10 October 2014
9 October 2014
We are seeking one or possibly two Research Assistants (RAs) for a research project related to the 2015 general election. The project is funded by the British Academy and will be led by Dr Matthew Goodwin at the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham. You will also be working with Dr Caitlin Milazzo, also at the University of Nottingham.
The duties include (but are not limited to) gathering, coding and analysing data, and acquiring other information related to the campaign. You will:
- Have, or be studying toward, a PhD or postdoctoral fellowship in the social sciences
- Have a strong grasp of electoral research and preferably British politics (though not essential)
- Have training in quantitative methods, and be able to work with STATA, R and Excel
- Experience of managing data and building original data sets
- Familiarity with British Election Study, British Social Attitudes and Census data is desirable.
The research posts will commence from November 1 2014 and continue until the general election in May 2015. Compensation is £11.21 per hour, with 600 hours of work that will be completed by one or two RAs depending on the applications.
If you are interested in being considered please email a short CV and an expression of interest (no more than 300 words) to Dr Matthew Goodwin (email@example.com) by 5pm, Monday 27 October. In the expression of interest, please supply the name of a personal referee who is familiar with your training and research, and indicate any relevant qualifications. The expression of interest should be saved as a PDF file and attached to the email.
Closing date: 24 October 2014
1 October 2014
25 September 2014
One of the unwritten laws in British politics is that insurgent parties can never thrive. Writing in the 1950s, the French political scientist Maurice Duverger observed how majoritarian systems like that in Britain tend to produce a strong two-party system that leaves little room for challengers. But in recent years and as Britain's system has become more fragmented and less predictable, 'Duverger's Law' has seemed increasingly outdated. Since 2010 these changes have been reflected most vividly in the rise of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), which is the most significant new force to emerge in the entire postwar period. With a general election less than eight months away, Ukip is today descending on the Labour-held town of Doncaster to plot the next stage in its insurgency and there are three reasons why it should be taken seriously.
First, Ukip is already growing at an extraordinary pace and among specific groups. Prior to 2010 the party was an amateurish and poorly-disciplined pressure group. Since then Ukip has risen steadily in the polls to average 14%, well ahead of the traditional third party, the Liberal Democrats, and around twice the level that it needs to have a serious impact on the outcome in 2015. Its membership has risen to 38,000 at a time when party memberships are falling, it has attracted a credible Conservative Party defector (and almost certainly its first elected MP) in Douglas Carswell, and in May Ukip won the European Parliament elections after polling over four million votes. It was the first nationwide victory for a new party since Ramsay MacDonald led Labour to general election success in 1929. Ukip has achieved all of this with no more than twenty full-time staff.
Crucially, Ukip's growth has come from the most socially distinctive electorate in British politics. Ukip is not a catch-all populist party. Its appeal is rooted strongly in Britain's 'left behind'; older, white and working-class citizens who have few qualifications, are pessimistic about the future and profoundly anxious over rapid social change. This profile contains messages for both the Conservatives and Labour. Currently, around two-thirds of Ukip voters supported the Conservatives in 2010 (although before 2010 many say they voted Labour). Senior Tory strategists assume that most of these voters will return to the fold in May. But the disadvantaged profile of these voters points in another direction. These are voters who were struggling long before the financial crisis, will not have felt the economic recovery and may conclude that their prospects are better served with Farage or by staying at home. For Labour, if Ukip did not exist then some of these voters should be expected to switch to the left and give Ed Miliband a more convincing majority. Instead, they are turning to Farage who argues that both parties have betrayed the working-class. Given the first-past-the-post system it is also important that these voters tend to concentrate geographically, which is why in May 2015 Ukip has a credible chance in struggling seats like Clacton, Great Grimsby, Thurrock, Thanet South and Rotherham.
A second factor is messaging. Single-issue parties rarely proper but Ukip has come a long way from its beginnings as an anti-EU pressure group. Our research, based on surveys of more than 6,000 Ukip voters, found that they share three motives: a strong desire to leave the EU; intense anxiety over immigration; and fierce hostility toward the established parties. There might be no 'Ukip-ism' but Farage has successfully fused the EU and immigration in the minds of his voters, supplementing this with an articular populist appeal. Tomorrow, Ukip will unveil new policies to support its quest for disgruntled Tories and blue-collar Britons who might once have voted Labour or have since abandoned politics. Abolishing inheritance tax and opposing climate change is aimed at older, mainly southern Tories who view Cameroonism as a complete betrayal of their social conservative principles. But taking low earners out of income tax, opposing the bedroom tax, cutting overseas aid, curbing immigration and making greater use of referenda are clearly aimed at Britain's left behind, as is the decision to hold the conference in Doncaster.
Looking ahead, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the wider habitat of British politics will also remain welcoming to Ukip and possibly other insurgents. In sharp contrast to the days of Duverger's Law, when between them Labour and the Conservatives could mobilise over 95% of the vote, today Britain's party system today looks increasingly fragmented and volatile. At the two most recent general elections the two main parties failed to secure over 70% of the vote while political trust is also in a downward spiral; the percentage of voters who trust politicians to 'put the nation first' has slumped from around 40% in the mid-1980s to 17% today. Alongside a growing unwillingness among voters to self-identify with the 'big two', these deeper currents are shaking the foundations of the system while the issues that guide our political debate on the surface are also changing. As public concern over the economy continues to slide, immigration has emerged as the number one issue for voters while around half of the electorate now refuses to trust any of the main parties on this issue. This is opening the door for Ukip and Farage, or as an academic colleague, Professor John Curtice, recently noted: 'Player Four has entered the game'.
24 September 2014
11 September 2014
8 September 2014
This blog originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph.
Clacton – the "friendly resort trying not to die, filled with friendly people trying not to die". Having spent the day in Clacton, Matthew Parris of the Times got out as quickly as he could and advises the Conservative Party to do the same. To keep pace with modern Britain, he says the Tories should turn away from seats like Clacton, redolent as they are only of shell suits and death. The future, argues Parris, lies elsewhere: with the immigrants and graduates who are taking their dreams to the big cities, and who embrace the new cosmopolitan reality. The future for modern Conservativism lies in Cambridge, he concludes, not Clacton.
There is no denying the core of Parris’s argument. The rise of the new middle class – with its university degrees, relative financial security and more liberal outlook – is one of the great social changes of the past generation. Britain is becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse, more white-collar and more cosmopolitan, and this will only accelerate in the years to come. Parris is right: any party that fails to recognise and adapt to this social change is doomed. But there are also three problems with his prognosis.
First, while it may play well at dinner parties in SW1 in the short-term, it is a recipe for electoral suicide. Social change is a long-term game, and one that plays itself out over generations. More to the point, it is not even certain that the Conservative Party could win this game; by the time that it attracts the kinds of voters Parris likes, it might have been out of power for a long time. Look at the east coast, from the Humber Estuary to Portsmouth. As Ian Warren notes, at the last election the Tories won 32 of these 38 seats, depending heavily on the same elderly, nostalgic and left-behind white voters who Parris now urges them to ignore. Were the centre-Right to follow his advice, it would not only lose its east flank but also jeopardise its entire blue-collar vote at a time when it is simultaneously failing to win over the young and minority voters who Parris presumably sees as the future.
Second, Parris has plenty to say about the values, fashion and pastimes of the left-behind but shows no interest in explaining how or why they were left behind in the first place. Instead, he reinforces a perception among these voters of a London-centric elite that is indifferent to their plight. The left-behind were never given the resources to adapt to the new economic reality, and are now abused for failing to keep up. This reveals a lot about the priorities and values of a section of our commentariat that ironically has also struggled to make sense of the appeal of Ukip. Parris's digs at the fashion choices, pastimes and eating habits of Clacton residents are revealing, showing a prejudice based on class, which presumably would be unacceptable were it based on race, gender equality or sexual orientation.
Third, Parris is symbolic of a broader problem affecting our political class. This is not the first time the left-behind have heard this argument. A straight line can be drawn from Parris’s day in Clacton to Gordon Brown’s day with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale. The arrogance and indifference of the Right has its match on the Left. The argument that the future lies with the aspirational classes was made 20 years ago by Tony Blair and it was not long ago that his old adviser, John McTernan, dismissed the same voters as the "lumpen mass with their half-formed thoughts and fully-formed prejudices", similarly urging Labour to ignore them and focus on ethnic minority voters. The same elites who urged ignoring working-class voters are then shocked when such voters defect to Ukip, now the most working-class party in British politics.
Can we imagine any other large section of the electorate being treated with such contempt? Is it any wonder that the left-behind has responded in kind, turning to figures like Nigel Farage who has already put Parris quotations on Ukip leaflets? Parris worries that the Conservatives will be "drawn to a town called Hopeless", investing their hopes in "the disappointed, the angry, the nostalgic and the fearful". That seems an odd concern to hold about the party of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.
Should our commentators not be more worried by the fact that more than 50 per cent of blue-collar Britons now strongly agree that they "have no voice" in politics, which is the highest figure ever recorded? That voters’ political trust, identification with the main parties, and faith in their ability to solve major problems are at an all-time low? Instead of seriously debating these questions we are offered Parris, who instead calls on elected leaders to ignore these voters en masse. The people of Clacton may not have the right clothes or haircuts, but they have a right to a respectful hearing from our political class and a proper response to problems that have been festering for decades. The right way to win the town called Hopeless is not to sneer and turn our backs, but to give its residents some reasons to hope again.
31 August 2014
This blog originally appeared in the Financial Times
The UK Independence Party turns twenty-one years old this month and has good cause to celebrate. The insurgent party won a national election in May and last week enjoyed the most significant coup in its entire history when Conservative MP Douglas Carswell defected to Ukip and announced he will put his decision before voters at a forthcoming by-election. Given that his struggling coastal seat of Clacton is the most demographically favourable seat for Ukip in the entire country Carswell has almost certainly handed Ukip its first elected Member of Parliament.
The events in Clacton will be seen by many as validating one of the oldest myths about Ukip; that it is nothing more than a second home for disgruntled Conservatives. Carswell’s defection will be especially welcome on the left of British politics, where many argue that Ukip is dividing the right, igniting a civil war over Europe and clearing the path for Labour’s return to power in 2015, and perhaps a new era of electoral dominance.
But while it is true that Ukip is currently drawing more votes from Conservatives this is also a dangerously misguided assumption. To understand why we can start with Clacton. The seat has the largest concentration of ‘left behind’ voters who have been the most receptive to Ukip since 2010; older, white, blue-collar voters who lack qualifications, felt left behind by Britain’s economic transformation long before the crisis, are cut adrift from politics in Brussels and Westminster, and intensely anxious over the cultural as well as economic effects of migration.
But as a Conservative-held seat Clacton is also something of an outlier. For our book, Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and I ranked all seats according to their demographic receptiveness to Ukip. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, most are in Labour territory where MPs are battling with the same cocktail as Carswell: economic stagnation; unease over migration; an entrenched anti-politics consensus; and broader anxieties over rapid social change. Of the twenty seats that are the most demographically receptive to Ukip, 18 have Labour incumbents. Of the top 50, Labour holds 42.
Of course, demography alone is not necessarily destiny. Aside from a receptive local population Ukip also needs a favourable political context where a breakthrough is at least possible. Unlike Conservative-held seats that are at genuine risk from Ukip – like Clacton, Thurrock, Thanet South, Great Yarmouth and Boston and Skegness - Labour’s heartland seats are currently protected by large majorities. But only a cursory glance at the recent European Parliament results reveals the direction of travel.
Without strong branches and trained activists Ukip comfortably won the popular vote in a swathe of Labour territory where left behind voters congregate: Grimsby, Rotherham, Doncaster, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Blackpool, Walsall and even parts of Wales. Ukip talks ambitiously of becoming the main rival to Labour for the left behind vote in northern England. It appears to be succeeding. Across 39 local authorities in the North West, Ukip won more votes than Labour in 13 and finished as its main rival in 23. It is similarly bleak in the North East; across 12 authorities Ukip won the popular vote in five and finished second to Labour in seven. You only need to look at constituencies like Great Grimsby, Thurrock, Rotherham, Dudley North and Wentworth and Dearne, among others, to see how this might evolve over the longer-term.
This rapid growth can be explained by the fact that, since 2010, Ukip has grown fastest among the groups among which Labour are struggling the most: the over-65s, the working-class and those who left education at the earliest opportunity. Ukip is tearing off this left behind section of the electorate, creating a new fundamental divide in British politics between those with the skills, education and resources to adapt, and those who have little and feel intensely angry. This is why some Ukippers talk of a “2020 strategy” and plot further advances under an unpopular Ed Miliband-led post-2015 government.
It is this concentration of support that gives Ukip’s revolt such potential. Those who compare the party to earlier attempts to redraw the political map, such as the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s, or populist crusaders like the French Poujadists in the 1950s, miss a crucial point. Ukip is anchored in the most socially distinctive support base in modern Britain; it is the most working-class party since Michael Foot’s Labour Party. Labelling Ukip as ‘populist’ implies that it is a catch-all movement that appeals across society. It is not. Its strength is concentrated in the left behind, who cluster in specific geographical areas. Crucially, this is essential for success under first-past-the-post.
Labour should be under no illusion. Ukip is attracting the Carswell’s of this world but it is also rapidly emerging as the main opposition in many northern heartlands where it benefits from other factors; the toxicity of the Tories in the north; moribund Labour machines that have not had to compete for decades; and the short-sightedness of some close to Ed Miliband who think only of how Ukip might impact in 2015, and not beyond. Should Ukip’s insurgency continue, not only will it cause a rupture on the centre right but also bring back into play Labour constituencies that have not been competitive for generations.