Thoughts on the 2017 election and what next for Labour

By Dan Jeffery. Dan Jeffery is a former Labour councillor on Southampton City Council, serving as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education. He is an alumnus of the University of Southampton, studying Politics and International Relations. He works as an advisor on medical workforce issues for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.


This is a guest post by one of our alumni. We very much welcome similar submissions from former students and colleagues to the blog.

1) Progressive alliance in tatters

If we needed any clear signs that the so-called Progressive Alliance is a blind alley, last Thursday’s result was the clearest yet. Support for third parties has crumbled to a 40 year low. Labour has now clearly positioned itself as the big tent party of progressive opinion, and should ignore siren calls for cooperation with Liberal Democrats or Greens. Ironically, on the Isle of Wight, where Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq called for Labour to stand aside for the Greens, Labour is now a clear second, scoring its best result since 1959.

In Scotland, written off two years ago, there is now a path back to power. Labour’s conversation must now include a roadmap to winning seats across the Central Belt, where Labour came within spitting distance of winning even more seats.

2) Warning signs in the Brexit hinterlands

There’s no doubt Labour had a good campaign, particularly in London, Wales, and the South, where Labour is positioned to win in many southern urban centres next time. But we cannot ignore the worrying trend in some of the old Labour strongholds, including former mill and pit constituencies. Labour bastions like Stoke-on-Trent, Mansfield and Walsall were picked up by the Tories, and in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, a whopping 7.7% swing was recorded in the Tory’s favour. Our vote was also unevenly distributed, winning 83% in places like Walthamstow, while coming within a whisker of losing a whole bunch of Labour seats in Dudley and Barrow.

3) No more “local” campaigns

Of course, MPs need to campaign on their record, but there was too much cautiousness on the part of party machinery in terms of how Labour projected its messages. Many MPs, working on the assumption that the Corbyn programme was electoral poison, refocused their strategy around what amounted to a local government election. Last Thursday showed there is a path to power on a left programme, so in future all candidates must be more prepared to push national messages and policies. There is also insufficient flex in our bureaucracy to enable a mid campaign shift in resources. I am no campaign guru, and would never claim to be (and of course hindsight is 20:20), but it is a shame that when the polls were shifting in our favour, we weren’t able to re-orientate our party to take the offensive against the Tories. With a membership approaching a million, there must now be real investment in building organisational capacity, and assisting volunteers in doing things themselves.

4) Learn to love the Bomb

In what I think will be looked back as an important moment in the united campaign fought by the party, the neutralisation of Trident by clearly supporting renewal was significant. The party as a whole was able to minimise Corbyn’s lifetime political ambition to ban the bomb. And with Corbyn turning the issue of security onto one of Tory failings, we were able to strike a blow far more mortal than our opponents recognised. But we may not have that luxury by the next election, where our programme will be bombarded every month. Corbyn, in my view, would be wise to do a Kinnock and drop a commitment to unilateralism that would allow us to be painted as weak on defence.

5) Drop the constitutional silly buggers

Corbyn, rightly, has scored an enormous personal victory. His steely determination has united a party that six weeks ago was predicted to be about to embark on the 100th battle of a long civil war. He has earned the right to stay on as party leader, and use his anti-austerity credentials to shape policy. There is now, across the entire party, a determination to unite and defeat the Tories — which makes a Conference punch up over how we elect the leader of the Labour Party all the more unnecessary. Nothing would be a bigger own goal than for United Labour to go into Conference and tear the bandages off of a healing wound. The public don’t care about our rules, they care about our policies and want us to get on with the job of opposition. I would suggest that Momentum consider dropping support for the McDonnell Amendment.

6) Magnanimity in (relative) victory

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will feel understandably vindicated that having argued for two years there was an electoral appetite for his policies, they have been able to win support (though, clearly we’re still a long way off being in Government). My response, as somebody who didn’t believe these policies were electorally viable, and rejected outright any strategy to raise turnout particularly among the young, is to humbly and quietly do what I can to support my party. But hubris would be unwise. I always believed that a big mistake Blair and his supporters made was crushing dissent within the party, and casting his policies and his outlook as the be all and end all of the Labour Party. And yes, I believe that supporters of Corbyn are also wrong to suggest that there is only the leader’s vision or nothing. These Khmer Rouge-esque Year Zero approaches do not create the conditions for a sustainable, vibrant, democratic politics. So to those who unquestioningly stuck by Jeremy, more credit to you, now lets come together.

Polling Observatory campaign report #4: Unexpected but not unusual twists and turns in the campaign polls

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). You can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This post is part of a long-running series (dating to before the 2010 election) that reports on the state of the parties as measured by vote intention 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. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates can be found here and here.

The general election is now just two days away, after a campaign that has defied pundits’ expectations of a walkover for Theresa May’s Conservatives, and seen both surprises and tragic events along the way. While the pollsters will likely deliver their final verdict on what voters are saying tomorrow, the Polling Observatory brings you its final roundup of the polls – as they stood up to Sunday night. We may yet see a late swing from the voters, as the choice between the parties becomes clearer in their minds. As such, our estimates remain ‘a snapshot, and not a prediction’.

In the main, there has been little change from the trends that we reported last week: the Conservatives retain a substantial lead in the polls, though are down from 44.5% to 43.8%, while Labour’s resurgence continues – now on 36.8%, up from 35.5% last week. Consequently, what was a 9-point gap (averaged across the pollsters) is now a 7-point gap. However, the change is within the error of most polls and there is considerable variation in the size of leads that pollsters are showing – in part due to the different turnout adjustments being applied. Based on the range of pollsters’ headline figures, the projected results include anything between a hung parliament and a Conservative landslide, hardly providing clarity on matters. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens continue to endure a miserable campaign. Current trends suggest that the big two parties will be more politically dominant in this election than at any time for a generation.

UK 04-06-17 anchor on average

The upturn in Labour’s support has led some to suggest this is the biggest shift in the polls during an election campaign since 1945. It is not entirely without precedent, though. In 2010, the surge in Liberal Democrat support following Nick Clegg’s highly effective performance on the first ever television debate – “Cleggmania” – was of similar scale to Labour’s gains in the polls in the 2017 election (around 10-points). That shift in the polls occurred over the course of just seven days, whereas during this campaign Labour’s poll numbers have risen steadily over a six week period. Some of the Liberal Democrats’ gains in the polls after the 2010 debate dissipated in the subsequent weeks of the campaign, and most of the remaining effects vanished by the time people voted. This is shown below, where the blue, red and yellow markers indicate the actual election result for each of the parties in 2010 – with the orange line notably ending well above the orange circle indicating the result. In contrast, the trends in party support during the 2017 campaign have been more gradual – with no sharp upticks or downticks for either the Conservatives or Labour. This may suggest there is less risk of pollsters’ overshooting in measuring the Labour surge, but only time will tell whether this is the case.

2010

2017

It is also possible to verify this claim historically based on the observed variance in all polls conducted over the campaign. For this, we use 574 polls conducted during the last thirty days of the campaign, for all elections between 1959 and 2017. The results are shown in the table below. What is striking from this analysis is that the variance of Labour’s poll numbers has been high by historical standards, but is still less volatile than the Liberal Democrats’ polling in 2010, 1983 or February 1974 or Labour’s polling in 2001 or 1983. The mean variance in the polls across the three parties is also not that much above the historical average (5.6 compared to 4.9). While 2017 has been a surprising and eventful campaign, it does not differ that much from past elections in terms of variability of the polls. Indeed, it is apparent from the table that the 2015 campaign was quite anomalous in the stability of the polls, which may be influencing our perceptions of how volatile polls can be during UK elections.

Variance in all polls  
Election Conservatives Labour Liberals/SDP/Liberal Democrats Mean N of polls
1959 3.70 2.89 1.85 2.81 10
1964 1.03 1.34 0.77 1.05 6
1966 0.78 1.32 0.28 0.79 6
1970 4.12 1.50 1.56 2.39 8
1974 (Feb) 4.98 7.07 13.94 8.67 12
1974 (Oct) 4.70 3.92 2.59 3.74 29
1979 11.69 5.73 5.49 7.64 24
1983 4.99 11.13 14.53 10.22 50
1987 2.16 4.31 5.00 3.82 32
1992 2.68 2.39 4.84 3.30 54
1997 4.19 8.80 5.43 6.14 39
2001 3.04 10.86 5.28 6.39 30
2005 4.28 3.17 1.91 3.12 58
2010 5.92 4.91 20.40 10.41 88
2015 2.10 2.29 1.08 1.82 82
2017 5.42 10.08 1.33 5.61 46

Much commentary already seems to be preparing for another polling miss after the experiences of 2015 and 2016. Certainly, with current polling showing Conservative leads ranging from 1% to 12% someone will be substantially wrong (and someone should be right). The lack of consensus in the polls provides an important reminder, though, that surveying the public on their voting intentions is a hard business at the best of times – and this task is made more difficult by the varied geographical picture that may well emerge on election night, with Labour well supported among younger, educated voters in cities and the Conservatives making gains in regions and towns where once ‘working class Tories’ of the 1980s are being drawn to the leadership of Theresa May in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. It is possible that Labour will end up with the highest vote share since 2005 or even 2001, but the lowest number of seats since 1935. In the British “first past the post” system, it is not just how many votes a party gets which counts, but where they are cast. The geography of Labour and Conservative support could be just as important as their overall popularity, but at present it is receiving much less attention.

 

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Will turnout weighting prove to be the pollsters’ Achilles heel in #GE2017?

sturgis2jennings2

By Patrick Sturgis and Will Jennings, University of Southampton.


The 2017 election campaign has confounded expectations in many ways, none more so than Labour’s continuing surge in the opinion polls. From an average vote share of around 26% at the start of the campaign, they now stand at an average of 36% in the polls conducted over the past week. It is fair to say that few, if any, commentators expected Labour’s support to be at this level as we head into the final week of the campaign.

One of the theories advanced to explain Labour’s unexpectedly lofty position is that the opinion polls are, once again, wrong; their historical tendency to over-state Labour support has not been adequately addressed by the pollsters since the debacle of 2015. Key to this line of thinking is that Labour’s support appears to be ‘soft’, in the sense that those who say they will vote Labour in the polls are more likely to also report that they may change their mind before election day, compared to Conservative ‘intenders’. Labour’s core support is also concentrated within demographic groups that are, historically at least, less likely to cast a ballot, particularly younger voters.

Patterns of turnout across demographic groups will, of course, be key to determining the outcome of the election. But might turnout – and how pollsters deal with it – also be the cause of another polling miss on June the 8th?

Who will turnout and who won’t?

Adjusting for turnout is one of the most difficult tasks a pollster must confront. Polls work by collecting samples of individuals and weighting them to match the general public on characteristics such as age, gender, region, and education for which the population distribution is known. But around a third of  any representative sample of eligible voters will not vote, so an additional adjustment has to be made to filter out likely non-voters from the vote share estimate. The problem here is that there is no entirely satisfactory way of doing this.

The most obvious approach to determining whether poll respondents will vote or not is to ask them. This is indeed the way that the vast majority of polls in the UK have approached turnout weighting in previous elections. In order to allow respondents to express some level of uncertainty, pollsters usually ask them to rate their probability of voting on a 1 to 10 scale (where 1 = certain not to vote and 10 = certain to vote). The problem with this approach is that, for a variety of reasons, people are not very good at estimating their probability of voting. So turnout weights based on self-report questions tend to have high error rates, mainly of the ‘false-positive’ variety. Some pollsters use additional questions on turnout at previous elections to produce a turnout probability but these also suffer from problems of recall and socially desirable responding.

A second approach is to use historical survey data containing a measure of actual turnout (either self-reported after the election or via validation of actual votes using the electoral register). Such data is used to build a statistical model which predicts turnout on the basis of demographic characteristics of respondents. This ‘historical’ model can then be applied to current polling data in order to produce turnout probabilities based on actual turnout patterns from the previous election. While this gets round the problems with faulty reporting by respondents, with this approach we must believe that patterns of turnout haven’t changed very much since the previous election, an assumption which cannot be tested at the time the estimates are required. And, as the EU referendum showed, sharp changes in patterns of turnout from one election to another can and do arise.

In sum, turnout weighting is an essential component of accurate polling but there is no failsafe way of doing it.

The inquiry into the 2015 election polling concluded that, although the turnout probabilities used by the pollsters in that election were not very accurate, there was little evidence to suggest these were the cause of the polling errors. Might inaccuracies in the turnout weights be more consequential in 2017?

Effect of turnout weighting on vote intention estimates

We can get some handle on this by comparing the poll estimates of the Conservative-Labour margin before and after turnout weights have been applied. The table below shows estimated Conservative and Labour vote shares before and after turnout weighting for eleven recently published polls. It is clear that the turnout weights have a substantial effect on the size of the Conservative lead. Without the turnout weight (but including demographic and past-vote weights), the average Conservative lead over Labour is 5 percentage points. This doubles to 10 points after turnout weights have been applied.

 

Vote estimates with turnout weight Vote estimates without turnout weight
Pollster Fieldwork End Date CON LAB CON CON LAB CON
(%) (%) lead (%) (%) lead
ORB/Sunday Telegraph 4th June 46 37 9 44 38 6
IpsosMORI/Standard 1st June 45 40 5 40 43 -3
Panelbase 1st June 44 36 8 40 39 1
YouGov/Times 31st May 42 39 3 41 39 2
Kantar 30th May 43 33 10 40 34 6
ICM/Guardian 29th May 45 33 12 41 38 3
Survation (phone) 27th May 43 37 6 43 37 6
ComRes/Independent 26th May 46 34 12 43 38 5
Opinium 24th May 45 35 10 42 36 6
Survation (internet) 20th May 46 34 12 43 33 10
GfK 14th May 48 28 20 45 29 16
Mean  = 10   Mean  = 5
      S.D.  = 4.5  S.D. = 4.9

 

Particularly notable are the Ipsos-MORI estimates, which change a 3-point Labour lead into a 5-point lead for the Conservatives. Similarly, ICM’s turnout adjustment turns a 3-point Conservative lead into a 12-point one. It is also evident that pollsters using some form of demographic modeling to produce turnout probabilities tend to have somewhat higher estimates of the Conservative lead. For this group (Kantar, ICM, ORB, Opinium, ComRes), the turnout weight increases the Conservative lead by an average 5.4 points compared to 3.7 points for those relying on self-report questions only.

It is also worth noting that the standard deviation of the Conservative lead is actually slightly lower with the turnout weights (4.5) than without (4.9). So, the turnout weighting would not appear to be the main cause of the volatility between the polls that has been evident in this campaign.

This pattern represents a substantial change in the effect of the turnout weights compared to polls during the 2015 campaign, where the increase in the Conservative lead due to turnout weighting was less than one percentage point (for the nine penultimate published polls conducted by members of the British Polling Council).

Why is turnout weighting having a bigger effect now than it did in 2015? One reason is that many pollsters are applying more aggressive procedures than they did in 2015, with the aim of producing implied turnout in their samples that is closer to what it will actually be on election day. While there is a logic to this approach it seems, in effect, to rely on getting the turnout probabilities wrong in order to correct for over-representation of likely voters in the weighted samples.

A second reason turnout weighting matters more in this election is that the age gap in party support has increased since 2015, with younger voters even more likely to support Labour and older voters to support the Conservatives.  Thus, any adjustment that down-weights younger voters will have a bigger effect on the Conservative lead now than it did in 2015.

Corbyn-mania among younger voters?

Another idea that has been advanced in some quarters is that young voters are over-stating their likelihood to vote in this election even more than they did in 2015. Come election day, these younger voters will end up voting at their recent historical levels and Labour will underperform their polling as a result.

We can obtain some leverage on this by comparing the distributions of self-reported likelihood to vote for young voters, aged 18-24, in 2015 and 2017 (the 2017 figures are from the polls in the table above, the 2015 estimates are taken from the penultimate published polls in the campaign). We also present these estimates for the oldest age category (65+). There is no evidence here that younger voters are especially enthused in 2017 compared to 2015. And, while the implied level of turnout is substantially too high for both age groups, the 20 point gap between them is broadly reflective of actual turnout in recent elections.

votelikelihood

The inquiry into the 2015 polling miss found that representative sampling was the primary cause of the under-statement of the Conservative lead. The fact that implied turnout is still so high in the current polls suggests that the representativeness of samples remains a problem in 2017, on this measure at least. Turnout weighting is having a much bigger effect on poll estimates now than it did in 2015. This may be because the pollsters have improved their methods of dealing with the tricky problem of turnout weighting. However, it also suggests that getting turnout weighting right in 2017 is likely to be both more difficult and more consequential than it was in 2015.

Polling Observatory campaign report #3: All changed, changed utterly

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). You can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This post is part of a long-running series (dating to before the 2010 election) that reports on the state of the parties as measured by vote intention 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. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates can be found here and here.

With just over a week to go until the general election, the campaign continues to take surprising twists and turns, not least the jaw-dropping projection of a hung parliament from YouGov for The Times.

When we first reported, shortly after the snap-election was called, the Conservatives held a commanding lead and Labour seemed to be meandering towards electoral oblivion. This remained the scenario at the start of May, though the scale of UKIP’s collapse in the polls was starting to become clear – with the Conservatives seemingly the main beneficiary. Just four weeks on, the change in Britain’s political landscape is remarkable – even if the likely outcome of the election (a decent sized Conservative majority at least) remains much the same. Labour has surged in the polls, now standing at 35.5% (up over eight points from 27.8%), while the Tories have fallen back from their initial bump after May called the election (at a still impressive 44.5%, down from the high of 45.6%). UKIP have continued to lose support at a rapid rate, with our estimates putting them at just 4.0% – less than a third of their vote in the 2015 general election just two years ago. The Liberal Democrats’ have also fallen back to just 7.8% (which would be below their catastrophic performance at the last election). Barring an even larger polling miss than occurred in May 2015, the political landscape of Britain looks like it will be redrawn in unexpected ways. There continue to be good reasons to be cautious about what the polls are currently telling us – due to the wide range of Conservative leads being shown by different polling houses and the possibility that Labour’s votes may stack up in seats in cities among younger and educated voters, where they tend to already hold large majorities, while falling away in marginal seats elsewhere.

 

UK 29-05-17 anchor on average

One of the features of our method is that it enables us to estimate the ‘house effect’ for each polling company for each party, relative to the vote intention figures we expect from the average pollster. That is, it tells us simply whether the reported vote intention for a given pollster is above or below the industry average. This does not indicate ‘accuracy’, since this will only be known on June 9th. It could be, in fact, that pollsters at one end of the extreme or the other are giving a more accurate picture of voters’ intentions. Indeed, in contrast to the 2015 election where there was convergence of the pollsters around the Conservative-Labour margin of zero, the most recent set of polls have shown Conservative leads ranging from as little as 5 points to as high as 14 points – outcomes that would have vastly different results in terms of a parliamentary majority for Theresa May.

In the table below we report the ‘house effects’ towards or against each of the parties for all polling companies who have recently conducted surveys. We, of course, estimate separate effects where the same company uses different modes (i.e. where Survation have fielded polls using both online and telephone surveys). We also (where possible) create ‘new’ polling houses where pollsters have implemented significant changes to their method and weighting procedures, though these are not always easy to date precisely. Nevertheless, the estimates give a picture of which pollsters tend to show higher numbers for which party, and thus are a handy guide for reading the latest polls with a dose of caution.

Our estimates reveal a range of house effects – and some interesting patterns too. It is first of all apparent that ComRes and ICM stand out as tending to report higher numbers for the Conservatives (+1.6 points and +1.4 points respectively) and lower numbers for Labour (-1.6 and -1.4 points). In contrast, ORB, Survation (online) and SurveyMonkey are at the other end of the spectrum — in tending to show support for the Conservatives lower and Labour higher than the industry average. Interestingly, Ipsos MORI and Panelbase show both parties higher – due mainly to their tendency to put UKIP much lower (in the case of Ipsos MORI this is a substantial 4.5 points).

House effects, by pollster

Pollster Mode Turnout filter Con Lab Lib Dems UKIP Green
YouGov Online Self-reported -0.3 (0.2) -1.0 (0.2) +0.9 (0.1) +0.4 (0.2) -0.6 (0.1)
ComRes Online Turnout model +1.6 (0.3) -1.6 (0.3) +1.3 (0.2) -0.6 (0.3) -0.3 (0.1)
Ipsos MORI Telephone Self-reported +1.2 (0.4) +2.0 (0.4) +1.5 (0.2) -4.5 (0.3) -0.3 (0.2)
Survation Online Self-reported -2.2 (0.5) +0.5 (0.5) +0.6 (0.3) +1.0 (0.4) -1.1 (0.2)
Survation Telephone Self-reported 0.0 (0.8) -0.4 (0.8) -0.3 (0.5) -0.9 (0.5) -0.3 (0.3)
Panelbase Online Self-reported +1.2 (0.7) +0.4 (0.7) -0.1 (0.4) -0.9 (0.5) -0.2 (0.3)
Kantar (TNS) Online Turnout model -0.6 (0.6) -3.2 (0.6) +1.4 (0.4) +0.7 (0.4) +1.5 (0.3)
ORB Online Self-reported -1.3 (0.6) +1.7 (0.6) -0.4 (0.4) +1.6 (0.4) +0.2 (0.2)
SurveyMonkey Online Unknown -0.8 (0.7) +0.9 (0.7) -1.9 (0.4) +1.1 (0.5) +1.6 (0.3)
Opinium Online Self-reported +0.1 (0.5) +0.7 (0.5) -0.5 (0.3) +0.4 (0.3) -0.5 (0.2)
ICM Online Turnout model +1.4 (0.3) -1.4 (0.2) +0.3 (0.2) +0.8 (0.2) +0.1 (0.1)

Pollsters have made many methodological changes since 2015, making it tricky to discern the causes of variation in these ‘house effects’. One notable feature of the methodology used by ComRes and ICM is the use of demographic turnout models to predict the propensity of individuals to vote. This has the consequence of down-weighting those respondents who have been less likely to vote in previous elections – giving rise to considerably lower Labour vote shares due to their current reliance on younger respondents and previous non-voters. In contrast, other firms such as Ipsos MORI and Opinium use self-reported likelihood to vote, giving rise to slightly higher vote shares for Labour. We will only know which of these adjustment procedures (if either) has been effective on June 9th, however.

While the Conservatives still hold a sizeable lead, the differences across pollsters could represent the difference between a huge working majority in parliament for Theresa May and an election that delivers few gains to the Conservatives contrary to all expectations.  Only time will tell who has got closest to the result.

 

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Experience is not a dirty word

By Jenny Fleming, Professor of Criminology, Director of the Institute of Criminal Justice Research, and R.A.W. Rhodes, Professor of Government at the University of Southampton.


Government policy is to build on evidence of what works. So, we conduct randomised controlled trials, we ‘nudge’ citizens, and we evaluate policies to recover evidence of what does or does not work. No one denies that the more you know the better; but how do you acquire knowledge? More importantly what constitutes knowledge?

We ‘know’ facts and believe explanations from many sources. We draw on research, political and legal knowledge. We check out statistics and labour over government data but what we do not do is draw systematically on experiential knowledge. Experience refers to the practical knowledge about the world amassed by individuals in an organisational and work context. Such knowledge is invariably in play. It involves selective retelling of the past to make sense of the present. It is used to explain past practice and events and to justify present activity and recommendations for the future. It is the central characteristic of a craft.

What happens when research-based knowledge bumps into experience and associated craft? It becomes part of the mix. The starting point is experience. Take the example of the police. Officers draw on the collective and individual experiences of other officers; on their stories. They ‘phone a friend’ and employ their knowledge of the local area. The emphasis falls on practice because they believe the shared knowledge of practitioners is of more value than the evidence. They talk about common sense, judgement, and ‘on the street’ experience. Police officers acknowledge that anything that can assist them in doing their job more effectively is welcome but they are more likely to embrace the practical. If they go to ostensibly objective data they will use their experience to interpret it and assess its usefulness. Their experience will construct the facts and explanations; that is, the evidence they will use.

Officers do not rely only on experience. They weave together knowledge from any available and relevant sources. Too often the different kinds of knowledge are set up as opposites; research-based versus craft knowledge. Demonstrably the police draw on any source of information available to them, and use their experience to determine the information they will act on. The choice is dictated by availability. Is there any research-based knowledge? If there is no research based knowledge (and we know that the research base is currently limited), then experience is all there is. Its use is both essential and inevitable.

Evidence-based policing persists because it provides the legitimating rationale for decisions made by other means. The imprimatur of science is used to legitimise essentially political decisions. Of course, there are policy contexts that are not politicised. Of course, some evidence is better founded and more relevant for some policies than others. And let us not forget, sometimes if not often, there is rational, scientific evidence available. But much evidence-based policing takes place in charged organisational and political contexts that ensure the data are always incomplete, always uncertain, and always ambiguous. So, the meaning of evidence is never fixed, it must be constantly won. By itself, evidence-based knowledge is not enough. We need the partisans arguing for scientific evidence but we need also other types of knowledge. Craft knowledge, political knowledge, and research-based knowledge, all warrant a place at the table. These several strands need to be woven together. Craft knowledge not only needs to be treated as evidence in this weaving, but we need to recognise that it provides also the basis for choosing between the available sources of evidence.

Experience may be a dirty word to the partisans of science, but it is essential given both the limits to, and lack of, social science knowledge.

The strange case of unpopular populism: Labour and Jeremy Corbyn

By Gerry Stoker. Gerry Stoker is Professor of Governance at University of Southampton and Centenary Professor of Governance at the University of Canberra (Twitter).


Populism encapsulates the spirit of our times, we are told. So how has Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn managed to discover an unpopular version of populism? In the discussion that follows, I argue that Labour’s election campaign has adopted many of the defining features of populism without winning a lot of support. What lies behind this seeming paradox?

The standard formula of populists is to position their movement of ‘the people’ against the corrupt ruling elite or establishment. Labour’s campaign emphasises that it is on the side of the millions rather than the millionaires. In his first speech of the campaign Jeremy Corbyn set a clear populist tone:

Much of the media and establishment are saying this election is a foregone conclusion. They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win. They say I don’t play by the rules – their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game. They’re quite right, I don’t. And a Labour Government elected on June 8 won’t play by their rules…Of course those people don’t want us to win. Because when we win, it’s the people, not the powerful, who win”.

Labour’s manifesto is also populist in its main messages. There are proposals to spend more on education, health, social care, housing and so on with a clear indication that someone else – the rich and big business – will pay for it through extra taxes. There are commitments to renationalise core utilities notably where there are popular grievances against their performance. The essential claim is that the economy has been rigged for the rich and now it is time for change. As Corbyn puts it:

Don’t wake on up on 9 June to see celebrations from the tax cheats, the press barons, the greedy bankers, Philip Green, the Southern Rail directors and crooked financiers that take our wealth, who have got away with it because the party they own, the Conservative Party, has won”.

So, is the call to support Corbyn fighting for the many against a rigged system winning hearts and minds? Marginally, would appear to be the summary judgement. Labour has gained some support and may do better than some pundits predict. But with the collapse of UKIP support the Conservatives enjoy double figure leads over Labour in the polls – some as high as 20%. Bottom line, they are going to win the election easily. On the issues most important to voters, it appears that PM May is more trusted to deliver than Corbyn. There we have it: the odd spectacle of an unpopular populist. Why?

Is it that the media is blocking Corbyn from getting his message out? There can be little doubt that the Labour leader has little editorial support among the print media. But as his own supporters have been keen to assert this is a people’s movement using social media to spread its message. Moreover, the regulation of election coverage means that mainstream television and radio outlets have to give fair access to all candidates. There does appear to be plenty of interest in politics and in Corbyn as a candidate for PM. It seems unlikely that its media coverage that is distorting or blocking the message sufficiently to explain the lack of popular uptake.

Is it that divisions within the Labour Party means that Corbyn’s position is undermined? That Corbyn does not have support of most Labour MPs is evident but from the perspective of a popular movement it is the recruitment of activists and grassroots supporters that should provide the real momentum. Corbyn-supporting groups in the party have been vocal about their presence. The manifesto adopted by Labour and the campaign and its content all appear to be in the hands of Corbyn and his supporters. Not having the support of the New Labour establishment – and figures such as Tony Blair – could be seen as a plus for a populist, so it’s unlikely that it is divisions within the party that are undermining the cause with the public.

Another explanation might be that Corbyn’s Labour offers faux populism. Labour can afford to be radical and promise a lot because its knows it’s not going to have to deliver. The aim is to shore up support for the Corbynista project when it comes to the post-election aftermath of a Labour loss. This is cult politics rather than populist politics with the aim of creating a narrative of a heroic leader offering radical solutions, deserving another chance. That argument goes against the grain of the genuine belief that things can be turned around in Election 2017 among many Corbyn supporters and the fact the  message remains strongly populist whether or not  some in the Corbyn leadership see it in more strategic terms.

The solution to the paradox of an unpopular populism is more likely to rest on the finding that rules do apply in politics, even if Corbyn claims they do not. First even for a populist competence – or the perception of competence in the case of Donald Trump – matters. People have to believe you have the skill and will to deliver. Corbyn and his team appear to be both gaff-prone and lacking in any serious ideas about how to run anything. It may be that Corbyn sees himself as offering a form of facilitative or non-hierarchical leadership – I am here to empower others – but most of the public appear to judge him as a leader at worst as useless and at best as a dreamer. Theresa May has a net satisfaction score for her leadership of +19, while Jeremy Corbyn has score of –35.

The implication of the above explanation might be: do the same populist thing next time but with a leader with a wider appeal. However, it may be that it is also difficult to do populism within the confines of an established political party, such as Labour. The Labour Party in many parts of Britain was the party of power and in power, so it is difficult to project it as the new outsider. You might say that Donald Trump won the presidency but he did so by keeping a large part of the Republican Party’s core vote with targeted policies and using populist tactics and messaging to attract other voters, a strategy made slightly easier by the degree of polarisation that has developed in US politics over the last two decades. If being an established party is a constraint of the degree of populist stance that can work, then we are back to another old rule of politics. Parties win, including Labour, when given the UK electoral system they provide their core vote with something to support but reach out to others and in a way that shows they can make sensible compromises to deliver. The solution for a mainstream party then is not to offer populism as a cure to all ills, but rather to attempt to offer a realistic narrative about how to change the country for the better.

A pint of science event on citizenship and democracy

Two members of PAIR, Prof David Owen and Dr Ben Saunders, recently took part in Pint of Science, an international event involving researchers engaging with the public in the relaxed environment of a local pub. The View Bar is one of six Southampton venues participating this year, with the focus being Our Society. David and Ben spoke on Monday night, on the theme of citizenship and democracy.

David’s talk examined the changing boundaries of citizenship. It was once assumed that everyone would be a citizen of one and only one state where they would reside, yet this picture of exclusive citizenship has come under strain with greater international mobility. Whereas in 1960 less than a third of the world’s state recognised dual nationality, this has risen to around 70%. Further, many people no longer reside in the state(s) of which they are citizens.

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These changes raise important questions about who should be included when it comes to voting in elections and referenda. More and more states are granting voting rights to expatriate citizens abroad and/or to resident foreigners. How these boundaries are drawn has obvious important for the democratic legitimacy of the decisions that get made. For instance, an interesting consequence of the way the UK electorate is drawn is that resident Commonwealth citizens were entitled to vote in last year’s Brexit referendum, though non-UK/Ireland EU citizens were not entitled to vote, though clearly affected by the decision.

Ben’s talk concerned whether citizens have a duty to vote. Turnout in UK General Elections has actually risen in each election since 2001 (with turnout in the Brexit referendum higher still), but is still below the levels commonly seen in the mid-20th century. For many political scientists, the interesting question is not why many citizens do not vote, but why so many do, given that the expected benefit of their participation is small. It seems that many people believe in a duty to vote, which would offer one explanation for their doing so. However, it is not clear what might ground this duty.

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Moreover, most arguments for a duty to vote do not simply show that we have a duty to vote but, rather, that we have a duty to vote in some particular way (for instance, sincerely, or in an informed manner, or in good faith, etc). We can therefore distinguish between voting well and voting badly. It may be that we have a duty to vote well, but we cannot infer from this a general duty to vote, since voting badly may be worse than not voting at all. Thus, we ought not to suppose that voters are more commendable than non-voters, if we do not know anything about how they voted.

Both talks were followed by lively discussions from the floor, with pint glass prizes for the best questions. The audience also had the chance to participate in several activities, including designing their own micro-state, playing Totalitarian Top Trumps, and taking part in a pub quiz based on the UK citizenship test.