Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

It will be Boris Johnson. And it will certainly be a disaster | John Crace

Johnson is nothing if not reliably untrustworthy, but Hunt appears to have accepted the game is up

It could just have been over-confidence. More likely it was a white flag. A giving in to the inevitable. For the final head-to-head debate in the Tory leadership race, Team Hunt hadn’t sent a single MP out into the spin room to explain why their man was about to win. Not even Liam Fox, who bizarrely had managed to out fact-check Boris Johnson on the status of a UK-US trade deal that very morning. It’s come to something when the country depends on the international trade secretary – for the next week at least – as a voice of sanity.

For Team Boris, Dominic Raab was looking every bit like a man who won’t be taking public transport for much longer. The shiny ministerial limo awaits. Gone was the pent-up anger of his own failed leadership bid. The bulging neck veins of Captain Psycho had given way to Smiley Dom. The man whose road rage convictions are now spent and on whom no one has yet pinned any unsolved murders.

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Hunt and Johnson: the backstop is dead and can’t be in any EU deal

Tory leadership rivals say they would prefer no-deal Brexit to proposed Irish border solution

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have declared the Northern Ireland backstop “dead” and promised to throw it out of any deal they negotiate with the EU, in comments that significantly harden their Brexit positions.

The Tory leadership rivals both ruled out trying to tweak the backstop, which critics said could trap the UK indefinitely in a customs union with the EU.

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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt under pressure to denounce Trump over racist tweets – live news

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen

Getting back to the UK and reading a raft of stories that assume Boris will be next PM. Don’t! We have been getting huge numbers of switchers, won both the ITV debate and Neil interview and this all depends on how far Boris was ahead at start which no one knows...

NEW - Over 200 current and former Labour staff and supporters write to condemn Labour’s handling of the Panorama documentary, accusing them of trying to “smear Jewish victims” and posing 5 questions for Corybn to answer

This is from my colleague Jennifer Rankin in Brussels.

Commission president candidate Ursula von der Leyen has said she would support a Brexit extension if "good reasons".

That's a very logical position, as decision would be taken by EU leaders. And extension is a very hypothetical question.

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Why UK parties are starting to embrace Brexit-driven electoral pacts

The left-right dimension in UK politics is being replaced by a libertarian-authoritarian dimension which the first past the post system struggles to accommodate. Ian Simpson (Electoral Reform Society) looks at why the parties are scrambling to embrace Brexit-driven electoral pacts. 

During the first half of 2019, party affiliation among the British electorate became more fragmented and volatile than ever before. In the English local elections on 2 May the Liberal Democrats and Greens – as well as independents – made big net gains. Both the Conservative and Labour parties suffered net losses. For the first time since Labour become the second largest party in parliament (at the 1922 general election) neither the Conservatives nor Labour finished in the top two in a UK-wide election. The EU parliamentary election saw Labour in third place and the Conservatives fifth. Meanwhile, the Brexit Party got more votes than any other, despite being in existence for only six months.

In Peterborough on 6 June, the successful candidate received the lowest winning vote share in a parliamentary by-election (apart from a by-election for the now defunct English Universities constituency) since 1945. Lisa Forbes won for Labour, with 30.9% of the vote.

And a string of British-wide general election opinion poll records have been broken during May-June 2019:

  • The first poll to feature neither the Conservatives nor Labour in the top two parties (Lib Dem: 24%; Brexit Party: 22%; Con: 19%; Lab: 19%; YouGov; 28-29 May 2019).
  • The lowest ever combined Conservative and Labour vote share (36% – Lab: 19%; Con: 17%); YouGov; 9-10 June 2019).
  • The first poll to show five parties on 10% or higher (Brexit Party: 26%; Lab: 22%; Con: 17%; Lib Dem: 16%; Green: 11%; Opinium; 28-30 May 2019).
  • The lowest ever vote share recorded by a party in first place (22%; Brexit Party and Conservatives joint first; YouGov; 24-25 June 2019).
  • The smallest ever gap between the top four ranked parties in a poll (three percentage points; Brexit Party: 23%; Lib Dem: 21%; Con: 20%; Lab: 20%; YouGov; 18-19 June 2019 and Brexit Party: 22%; Con: 22%; Lab: 20%; Lib Dem: 19%; YouGov: 24-25 June 2019)

After the 2017 general election, this degree of fragmentation might have seemed rather unlikely. After all, the Conservative and Labour parties achieved their highest combined vote share in a general election (84.4% in Britain) since 1970. However, the signs of growing fragmentation were there – and have been driven by the failure to resolve the Brexit process.

Data from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey 2016 shows the ‘libertarian-authoritarian’ dimension is much more relevant than the ‘left-right’ dimension, in respect of whether someone voted Leave or Remain (Curtice, 2017). The ‘libertarian-authoritarian’ dimension is broadly analogous to what is sometimes described as the divide between social liberals and social conservatives and is measured on BSA by asking respondents a set of questions.

The respondent is invited to “agree strongly”, “agree”, “neither agree nor disagree”, “disagree” or “disagree strongly” with the following statements:

  1. “Young people today don’t have enough respect for traditional British values”
  2. “People who break the law should be given stiffer sentences”
  3. “For some crimes, the death penalty is the most appropriate sentence”
  4. “Schools should teach children to obey authority”
  5. “The law should always be obeyed, even if a particular law is wrong”
  6. “Censorship of films and magazines is necessary to uphold moral standards”.

72% of the most ‘authoritarian’ third of people voted Leave, while just 21% of the most ‘libertarian’ third of people did. In contrast, there was little difference in how the most left-wing third of the public voted in the EU referendum (52% voted Leave) from how the most right-wing third of the public voted (45% voted Leave).

Traditionally, the key political attitudes that form the basis of support for the Conservatives and Labour has been the left-right dimension. Those with more left-wing views are much more likely to vote Labour and those with more right-wing views are much more likely to vote Conservative. BSA 2017 data showed that the left-right dimension continued to have a strong correlation with Labour/Conservative voting at the 2017 general election (Curtice & Simpson, 2018). Three-fifths of the most left-wing third of voters cast their ballot for Labour, whereas only about one-fifth of the most right-wing third of voters did so.

Conversely, just over three-fifths of the most right-wing voters cast their ballot for the Conservatives, whereas only one-third of the most left-wing voters did so. It is important to note, however, that the changes in support for the Conservatives and Labour between the 2015 and 2017 general elections varied little across these different types of voters. Labour support was up by around 10 percentage points amongst the most left-wing third of voters, the most right-wing third and the middle third. This perhaps calls into question whether the ‘left-wing’ nature of Labour’s manifesto was the main contributor to the increase in their vote share between the 2015 and 2017 general elections.

Similarly, the changes in support for the Conservatives amongst these different groups was relatively consistent. Their support was up three percentage points amongst the most left-wing and middle groups and down three points amongst the most right-wing group.

The libertarian-authoritarian dimension has traditionally had a much weaker association with Conservative and Labour voting than the left-right dimension. For example, BSA 2001 data indicates that at the 2001 general election, support for Labour was at virtually the same level among the most libertarian third of voters, the most authoritarian third and the third of voters in between. While support for the Conservatives was 14 points lower amongst the most authoritarian voters than the most libertarian voters in 2001, this was half of the difference in the 30-point gap in their support between the most right-wing and left-wing voters at that election (Curtice & Simpson, 2018).

Intriguingly, at the 2017 general election, support for the Conservatives and Labour became much more strongly linked with position on the libertarian-authoritarian scale than it had been before. While support for Labour went up by about 5 percentage points among the most authoritarian third of voters and the middle group, support went up by a much bigger 19 percentage points amongst the most libertarian third of voters, meaning that Labour received the votes of 55% of this group – compared to only 33% of the most authoritarian third of voters. There was also a big difference in the change in level of support for the Conservatives among these different types of voters. Whilst support for the Conservatives was up by 8 percentage points amongst the most authoritarian third of voters, it actually went down by 10 percentage points among the most libertarian third – meaning they received the votes of only 22% of this group, compared with 56% of the most authoritarian third of voters.

As Curtice & Simpson concluded in their report based on the BSA 2017 data, although both the Conservatives and Labour succeeded in increasing their vote share between the 2015 and 2017 general elections,

‘the pattern of support for these two parties was far from ‘normal’. The Brexit debate had brought to the fore issues such as immigration that cut across the traditional divide between left and right… Consequently, as Leave voters gravitated towards the Conservatives and their Remain counterparts towards Labour, the 2017 election saw a different ideological distinction, between libertarians and authoritarians (or social conservatives) come to matter much more in the shaping of Conservative and Labour support than it had done previously’.

Curtice & Simpson also identified tensions within the voting coalitions that both the Conservatives and Labour put together in 2017.

‘This disruption of the regular rhythms of Conservative and Labour support creates potential tensions within both parties. The Conservative party has long been regarded as the party of ‘big business’, yet the predominantly pro-Leave and immigration-sceptic electorate that the party gathered in 2017 shares little of that constituency’s preference for a continued close relationship with the EU. Labour, meanwhile, still regards itself as the party of the ‘working class’, yet that portrayal seems hard to sustain when the party is almost as popular among university graduates as it is among semi-routine and routine workers’.

For the time being, the EU referendum vote and the consequent fallout seems to have increased the salience of the libertarian-authoritarian dimension in British politics. At the 2017 general election, the Conservatives and Labour were largely able to accommodate this change and were thus both able to increase their support.
Now this no longer seems to apply. A four-dimensional political environment (left-right; libertarian-authoritarian) is perhaps creating a four-party-plus political system. Historically, support for the Liberal Democrats and Ukip was not strongly correlated with the left-right divide but was much more strongly linked to the libertarian-authoritarian dimension.

With British politics still relentlessly focused on Brexit, it is perhaps not too surprising that parties whose support has traditionally been most strongly associated with the libertarian-authoritarian dimension (the Brexit Party’s leader was Ukip’s leader for many years) have seen a substantial increase in support, at the expense of parties whose support has traditionally been much less strongly linked to this division.

Looking at how these complex, often interlocking, often contradictory dimensions slot into a binary voting system is almost impossible, but the YouGov MRP model is a useful start. Based on polling of around 40,000 respondents between 2-7 February, their findings were that the Conservatives were likely to get a handful more MPs than they did in the general election but still be short of an overall majority, and that Labour were to get a handful fewer MPs than at the general election.

However, the results of the February polling show how much has changed in British politics in the last few months. The Conservatives were on 39%, Labour 34% and the Liberal Democrats still down on 11%. The Brexit Party were not even included in the poll. What would happen if YouGov were to re-run the MRP poll now? With their polling consistently showing four parties on about 20-25%, the electoral result could be highly chaotic under first past the post. The parties are highly aware of this – as the plans for a ‘Remain Alliance’ and a Conservative-Brexit Party pact in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election show.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. 

Ian Simpson is a Research Officer at the Electoral Reform Society. Prior to this, he was a Research Fellow on the European Social Survey, at City University. Ian also spent nearly a decade at the National Centre for Social Research.

Boris Johnson is about to inherit a crisis his EU-bashing helped spawn | Sonia Purnell

This bizarre and troubled man’s shameless inventions about Europe two decades ago have paved his way to No 10

It was not just the persistently overcast skies – a weather pattern once dubbed the “Brabant gloom” by Roy Jenkins, a former European commission president – that made working in Brussels for the Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s a joyless experience. It was my role as deputy to Boris Johnson, then “bureau chief” in name but solo performer in practice, that ensured my first job as a foreign correspondent was a trial of endurance.

There were just the two of us in the Telegraph office, and we were working long hard hours reporting on the political and economic convulsions of the Maastricht treaty negotiations. The story itself, of negotiations that played out in meeting rooms of Brussels, was full of political intrigue and drama. And whatever happened was likely to shape Europe for years to come.

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The forward march of party members: has the shift in power to the grassroots gone too far?

Patrick Seyd writes that while parliamentarians are in a much better position to decide who should lead the party than party members, in recent years the balance has shifted in favour of the latter. This plebiscitary politics negatively affects both the quality of political leadership and of decision-making.

Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has placed its two-party system under greater strain than at any time in the past 100 years. Unity in both the major parliamentary parties has so collapsed that members of the Conservative Cabinet and the Labour Shadow Cabinet have openly defied their party leaders and remained in post. Collective responsibility – a fundamental feature of the party system – has all but disappeared.

This strain on the party system has been exacerbated by rebellion at the parties’ grassroots. Party members have powers, some recently gained, which they are unafraid to use. MPs face the increasing threat of no confidence votes and de-selection if they dare to assert their own judgement over that of their local party members. Furthermore, MPs may now have a party leader, who would not be their first choice, thrust upon them by members. A significant shift in the balance of power between parliamentarians and party members has occurred. Which raises the question – has the shift in power to the parties’ grassroots gone too far?

The shift in power: the story so far

After 1945, and because of the strict spending limits that parties were obliged to observe in general elections, members were regarded as a valuable, free campaigning resource. As a reward for their campaigning efforts, members were granted the power to select their constituency parliamentary candidates. Nevertheless, once selected, MPs took their cues from their respective party leaderships. Occasional clashes occurred between party leaderships and activists, but the prevailing conventional wisdom was that expressed by Robert McKenzie ‘…the mass parties are primarily the servants of their respective parliamentary parties; …their principal function is to sustain teams of parliamentary leaders between whom the electorate is periodically invited to choose.’

Notwithstanding this conventional wisdom, from the 1970s onwards, members’ demands for greater powers became more insistent. On the Labour side were demands to make it easier for members to deselect MPs, to have a greater role in drawing up the party’s general election manifesto, and to be a constituent part of the electorate choosing the party leader. On the Conservative side were demands for MPs to be selected by a ballot of all individual members of a local association, for the right to deselect a sitting MP, and for members to have an input into the party’s policy-making procedures.

The forward march of Labour Party members has since been in a fairly steady straight line, albeit with considerable intra-party battles, on the way. Firstly, with regard to the choice of leader, whereas he was chosen solely by members of the PLP until 1981, and then until 2015 by an electoral college comprising members of the PLP, the constituency parties, and the affiliated trade unions, now it is individual members and registered supporters who make the choice. The one significant power still residing with the parliamentarians has been the nomination of leadership candidates which originally in 1981 stood at 5% of the PLP, raised to 12.5% in 1988 and at present stands at 10%. However, even this nominating power being solely in the hands of the parliamentarians has now been modified by the 2018 party conference decision to give party members a role as well. A candidate for the party leadership can now be included in the ballot if s/he can secure the support of 10% of constituency parties and just 5 per cent of the parliamentarians.

Secondly, with regard to the selection and reselection of Labour MPs, after an intense intra-party battle, the decision was taken in 1979 to make it easier for constituency Labour parties to deselect their MP. However, the demand that all Labour MPs should go through an automatic reselection procedure prior to every general election was resisted. In 1990 some security for MPs was provided by stipulating that a ‘trigger ballot’ be first required in their constituency party, and if two-thirds of local branches voted to retain their MP then no reselection ballot would take place. Additional protection for MPs came during Tony Blair’s premiership with the number of approving branches being reduced to 50%. But the demand for an automatic reselection process resurfaced following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as party leader, given impetus by Corbyn’s initial difficulty in securing the nominative support of 35 MPs and then given even greater impetus by the PLP’s vote of no confidence in him in June 2016. At the 2018 party conference it was agreed that reselection of a sitting MP would occur if one-third or more of local party branches and other local affiliated organisations (i.e. trade union branches) voted in favour of such a move.

Thirdly, with regard to the making of party policy, in 1980 members had been granted a specific role via the party’s National Executive Committee in drawing up the party’s election manifesto. However, in response to their marginalisation in the policy-making process during the Blair/Brown years, the party’s Democracy Review (2018) accords them a more significant role in policy-making. Hence parliamentarians and their research advisers are downgraded within the new NEC Policy Committee and the sub-committees to an ex-officio role while constituency party and trade union representatives are given pride of place.

By contrast, the forward march of Conservative members was halted almost as soon as they set out to increase their powers. Reforms introduced by William Hague in 1997 and by David Cameron in 2005 eliminated key institutions of the grassroots party, such as the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, the Central Council and the Conservative Political Centre, and reduced members’ role in the selection of parliamentary candidates solely to final approval from a list determined by the party leadership. The only power of any significance was Hague’s concession of the final say in the choice of party leader. The leading two candidates chosen by parliamentarians would be presented to the membership for the final decision. And since the introduction of this power, on only one occasion (2001) prior to 2019 has the membership been able to exercise their preference in the choice of party leader.

Rather than the forward march, it is the retreat of the party membership in all but the choice of the party leader which is the dominant theme. Indeed, one explanation why the Conservative Party, in contrast to all other British parties, has failed to stem its membership haemorrhage over recent decades is its failure to provide any significant incentives to individuals considering joining.

Party members v. party voters: are their views aligned?

Previous research on Labour and Conservative members revealed that while they were more socially distinct than their respective voters – more white, middle class and middle aged – their political opinions were not significantly at odds with those of Conservative voters. Members were likely to hold their opinions more strongly than voters but they were not that far out of line.

Using data from the British Election Study (2018) it is possible to test whether this claim still holds. With regard to Labour, the data reveal that both members and voters share a similar enthusiasm for the European Union and both favour a second referendum on Britain’s relationship with it. With regard to immigration, members are more strongly attached than their fellow voters to the view that it enriches cultural life but the difference is one of strength rather than of principle. Further, the data reveal that on a range of economic issues, the two groups are in accord; but on libertarian ones (for example, death penalty, sentences for law breaking, film censorship, authority in schools) there are significant differences. Overall, therefore, the accord between Labour members and voters still remains but as identity becomes a more prominent feature of political debate there is the danger of a significant discord emerging.

With regard to Conservative voters and members, they both share a similar antipathy towards the European Union and towards a second referendum. The two also shared similar views on immigration. On economic issues we find that Conservative members are less inclined than Conservative voters towards equality. For example, two-thirds of members and only one-half of voters disagree with the view that ‘government should redistribute incomes’, almost one-half of members and one-fifth of voters disagree with the statement that ‘ordinary people do not get their fair share’ and, finally, one-half of members and one-quarter of voters disagree with the statement that there is ‘one law for the rich and one for the poor’. On libertarian issues, voters are more at the authoritarian end of the spectrum than members but by only a matter of degree. Apart from some economic issues where the two groups’ opinions do differ quite significantly, in general the membership is not unrepresentative of the party’s voters.

On the basis of this evidence on both parties’ memberships we can conclude that they still hold their views more strongly than their voting counterparts but that the contrast is not that great.

What next?    

Parties need members to help finance their activities, to act as campaigners, and to provide a talent pool from which future representatives are drawn. In order to recruit them, parties need to provide incentives that will encourage individuals to join. One key incentive is selecting the personnel who will be their representatives; and, in particular, in electing their party leader. In carrying out this role members need to seriously consider the skills required of political leaders. Archie Brown suggests that these include personal integrity, intelligence, articulateness, collegiality, flexibility, courage, vision, empathy, boundless energy, a good memory, shrewd judgement, a willingness to seek disparate views, a questioning mind and an ability to absorb information. Who is better able to assess whether leadership candidates possess these qualities? Parliamentarians working together day in and day out are more likely to be better judges than party members and for this reason parliamentarians should be given the primary role in the choice of a party leader. Firstly, nomination of party leaders should be the sole responsibility of MPs – as is the case in the Conservative Party. Secondly, the bar should be set high – namely leadership candidates should be required to obtain nominations from at least 20% of his/her parliamentary colleagues.

The forward march of party members has been just one feature of the waning influence of the representative ideal. The deliberative skills of the representative are being replaced by the immediate voice of the public. In the case of parties, the choice of their leaders and their elected national and local representatives is being decided by the members in ballots. But this plebiscitary politics has its dangers. Both the quality of political leadership and of decision-making may suffer. What is required is a balance of the wisdom and experience of elected representatives with that of individual members. Today that balance has shifted too far towards members at the expense of representatives, and British politics is the worse as a consequence.


About the Author

Patrick Seyd is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield.





All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Not cricket: Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised for World Cup comments

Brexiter says England beating New Zealand shows ‘we clearly don’t need Europe to win’

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been criticised for politicising England’s victory in the Cricket World Cup after writing on social media that “we clearly don’t need Europe to win”, a comment that has attracted derision from thousands of cricketing fans eager to educate the Brexiter about the team’s international make-up.

The Conservative MP celebrated England’s dramatic victory over New Zealand in the final on Sunday by tweeting: “A d..n close run thing, we clearly don’t need Europe to win… #CricketWorldCupFinal.”

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