‘Different clique, same sofa’: the Carswell defection to Ukip and anti-politics

DipticBy Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu, Twitter). Read more posts by Will here.


Much of the commentary that has followed the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip has focused on Eurosceptic disquiet within Conservative ranks that threaten to pull the party apart even before a referendum on EU membership can be held. But the challenge that Ukip poses to the Westminster village is a symptom of the ongoing crisis of political trust that reached a climax with the expenses scandal and the global financial crisis. Indeed, Carswell’s statement on his resignation is just as much a statement on the failings of contemporary politics as it is about the need for EU reform or reduced immigration (factors typically claimed to be pivotal to Ukip support). Carswell’s views are firmly in line with widespread public discontentment with politics today, and are especially close to the intense contempt for the political class felt by Ukip supporters.

In a YouGov survey last year, we asked respondents a series of questions about the ability and willingness of politicians to deal with the problems facing Britain today. Many of their views reflect the criticisms that Carswell directs at the Conservative party and towards the political class more generally. These reflect a much more fundamental challenge to the political class than gripes over government policy on the EU and immigration. Three failings of politics stand out in Carswell’s statement that are also reflected in public opinion: self-interest, spin/cynicism and lack of leadership.


There is a lack of conviction and seriousness, Carswell argues, about the challenges facing Britain: “The problem is that many of those at the top of the Conservative party … aren’t serious about the changes that Britain desperately needs.” We found that 33% of people, and 28% of Ukip supporters, agreed that “politicians possess the leadership to tell the public the truth about the tough decisions that need to be made.”


The ruling class is attacked by Carswell for lacking principle and being motivated by self-interest: “Few [politicians] are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way. Many are just in it for themselves. They seek every great office, yet believe in so little.” We find a prevailing belief among the general public that politics privileges the rich and the powerful, with 72% of respondents agreeing with the view that politics “is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society”, and just 8% disagreeing. A striking 85% of Ukip supporters take this view, contrasted with just 53% of Conservative supporters.


Politics has become too much a parlour game for the ruling class, detached from the concerns of ordinary people, Carswell argues: “Politics to them is about politicians like them. It’s a game of spin and positioning.” This too-clever-by-half schoolboy approach to politics leads to an emphasis on headline-grabbing: “They don’t think things through. They make one glib announcement after another – and then move on. On to the next speech. The next announcement. The next headline.” This viewpoint is resoundingly supported by respondents to our survey, with 80% agreeing with the statement “politicians are too focused on short-term chasing of headlines”. An astonishing 88% of Ukip supporters held this view, with just 1% disagreeing.

While the Carswell defection can be seen as a consequence of the fault lines over Europe that have existed in the Conservative Party since the 1980s, it also reflects a clear groundswell of public opinion calling for change in the way politics is carried out. The prevailing mood of contempt for the practice of politics and the political class has not been seriously addressed, despite much rhetoric and promise. This may only be the start of a fracture across the whole political spectrum – as frustration grows with how little has changed, both inside and outside the Westminster bubble.

Further details of the original survey can be found here.

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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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.



[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.



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?