Poverty isn’t just at Christmas

By Professor David Owen

In the last year, while the Government has pursued an economic austerity policy and propagated a rhetoric of ‘benefit scrounging’ and ‘undeserving poor’ (a very old rhetoric of the rich talking about the poor, as Mary Beard has reminded us – also listen here), the number of food banks in Britain has doubled to more than 3000.  In 2011-12 more than 130,000 people were helped by food banks, that number is rising rapidly (on the back of energy price increase that leave ever more people worrying about being able to pay their bills), with hundreds of volunteers spending part of their Christmas distributing food and trying to tackle the ‘hidden hungry’ who won’t accept free food because they feel stigmatised by the need for it. Meanwhile a report by the Resolution Foundation argues that millions of Britons face a ‘financial precipice’ in a time of stagnant wages and high household debt. Yet most of the government cuts have yet to bite.

One might hope that the citizens of the UK would support their poverty-stricken compatriots in this climate. After all, we no longer live a context in which the poor are silent and only the rich write the news. Articulate blogs such as ‘Diary of a Benefit Scrounger’ and ‘Benefit Scrounging Scum’ provide views from the sharp end. Yet the British Social Attitudes Survey reports that attitudes towards welfare recipients are hardening and only 28% of those asked wanted to see more spending on welfare – down from 35% at the beginning of the recession in 2008, and from 58% in 1991. In this respect, at least, the Coalition government seem to be in tune with popular opinion.

It is, no doubt, an excellent thing that many people will spend part of their Christmas helping the less fortunate – but poverty isn’t just at Christmas, and it is a problem likely to get considerably worse before it gets better.

If Santa was a registered voter….

By Dr Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Politics

A question that has been sadly neglected by political scientists is Santa Claus’ partisan sympathies. We know a little, however, about whether Santa is seen as being on the left or the right of the political spectrum, or whether he transcends the partisan divide. In a Zogby poll of 1,043 adults in the US, in December 2001, respondents were asked:

“In your opinion if Santa Claus was a registered voter, what political party would he most likely support?”.

Some 26% thought Santa would be a Democrat supporter (perhaps reflecting his ties to to social welfare), while just 15% thought Santa would be a Republican (keeping in mind Santa only brings presents for children have been good each year, suggesting a strict social conservatism behind his charitable facade). Far more, 43%, thought Sanda would be an independent, standing above the partisan rancour of politics (with some 16% unsure). We still don’t know, however, whether Santa’s schedule for this year includes a stop-off in Congress to solve the partisan impasse over the ‘fiscal cliff’, with hard-line elements of the Republican Party stubbornly refusing a compromise.

Santa has sadly not been immune to the growing polarization of US politics in recent years. In December 1998, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics asked a similar survey question “Do you think Santa Claus would be a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?”. In contrast, just 9% of people thought Santa would be a Democrat and 6% a Republican, with 62% suggesting he would be an independent. In just three years a quarter of the US public had taken a more polarized stance on poor Santa. It is only a matter of time before polarization occurs in judging who has been naughty and who has been nice.

UPDATE: A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month asked “Do you think Santa Claus is a Democrat or a Republican?” This time 44% of the US public thought Santa is a Democrat and 28% a Republican, with 28% unsure. The polarization of Santa Claus continues… (or perhaps the public are more informed about Santa’s policy positions these days).

Happy Holidays from Politics|Upside|Down and Politics & International Relations at the University of Southampton.

No Longer Helpless: A Change of Policy Image the Guns Debate

A guest post by Bryan Jones, J.J. “Jake” Pickle Regent’s Chair in Congressional Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage. Also see Bryan’s interview about policy change with The Huffington Post.

In an interview last year, I suggested that gun control was a policy ripe for rapid change. I thought so at the time because the policy was firmly lodged in interest-group politics and one side had won so much its demands were devoid of any relationship to reality and common sense. As Patrick Egan shows, as gun laws were weakened at the state level and in federal law, the violent crime rate declined and gun ownership fell.  Acquiescence by the public, seemingly lack of harm in the policy, and a one-sided interest group contest all pointed to continued dominance of the gun lobby—if one uses standard approaches to prediction.

But breakdowns often occur when one side seems to have won the policy battle—in a sense by taking too much. By overextending, groups have to defend essentially indefensible policies.  It makes them more vulnerable, and that vulnerability may be traced by focusing on what Frank Baumgartner and I called a policy image—a summary of the general prevailing understanding of an issue’s basic character.  Simplified policy images stem from basic human psychology and the social phenomenon of contagion.  They can be very resilient, but they can also collapse quickly in the right circumstances.

That an issue rises in collective attention is important (and often that can be fleeting), but even more important is how the issue is characterized when it is raised.  Baumgartner, de Boef, and Boydstun demonstrate that support for the death penalty declined only when the prevailing policy image as discerned from careful analysis of press coverage shifted toward a frame focusing on executing innocent people.

Newtown has stimulated a likely change in the prevailing policy image governing how people think about the gun issue.  Previously the causal story circulating among the more attuned public and pushed by the gun lobby was this: the availability of guns had not affected the crime rate negatively and indeed may well have caused part of the general decline in the rate.

For mass killings, which have not declined and may have increased, a different story was told: people kill people and anyway, nothing can stop determined or mentally unbalanced people from obtaining guns and using them in horrific ways (apparently unless all other citizens are armed). Because government can’t ameliorate the problem, it should not intervene. These are events that happen, part of life, and they cannot and should not be addressed through policy.  Let’s call this the helpless frame. 

The conception that nothing can stop the slaughter may be breaking down. President Obama’s speech to the Newtown grieving directly addressed the helpless frame. The helpless frame is being challenged by the availability of guns frame, in which the simple availability of guns to dangerous people becomes the preferred explanation.

If the problem is reconceived, government solutions are within the pale. Just what policy solution might be attached to the problem is unclear, but the lowest hanging fruit (where the gun lobby’s policy victories have exceeded the bounds of common sense) include an assault weapons ban, a high-capacity magazine ban, and improved background check procedures for gun purchases. Both of these respond to the availability of guns frame in a manner consistent with common sense.

Sweet FA: a not entirely serious approach to predicting elections in Britain

By Dr Will Jennings

In the Ipsos MORI Alamanac for 2012Professor Roger Mortimore‘s ‘infallible method’ for predicting the outcome of British general elections on the basis of the previous season’s FA Cup final provides a bit of fun for watchers of British politics. It also makes a serious point about the dangers of ascribing “undue significance to patterns in past events when there is no reasonable excuse for assuming a causal link” (the old chestnut of correlation not equalling causation). Mortimore’s Sweet FA Prediction Model is as follows:

If the FA Cup holders at the time of the election are a team
who traditionally wear shirts in the Conservative colours of
blue or white, ignoring any black stripes, the Conservatives
win most seats at the election. On the other hand, if they play in Labour’s colours, red and/or yellow, Labour wins. (Ipsos-MORI Almanac 2012, p. 52).

Using this method (and with a bit of selective/liberal interpretation of the data), Mortimore’s Sweet FA model is able to correctly predict the outcome of 15 out of 17 post-war elections (and 4 out of 4 London Mayoral Elections).

SweetFAmodel

Source: Ipsos-MORI Almanac 2012.

Election forecasting is not an exact science, and the Sweet FA model provides a nice reminder that successful predictions are not always based on a correct diagnosis of the underlying causal relationship. While forecasters like Nate Silver (and Paul the Octopus) can develop mythical status in offering highly accurate predictions of future events, these do not necessarily guarantee the prediction model will work in future, or that some outlier will lead to it being rejected further down the track.

What a difference a year makes… reflections on Cameron’s EU veto and the rise of UKIP as a force in British politics

By Dr Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Politics 

Exactly a year ago, the Polling Observatory team (Dr Rob Ford, Dr Mark Pickup and myself) were reporting ‘Christmas Cheer for Cameron‘ on our monthly poll update at NottsPolitics. Cameron’s veto of proposed treaty changes at the EU summit on 9th December 2011 appeared to have given a much needed boost to Conservative fortunes, which had fallen into the polling doldrums for most of the preceding year. The estimates put the gap between the Conservatives and Labour at around a point (37.6% versus 38.6% respectively), most respectable for a mid-term government in hard economic times. Move forward twelve months and the EU vote is not so much looking like clever politics, but a short-term move that has opened a Pandora’s Box on the right, both inside and outside the Conservative Party. Recent polls (from ComRes in The Independent and Populus in The Times (£)) have put UKIP at around 10%, while the Polling Observatory update at the start of December showed it steadily increasing its support.

The rise of UKIP is puzzling because Europe does not currently figure highly among the issues that the public consider to be the ‘most important’ facing the country in Ipsos-MORI’s monthly tracker. In November, just 2% of the public identified the issue as its most important concern. Nor is the issue of immigration (at 7%) at a high level compared to other points during the past decade (consistently being between 15% and 25% between 2003 and 2008). This is despite research showing the appeal of UKIP to voters who are hostile to immigration. The conditions therefore don’t appear to be that suited to the threat that UKIP now pose, though it offers a vehicle for voters disaffected with the other main parties.

The EU veto is now looking to be a flawed strategy for two reasons. Firstly, it appears to have done nothing to ease disquiet from Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party or to defuse the electoral threat of UKIP. Secondly, distancing the UK from the political troubles on mainland Europe, and blaming events and policy decisions in the Eurozone (such as the second bailout for Greece) for the continued stagnation of the British economy, has provided fuel for those who are disaffected with the political parties and the efficacy of the British political system more widely. Cameron’s apparent rejection of the Burkean trustee model of political representation in the veto (playing to popular opinion) has also, unintentionally, contributed to an environment in which populist rhetoric flourishes, feeding on the disaffection of voters with Brussels and Westminster alike.

Tragedy in Connecticut: what now for the 2nd amendment?

By Dr Russell Bentley, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory

The murders in a Connecticut school, the latest jaw-droppingly awful murders in the United States committed by someone who went berserk with a gun (berserk with clinical and calculated planning) are bringing out the set-piece discourses about gun control, both for and against. The terms are familiar and it is hardly necessary for either side of the debate to show up for rehearsals any more. They have their lines perfectly memorised and each party enters on cue. Even President Obama played his part, saying that we have seen too many tragedies like this and we need to take ‘meaningful’ action. These remarks were perfectly complemented by his press secretary, Jay Carney, saying to reporters that today is not the day to talk about gun control – presumably meaning that it would be grossly insensitive to appear to be politicking right after these atrocious acts have been committed, but succeeding only in showing the unavoidability of politicking about this issue, at this time, and, indeed, by these people. The ‘official’ gun lobby, in the form of the NRA, has been invisible in the immediate aftermath. The NRA Twitter feed has been silent, with not one single tweet on the @NRAnews feed on 14 December. The @NRA feed ended 13 December with a tweet that Florida is nearing one-million concealed weapon permit requests, which is a good news story from the NRA’s perspective. The gun lobby’s fellow travellers have not been silent, however. Mike Huckabee has blamed the murders on the lack of God in America’s public schools. Some, especially at-the-fringe characters, have said that protective firearms, carried, one assumes, by the school staff and not by the kindergarten children, would have ensured that the murderer was brought down before so many had died.

The problem about guns in America is the product of the famous ‘right to bear arms’ clause found in the 2nd amendment to the Constitution, as everyone knows. The District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) ruling by the Supreme Court settled what had seemed to be the nub of the issue regarding gun control. Does the Constitution limit the right to bear arms to the needs of a ‘well regulated militia’ or is there an absolute right to bear arms? If the former, gun ownership and possession become subject to regulation (the ‘well regulated’ phrase of the amendment). If the latter, well, the opposite: citizens have a right to acquire and privately keep firearms. The Heller decision confirmed a Constitutional guarantee that private citizens can own guns. The prior and ensuing debate about the case does however, miss the point, which is the 2nd amendment itself. Couching the discussion in terms of a right fundamentally controls how the debate can take place. It limits what can be said and, moreover, places that limit outside the control of political actors. The paradox is that the right is the creation of political actors who, through deliberation and argument, devised the 2nd amendment and submitted it to an electorate for ratification. The 2nd amendment is one of ten that the new states of the union were asked to ratify, confirming that the Constitution was a living and, therefore, changeable document from the moment of its unveiling to the citizens of the thirteen original states. It is time, therefore, for this sense of democratic control over the country’s fate to be re-enacted, specifically by repealing the 2nd amendment. This is not a call to abolish gun ownership. This is a call to abolish the rights discourse that disempowers democratically elected legislators and, indeed, those whom they represent. The interpretation of the 2nd amendment is not the problem; having to live within interpretations of the 2nd amendment is the problem. Do we want private citizens to own firearms? Initiate the public debate, involving the people and their representatives, about this issue and pass the appropriate laws. Do we want exceptions for various reasons? Again, initiate the public debate. Rights can act as protections against governmental invasion of the citizens’ lives, but when a right that was born out of political circumstances and argument takes on the mantle of inviolability, the democratic power to legislate for the common good is compromised. America needs to have a different kind of debate about guns and that can only occur when America ceases to place the question of gun ownership outside of democratic control.

Kamil Zwolski on the security-development nexus in EU policy

In a recent article published in Journal of European Public Policy, Dr Kamil Zwolski of Politics & International Relations argues that there are two important norms in European Union’s (EU) external policy which in fact may be in conflict. The EU aspires to become a truly comprehensive international security actor, coherently utilising the different kinds of instruments at its disposal. To this end, Lisbon Treaty reforms aim to equip EU policy with a stronger sense of strategic direction by bringing external assistance instruments of the EU under the guidance of the High Representative. However, pursuing the norm of a more holistic, strategic international security policy has arguably threatened a key norm which contributes to the EU’s normative identity, namely the apolitical character of its aid. Kamil’s article explores the friction between these two norms in the EU’s international policy, particularly in the context of the arrangements concerning the European External Action Service. Furthermore, he argues that the gradual move towards a more strategic deployment of the EU’s external assistance is inevitable, as it reflects the strategic principles defined by the EU in the last decade.

The Books That Made Me

By Professor David Owen.

I grew up in a house full of books that I didn’t – couldn’t – read, so I did maths instead. Then when I was 9, two things happened. First, my family moved to Malaysia (a country whose English language television was at that time limited to a weekly showing of Crown Court). Second, I discovered a way of reading that seemed to work around my dyslexia – namely focusing centre-outwards on a whole line at a time and reading down the middle of the page (later in life I was told this is how people are taught to speed-read but I don’t know if that is true).  And then I read, all the time, absolutely indiscriminately – Plutarch’s Lives propped up next to Tom Swift adventures, my mother’s copies of Homer and Plato, my father’s of Asimov and van Vogt. The local club library kindly altered their rules for me as I consumed books, hoovering up text – but although I now read endlessly, I hadn’t really learned to read, everything was processed through the reading-machine in the same way. This probably wasn’t a bad thing in some ways – I would head off to Plato’s Republic in much the same way that I explored Ursula le Guin’s other worlds – but it didn’t do justice to the imaginations I was starting to encounter. What changed this was poetry and drama, more specifically I became enrapt by lyric poetry (notably Robert Herrick) and, above all, by Shakespeare. They slowed me down, and, slowly, they taught me to read (although I was, perhaps am, still consuming lots of stuff on the side).  Aged 12, I notice that my initials and surname – R.D. Owen – are an anagram of ‘Wonder’ and invest this with mystical significance.

So now I’m a teenager, your standard maths and science kid, except that I am writing reams of extremely bad poetry and have composed one equally awful play (this, as I recall, involved someone being dropped head first on a pyramid). Three books then came along. The first was The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse which showed me an entirely different approach to poetry (and led me to Tu Fu who remains a delight). The second was J.E. Gordon The New Science of Strong Materials which to a 15 year old aspirant scientist was beautifully accessible and tremendously exciting. Reading this put me on a path that left me two years later, having completed Maths, Physic and Chemistry A-levels,  with the apparent choice between taking up my place at Imperial College to read ‘Metals and Metallurgical Science’ or staying at school to take the Oxbridge exams in order to do Natural Sciences as Cambridge (in those days no serious science student thought about Oxford unless you just wanted to ‘do’ Oxbridge). This was only an apparent choice though because of the third book which I’d discovered ion a shelf in the physics lab, Bryan Magee’s Popper (in the excellent emerging Fontana Master’s series which the experience of Magee’s book lead me to read as they appeared). This was a slight book but I read it with a dawning appreciation that this might be a plane where the bit of me that did maths and the bit of me that did poetry could meet. Reading Popper Conjectures and Refutations and, more especially, the essay by Lakatos in Musgrave & Lakatos (ed.) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, however little I understood them, simply reinforced this view.Anyway, it scotched my scientific future and led me to stay on at school to do a secondary set of A-levels in English, Economics and Politics the following year– and here the fun really began. Two books in particular marked me: Joan Robinson Economic Philosophy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau The Social Contract. The first made me think hard about the presuppositions of the micro- and macro-economics texts I was reading and sent me off to slog through Marx’s Capital. The second blew my mind. It wasn’t the only book we read for the Political Theory paper in Politics A-level; we also looked Burke and Paine on the French Revolution, Mill’s On Liberty and Marx The Communist Manifesto – of which Mill was the otherwise most engaging and Marx’s manifesto, albeit disappointing by contrast to the riches of Capital, the most exhilarating. But Rousseau – wow! I loved the logic of it, the remorseless seemingly paradoxical logic of it – and was delighted to discover Lucio Colletti’s Penguin edition of Marx’s early writings in which the link to Rousseau is made clear (a volume on which I squandered the book tokens that came with one of the school economics or poetry prize). It also led me to a volume in the School Library Selected Writings of the German Idealists (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel) of which, it is fair to say, I understood nothing.

By this stage, aged 18, I have (unsurprisingly) had enough of school so head off to Durham to read Law and Economics (lasted 1 week), then Law and Politics (lasted 1 year), then Politics and Sociology (with lots of attendance at Philosophy Lectures – can I change again? No. Oh well.) . Law did briefly have two advantages in that I was encouraged to read Hart’s The Concept of Law and Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (I discovered Sheldon Wolin’s Politics and Vision by myself.) But otherwise it involved too many cases and seemed too much like a life of intellectual crossword puzzles. The Politics Department had hard-drinking political theorists like the blind idealist Alan Milne, the fantastical Oakeshott student David Manning and the astonishingly well-read Henry Tudor. The Sociology Department had the utterly quixotic Irving Velody (later to found the journal History of the Human Sciences). And this was a great time to study these subjects – Jacques Derrida Of Grammatology, Writing and Differance, Margins of Philosophy, Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality vol.1, Jurgen Habermas The Theory of Communicative Action, Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue, Richard Rorty Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Charles Taylor Sources of the Self, Bernard Williams Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. It was nirvana – or something like that.

I owe a debt to all these books because, for better or worse, what or who I am would not be possible without them.

(Why don’t you write and tell us at politics|upside|down about the books that inspired your interest in politics and political issues?)

The ‘Polling Observatory’: the state of party support in Britain

Nott 04-12-12 low res

By Rob Ford, Will Jennings and Mark Pickup. Cross-posted at @NottsPolitics.

This is part of 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.

The Chancellor’s Autumn statement marks the midpoint of this parliament, delivered against the backdrop of a stagnating economy and with the tough medicine of austerity now prescribed until 2018 at least (with OBR’s poor track record in forecasting leaving doubts there too), well after the next election. But with conference season now a distant memory and winter upon us, has there been any real shift in the political weather?

In our latest estimates, Labour are at 41.4% (down 0.5% from last month) and the Conservatives at 30.6% (down 1.3%), meaning that the Labour lead has widened to almost 11% despite downward movement in support for both the main parties. The beneficiaries of this have been the Liberal Democrats at 8.5% (up 0.6%) and UKIP at 8.8% (up 1.1%), who have both gained support. Our polling data runs up to the start of this week, so does not capture any post-Leveson fallout for the Cameron government over its rejection of statutory underpinning of press regulation, or immediate reactions to the budget. Certainly things are not looking good for the main coalition partners, the Conservatives, who have hit an all-time low in our estimates.

The budget statement of April 2012 will go down in history as one of the most politically disastrous in history, leading it to be tagged the ‘omnishambles’ and severely damaging the reputation of the Chancellor and the government for competence as well as reinforcing the perception (deserved or not) of the Conservatives as the party of the rich. Support for the Conservatives has never recovered from this crash in April 2012. While the Autumn statement has received nothing like the bad press, there are few rabbits for the Chancellor to pull out of the hat in austere times. Significantly, Osborne continues to suffer from poor standing with the public. Depending on your choice of pollster, he has an ‘unfavourable’ rating of 58% (Ipsos-MORI, April 2012), 56% (ICM, August 2012) or 53% (Opinium, October 2012). These figures are high by historical standards, though do not quite reach the dissatisfaction rating of 70% reached by Norman Lamont (Gallup, March 1993) or Nigel Lawson’s 61% (Gallup, January 1989), each of whom were soon given the axe. They are not far off though. If Osborne is to avoid being a drag on Conservative support at the next election, he is going to have to reverse this state of affairs soon.

The continued rise of UKIP has attracted a great deal of discussion, not least with regard to the relative intolerance of its supporters (see articles by Rob Ford here and here). It has also stimulated debate over the methods pollsters use to survey vote intention for ‘other’ parties, discussed by Damian Lyons Lowe of Survation and Anthony Wells. Our method enables us to put a figure on the degree to which each pollsters’ estimates of UKIP support are above or below the underlying industry average. These are consistent with Anthony Wells’ findings, with the internet pollsters Survation (+3.0%), Opinium (+2.1%) and Angus Reid (+1.3%) reporting the highest share for UKIP on average, and the telephone pollsters TNS-BMRB (-1.1%), Ipsos-MORI (-1.4%), Populus (-1.5%) and ICM (-2.1%) reporting the lowest share. As UKIP seem to be a political force to reckon with, at least for the time being, the question of such polling ‘house effects’ (i.e. the systematic tendency for a polling firms to report higher or lower support for a particular party) is going to be increasingly important in assessing the state of support for the parties.

A response to Stoker’s suggestion in ‘Why Politics Matters’ that boycotting products is a ‘simple’ and ‘low key act’

A student in Politics and International Relations writes…

Vanessa is a Vegan. She is single, in her mid twenties but looks a little older and lives a busy lifestyle. Her reasons for being vegan are political, she abhors the poor treatment of animals while creating commodities such as meat and clothes and dairy.  She spends three times as much money and time as anyone else food shopping in her home town of Stockport as she has to flit from shop to shop while the rain makes her red hair go frizzy, sourcing her ingredients. Ultimately it means long days and less time with her friends and family. How might Vanessa feel about Stoker’s generalisation that what she does is just ‘an extension of consumerism’?

All this walking through the streets hurts her feet, which of course have no leather upper so perish easily. She has to turn down sweets offered by friends at the cinema; a woolly jumper once bought by a well meaning boyfriend had to be returned. Her whole life is permeated by her political choice to boycott products in protest. She sticks with it though! Seven years now, and every day she battles the unwillingness of society to offer her anything but hard choices and disappointment. Vanessa’s feeling towards characterisation of her endeavours as ‘simple’ is one of pity. Pity that the effort she puts in to her political activity every waking day is not acknowledged.

Next meet Patrick. Patrick is a married and recently retired prison officer from Hyde. He was in his Union at work but never donated directly to a party or demonstrated. Instead preferring to mumble to himself about the lack of buses when he finishes a night shift. He was however disturbed by the banking crisis and began a search for an ethical institution to move his pension to. He spent hours poring over what parts of investment portfolios the mainstream banks let you see. He had never done anything like this before and he felt empowered. Stoker’s accusation of malaise by pigeon holing Patrick’s choice into the category of ‘low key’ boycotting is unfair. His new bank is small and doesn’t promise the returns on his savings other banks do and as such, his ambition of a mobile home for him and his wife Brenda in the Lake District is gone. Brenda is not very pleased. There are fewer branches which makes life that little bit more difficult for the two of them. Patrick sticks to his guns though and he is prepared to take the hit. It’s not low key for him. It was a tough choice.

The Owen family, Carrie, James, and their daughters Helen, Hannah and Francesca would prefer to make the choice of free range eggs over barn eggs on the weekly trip to ASDA. The kids are savvy and know the difference. The happy chicken on the egg box ensures that awkward questions are asked in the egg aisle. James can’t explain to his five, seven, and eight year olds that sometimes this is not a choice that the working poor have when they have Christmas presents to buy, rent to pay and petrol to put in the Astra. Carrie has two cleaning jobs so doesn’t have the time to attend council meetings or travel to London for a march. If they do occasionally make this choice between barn and free range it is impossible to call their act as ‘simple’. Does Stoker mean to say that their expression of citizenship is ‘limited’ and ‘there is nothing really wrong with it’?

Stoker is right to pour scorn over those who to grab their fair-trade filter coffee in Waitrose to drink while reading their Mail on Sunday. These people are hypocrites and should be ridiculed for making inauthentic political gestures. In fact, I bet Ben Elton buys fair trade coffee! But please don’t lump these people in with those who also boycott products by dedication, personal sacrifice and effort. Vanessa will continue to boycott animal products hoping it will get easier as time goes on, Patrick will absorb Brenda’s disapproval and the disappointment of only ever hiring their mobile home but is proud to have turned his back on the banks, and the Owens will buy free range when their pocket allows. Remembering to remind the kids at dinner that the chickens these eggs came from were happy ones.