Boris Johnson. Last month we reported a slight rebound in the polls for Labour but were cautious over the presence of a ‘Junker’ bounce in Conservative fortunes, despite much fanfare in the media. This month’s estimates suggest the Conservatives have made some recovery, but despite one poll putting the Conservatives ahead, and another showing Labour in front by 8%, the underlying position remains a narrow but significant Labour lead.  The Conservatives have posted a solid gain in support in July, rising 1.2 points. They now are at 32.0%, close to their highest level of support since the beginning of 2012. However, Conservative support still remains within the 30-32% band they have settled into for over two years, a band they must break out of to have any prospect of being the largest party in 2015.

Labour also gained significantly this month, up 0.7 points, at 35.3%. This blunts the impact of the Conservative rebound, and is the second significant gain in the row for the party, who are now about 2 points above their low ebb in the late spring, though still well below the high-30s range they typically enjoyed last year. Labour’s lead over the Conservatives is now 3.3 points – close to the all time low found in our March estimate.

The narrow gap at the top will give the blues a boost, but the Conservatives are still persistently behind the opposition and time is ticking away. Interestingly, these changes are in line with what we would expect from our forecasting model – with both parties expected to receive greater support in May 2015 than they are currently polling.

To some it is difficult to comprehend that Labour is holding a steady poll lead despite the strong negatives of their leader and the continued view from the electorate that the party is partly to blame for the continued economic travails of the UK. However, the reality is that Miliband’s negatives are already ‘priced in’ to Labour support, while Cameron also suffers from relatively anaemic leader ratings by historical comparison. Further, for all Labour’s negatives, the party retains the image of being well-intentioned if flawed and ineffectual, whereas the Conservatives are toxic with large parts of the electorate, and have done nothing to address this, aside from a few last minute electoral giveaways. With Boris Johnson on manoeuvres for the leadership of the party, and several MPs stepping down ahead of the election (including several of the 2010 intake), party discipline is in a fragile state – leaving Chief Whip Michael Gove with a crucial role before the general election.

After a sustained surge in support, UKIP have fallen back, down 1.5 points at 13.3%. This fallback is in line with what we saw in 2013, when UKIP surged after electoral success brought them media attention but fell back somewhat over the summer. Last year, the party retained quite a bit of its new support, levelling off at about 10%, several points above their level in 2012. Their current 13% share is well above where they were at this time last year, but only time will tell whether they are able to retain the new recruits won in the European campaign. The UKIP narrative surely will return to the top of the media agenda ahead of the May 2015 general election, providing the party with another possible  shot in the arm, and UKIP’s membership and political donations are currently at record highs.  Farage’s fox is not shot yet.

Despite their fall-back, UKIP remain well above the Liberal Democrats who are flat-lining below the 10% level, specifically, at 8.8%, with no change on last month. For both parties, however, the national share of the vote will be less important than their local strength in seats that they are trying to take or hold. The recent Ashcroft poll of Tory marginals revealed that UKIP is outperforming their national figures considerably where they have a strong local campaign – and where features of the constituency are in their favour. Earlier Ashcroft marginals polling suggests that the Liberal Democrats also do better in the seats where they are well entrenched and seeking to hold off Conservative challengers, though Clegg’s party is in deep trouble when Labour is the challenger.

The same story also applies, to a lesser extent, to the larger parties. Strong incumbents often enjoy a local bonus in support which can help them weather a national swing away from their party, while weak challengers can under-perform. The local social and demographic mix of a seat can also play an important role – as seen in 2014 local elections where Labour performed strongly in diverse London boroughs while UKIP surged in seats with concentrations of older, white working class “left behind” voters. The 2015 election is not a national popularity contest but 650 local popularity contests. As we roll out our constituency-level forecasts in the coming months, we will start to analyse how to translate the national picture into a map of the local constituency battles which will ultimately decide who governs after May 2015.

 

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Want to know why UK citizens are so disillusioned with politics and what can be done about it? We’re on it. Interested in studying British politics and elections? We’re the home of the Telegraph’s Polling Observatory. Additionally, our students engage in real-world research with prospective employers. For more reasons to study Politics and International Relations at University of Southampton, explore the diversity of content written by staff and students on our group blog here at SotonPolitics.org.

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So You Want to Be Chief of Staff to the Australian Prime Minister? Here’s How

DipticBy R.A.W. Rhodes, Professor of Government at the University of Southampton and Griffith University (Personal website, Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by R.A.W. Rhodes here.


 

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[The Gatekeepers is a new book by R.A.W. Rhodes and Anne Tiernan. Below, Rhodes shares with us a brief summary of this new work. - Editor.]

So, you want to be the Chief of Staff to the Australian Prime Minister. This book provides invaluable lessons to foster that ambition.

Australian prime ministers need help to manage the many challenges and dependencies of political leadership. Their Chief of Staff provides critical support to both the person and the office of prime minister. The job is to help prime ministers to cope with the endless pressure of events and surviving to win the next election. It is about making sure the urgent doesn’t crowd out the important while pursuing the Holy Grail of coordination. It is about winning the battle for support in cabinet, caucus and country.

This book explores the work of the Chief of Staff from the perspective of those who have done the job under governments from Fraser to Rudd. It identifies eight lessons that key individuals who have held the Chief of Staff position wanted to pass on to their successors. The lessons are not rocket science but that doesn’t make the job easy. The Chief of Staff must adjust to the personalities, preferences and working styles of the prime minister. They must navigate the murky networks and pressures of life at the centre of government. As gatekeepers and shock absorbers, the Chiefs of Staff take the blame for their prime ministers, but it is not necessarily their fault.

This important book offers unparalleled insights into how things really work at the centre of Australia’s central governing networks from the perspective of those who have been there. It is based on unique access to former Chiefs of Staff as well as interviews with the leading participants of the day. It draws together and systematises the Chiefs of Staff views about what to do and what not to do, about how to do it and how not to do it, and does so in their own words.

You can buy the book here.

R.A.W. Rhodes Gives Plenary Lecture at 2014 IPSA

DipticBy R.A.W. Rhodes, Professor of Government at the University of Southampton and Griffith University (Personal website, Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by R.A.W. Rhodes here.


 

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The lecture reflected on trends in governance in the face of challenges that include fragmentation and complexity. We have witnessed a shift from the new public management (NPM) to the new public (or network) governance (NPG). This shift challenged our ideas about the role of the state; often summarised as a shift from rowing to steering. With the shift came an arsenal of specific public service reforms associated with performance measurement, marketization, and choice in service delivery. Reform succeeded reform with no time for the intended changes to take place, no evaluation, so no clear evidence of either success of failure. Rather, we are left with the dilemmas created by the overlapping residues of past reforms. Yet the reforms keep on coming.

This lecture offered a stock take of the reform journey and sought to answer the question of how do we reinvent bureaucracy for network governance. I suggested we need to recover the craft of public administration. The classical Weberian bureaucrat working in a hierarchy of authority and conserving the positive state tradition remains a central figure but now there are many more skills to master. Some skills are relatively new; for example, entrepreneurial leadership. Others have an archaic ring, but old virtues have acquired a new salience; for example, diplomacy, and prudence or practical wisdom. I conclude we need to sift through detritus of past reform to identify what worked and to ‘reinvent’ the bureaucracy we needlessly cast aside for the fashion of the day.

 

If a Community Speaks and Nobody Hears It, Does It Make a Sound?

richpennyBy Richard Penny, Teaching Fellow in Political Theory and PhD student at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu). You can read more posts by Richard here.


I was fortunate to attend a public meeting last week, called to discuss residents’ fears over the sequel to ‘Benefits Street’ (creatively titled ‘Immigration Street’) which is to be set in the Derby Road area of Southampton. Around 200 local people, charity workers and community leaders lined up to explain their opposition to the filming of the series to its director, Kieran Smith, of Love Productions.

The residents’ anger was both palpable and wide ranging. Speakers wanted to know why Derby Road was chosen as an ‘Immigration Street’ when most residents were British citizens, born and raised in the UK. “We’re all as British as each other,” one resident shouted, “you’re here because of the way we look!”. Smith replied merely that they wanted to find an area that had been ‘influenced by immigration’. In this case then, another resident asked, why were they not filming in her community – built on generations of Irish-Catholic immigrants?  In fact, as others pointed out – which parts of Britain haven’t been influenced by immigration? Smith didn’t answer, and it was hard to escape the conclusion that – intentionally or accidentally – Love Productions had failed to grasp the difference between ethnicity, and nationality. Either way – as one colleague noted – it raises doubts about their ability to make a ‘nuanced’, ‘careful’ documentary about immigration.

Many residents also pointed to the impacts on the residents of James Turner Street, aka Benefits Street. Local councillor (and PAIR graduate) Satvir Kaur asked Smith if he really cared about the community on Derby Road – and if so, why he was happy to expose them to death threats, intimidation, media intrusion, and a stigma that could last for generations. Smith argued that he wanted to portray the community positively, and would offer residents influence over the final output. If this were the case then, Smith was asked, why were the residents of James Turner Street so unhappy with the way they were portrayed? Had Love Productions failed to inform them of the framing they were putting on the series, or had they failed to listen to their objections?

From the outset the degree of trust in the room was low – and it declined from thereon as residents presented a list of revelations about the conduct of Love Productions. The first of these was that prior to this ‘consultation meeting’ Love Productions had already been filming for between 10-12 weeks. Some consultation. Further, many participants had been told only that they were taking part in a ‘documentary about immigration’ with no mention of the show’s title, or its connection to ‘Benefits Street’ – a fact that for many, was very significant.

Perhaps most worrying of all were the testimonies from a number of care workers, regarding how Love Productions had operated thus far. In particular, it was alleged that crew from the series had entered, and loitered outside a day centre in the area, looking to speak to residents with a range of vulnerabilities including substance abuse problems, learning difficulties and mental health issues. Did Smith understand the notion of ‘informed consent’ it was asked? Another care worker asked why Love Productions had been speaking to members of the National Front in Southampton (and not resident in the area) if they didn’t wish to spark ethnic division. Another case was raised in which it was alleged that Love Productions had sent cameras to record a resident being sectioned under the mental health act.

By this point Smith had all but given up justifying the filming. He responded incredulously to the allegations regarding targeting vulnerable people (including the line of the night: Smith: “Are you really questioning our ethics as TV producers?” Whole room: “YES!”), before refusing to comment on specific allegations regarding who they had spoken to. Increasingly he fell back on the argument that if residents didn’t want to be filmed, they didn’t have to consent – but that Love Productions had the right to film consenting individuals. What Smith didn’t seem to be able to grasp was that the community itself might have rights of its own. It is, after all, the community that his show is seeking to represent, and yet the community seemed utterly united in its opposition to the programme.

It was this impasse that underscored much of the bad feeling during and after the discussion. In a sense the meeting was heartening. The residents of Derby Road had a keen sense of their identity – of how to reconcile what it means to be British, and what it means to be an immigrant – and of how they needed to speak and act together to protect the proud and diverse community they had built (in what is historically one of the most troubled areas of the city). And yet, at the same time, there was no obvious idea of what they could do to stop the production of ‘Immigration Street’. One community leader urged attendees to write to OFCOM, but this suggestion was met with utter derision from most – who were acutely aware that the regulator dismissed all complaints about Benefits Street.

Indeed, the question was put to Smith (by Alan Whitehead MP) as to what it would take for his team to stop the filming. Smith’s couldn’t provide an answer. And why should he? Contracts have been signed with Channel 4. Money had been paid. Filming has started, and they will have no trouble finding a pool of participants for whom the lure of being on television, and a potential route to stardom is too much to refuse. There are Bafta’s at stake, and nothing that either the law, or regulators can (or will) do to prevent the filming. Indeed, to the extent that the authorities are involved in the filming of ‘Immigrant Street’, it’s likely that it will be in the role of protecting the film crew as they do their work – at least if the threats of interference from some community members are realised.

The overriding sense at the end of the meeting then was one of powerlessness, and frustration. And in this sense it was hard to escape the conclusion that the meeting in question was also something of a microcosm for British society more generally. Smith will make his show, he will make money, he will advance his career, and he will do so unhindered by regulatory bodies and unaffected by its consequences. Smith, of course, is part of a strata of British society for whom the law, the economy, the media and the regulators work perfectly well.

On the other hand there is a community for whom – despite its obvious strength – none of these facts are true. They are not organising from a position of wealth, resources or power. They do not have the luxury of choosing how they are presented to the nation, and nor can they call upon the law or the political system to protect them. One of the most telling parts of the evening was the meetings’ reluctance to let the BBC and ITV news crews report on the discussion. Almost no-one trusted them to do so impartially. And who can blame them?

For the most part these differences bubble under the surface. Both the advantaged and disadvantaged in Britain have priced their status into their worldview to a large extent. But increasingly these two worlds are unable to ignore one another – and when they do collide – when privilege and power comes face to face those who lack it – the result is toxic. The show will doubtless be made. The economic and political interests behind it are simply too strong. Yet, with no alternatives there will doubtless be confrontations – legal and otherwise – as residents try to stop it. But this controversy will only feed the fire further, until it moves on, to quench its insatiable appetite for outrage elsewhere. And the community will be left to pick up the pieces by itself. It feels chillingly like as there goes Derby Road, there goes Britain. What is to be done?

The Polling Observatory Forecast #3: Slow decline in Conservative prospects, but still too close to call

As explained in our inaugural election forecast, up until May next year the Polling Observatory team will be producing a long term forecast for the 2015 General Election, using methods we first applied ahead of the 2010 election (and which are also well-established in the United States). Our method involves trying to make the best use of past polling evidence as a guide to forecast the likeliest support levels for each party in next May’s election, based on current polling, and then using these support levels to estimate the parties’ chances of winning each seat in the Parliament. We will later add a seat-based element to this forecast.

Forecast 30-06-14 cropped

This month’s Polling Observatory saw a slight rebound in support for Labour, despite the sustained, now rather tedious, debate over Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials. Our forecast, which builds on the historical polling record alone to project forwards to next year’s general election, again puts Labour and the Conservatives in a statistical dead heat, although Labour has edged up to 36.2% and the Conservatives have fallen back slightly to 35.5%. This Labour lead of 0.7% is far too small to be statistically meaningful at this stage, with polls still providing a very uncertain guide to the outcome. This movement reflects the fact that Labour are holding their support, where the historical record suggests we should be expecting declines at this point. In contrast, the forecast for the Conservatives is on a downward slope, indicating that they are not making the gains that history would typically expect. Our colleague Steven Fisher has found similar trends in his model, which also builds on historical polling data. If the current poll lead continues into the autumn, the Conservatives may well need to start worrying – the accuracy of polling as a predictor of the general election outcome steadily increases as we enter the last six months. There is also bad news for the Liberal Democrats, who our forecast puts on 8.2%. Once we introduce the seats-based element to our model, the picture might not look quite so catastrophic for them, but our current expectation is for an extremely poor performance.

Today, all the main parties are struggling to attract the level of support that would indicate a strong prospect of securing a parliamentary majority in 2015. The two-party share of the vote by Conservatives and Labour is as low as it has ever been.  All three of the established parties are still running below their historical averages, in part due to the rise in UKIP which has taken “none of the above” vote intentions to record highs.  The relative stasis in the polls is partly because the structural weaknesses of parties and leaders (Miliband’s poor ratings, the damaged Tory brand, and the Liberal Democrat betrayal) are all priced in to the polling numbers we have been seeing. This means that axioms such as that ‘oppositions need to be further ahead at this stage’ or that ‘governments will always be rewarded for a growing economy’ may not necessarily come to fruition given the listlessness of the polls. It is dangerous to assume that these sorts of factors will always lead to late shifts in opinion. Though there have often been late swings in opinion away from the opposition, or towards the government, this is a tendency not an iron law, as our table below reveals.

Election year Govt change last 12 months Opposition change last 12 months Swing from opposition to government last 12 months
1955 (CON) 4.5 -0.3 2.4
1959 (CON) 2.1 4.7 -1.3
1964 (CON) 4.9 -0.9 2.9
1966 (LAB) 3.7 -1.4 2.6
1970 (LAB) 13.9 -8.5 11.2
Feb 1974 (CON) 2.6 -8.4 5.5
1979 (LAB) -7.1 0.9 -4.0
1983 (CON) -2.6 0.5 -1.6
1987 (CON) 10.4 -5.4 7.9
1992 (CON) -3.0 -1.3 -0.9
1997 (CON) 2.1 -3.3 2.7
2001 (LAB) 1.1 -3.5 2.3
2005 (LAB) 3.0 -3.6 3.3
2010 (LAB) 6.6 -3.4 5.0
Average since 1955 3.0 -2.4 2.7

Our table, built from our polling historical database, shows how the polls move in the last year of a Parliament in each election cycle since 1955. There is a “swing back” tendency towards the government – on average the governing party picks up three percentage points in the last year, and the opposition loses 2.4 points. But there is a lot of variation around this mean. In some elections, such as 1987 and 1970 there is a dramatic swing back to the government (though note that, on these occasions, the sharp rise in government popularity may have helped trigger the election in the first place, something now impossible with fixed term parliaments). On other occasions, such as 1979 and 1992, the polls record a swing away from the government in the last year. So while an improvement in the Conservatives’ relative position is historically likely, it is not certain, and it is unlikely to be a dramatic shift.

This matters, because the current biases in the electoral system mean the Conservatives need a substantial lead to become the largest party in Parliament, and a hefty one to have any chance of a majority. If the swing back to Cameron’s party is in line with the historical average of 2.7 points, then we would expect the Conservatives to go into next year’s election with a lead of less than two percentage points, definitely not enough for a majority, and probably not even enough to be the largest party in Parliament (particularly if the Liberal Democrats hold up better in seats they are contesting with the Conservatives). A polling swing back would provide the Conservatives with a valuable morale boost, but thanks to the disadvantages of the electoral system, Cameron’s party still have a lot to do even if the tide of public opinion starts to turn in their favour.

Misarchism

Jonathan HavercroftBy Jonathan Havercroft, Senior Lecturer in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by Jonathan here.


misarchism

My current research project examines the ideology of misarchism. Misarchism means the hatred of government or rule.  I am interested in both the intellectual history of the concept and its revival in contemporary right-wing populist movements in the U.S. and Europe. The term originally appears in German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, second essay, section 12, where he writes:

The democratic idiosyncrasy of being against everything that dominates and wants to dominate, the modern misarchism (to coin a bad word for a bad thing) has gradually shaped and dressed itself up as intellectual, most intellectual, so much so that it already, today, little by little penetrates the strictest, seemingly most objective sciences, and is allowed to do so.

In developing this term, Nietzsche was critiquing the political philosopher Herbert Spencer for attempting to ground political philosophy in the new science of evolution. Nietzsche objected to these types of philosophies on two grounds. First, evolutionary philosophies were reactive ideologies – they focused on the process of adaptation to explain change – where as Nietzsche felt that change was brought about through power struggles by conflicting entities. Second, these evolutionary philosophies denied the roles of power, struggle, and domination in both political and biological processes.

Today, we tend to label the political philosophy of Herbert Spencer and his followers social Darwinism, but this term is doubly misleading. First, it is misleading because what 19th century theories of evolution had to say about politics was (and still is) a contested terrain. Second, it is misleading because Darwin’s theory of evolution was not the most influential biological theory in this debate. That distinction belonged to the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarckian evolution posited that a mechanism of inherited characteristics was the driving force behind how species evolved. Conversely, Darwin argued that random variation in the traits of organisms drove the process of evolution. This difference in causal mechanisms leads to two different views about what evolution is. If one sides with Lamarck, then evolution is a progressive process in which only the fittest organisms survive over time. Conversely, if one agrees with Darwin, then evolution is a process of random selection in which mutations in an organism’s traits and changes in the natural environment lead to species variation, but there is no clear progress or teleology in the evolutionary process. In this debate Spencer sided decisively with Lamarck and argued that social changes in areas as diverse as economics, politics and morality were all driven by an evolutionary process in which only the best traits were inherited from one generation to the next.

For Spencer, this process of “survival of the fittest” meant that society itself was getting better over time and individuals were becoming more moral. This belief that society was progressing through a process of the survival of the fittest, led Spencer to defend a radical laissez-faire ideology. He believed that any attempt by the government to intervene in the market place or offer assistance to the poor or disadvantaged would undermine the process of social evolution, and as a consequence would weaken society.

This 19th century ideology of misarchism had four core features: 1. opposition to any kind of government action except for the administration of justice; 2. opposition to any assistance to the poor and disadvantaged; 3. belief that the social system will produce the best possible outcomes for society as a whole when the individual members of society act without government assistance; 4. the belief that morality, rather than government, should regulate the behavior or society. What this added up to was a fierce opposition to any government action outside of the use of a judicial system to punish crimes against individuals and private property.

In labeling Spencer’s philosophy as misarchist, Nietzsche points out that it is hatred of government that animates these types of movements. The term combines the ancient greek roots mis for hatred and arkhein for government or rule. This makes misarchism distinct from two other right wing ideologies – libertarianism and social conservatism. Libertarians ground their ideology in a defence of individual rights and freedom. And while libertarians would agree with misarchists on issues of the government’s role in the economic sphere, they differ when it comes to the police powers of the state as misarchists tend to favour heavier police interference in areas of personal conduct such as drug consumption. Conversely, social conservatives ground their ideology in the preservation of the existing social order and defend the use of government in areas that preserve traditional values and social institutions.