Posts Tagged ‘Economy and Society’

The ‘cross-pressured clans’ of British politics: a quarter of the electorate and their values

Having explained how clusters of the electorate have shaped the UK political landscape, Paula Surridge, Michael Turner, Robert Struthers, and Clive McDonnell focus on two of the most ‘cross-pressured’ of these clusters. They analyse their political behaviour in order to illustrate why understanding voters according to their values on multiple dimensions rather than on the traditional ‘left-right’ divide is more crucial than ever.

In our previous piece we introduced the ten values clans identified in the BMG Research report ‘Fractured Politics’. These clans are based on a range of social and economic values. In a political system where the party choice is relatively restricted, and historically the key dividing line between the two main parties has been only on the economic dimension, this produces clans who are ‘cross-pressured’ in their values, sharing the economics of one of the main political parties but not sharing the social values associated with them.

Two clans are caught in this position, the ‘Proud and Patriotic State’ (PPS) and the ‘Orange Bookers’ (OB). The PPS clan are broadly left-wing in their economic values (favouring redistribution and renationalisation) but are socially conservative (with negative views of immigration and multiculturalism, gender equality and identity, and punitive views of law and order). The OB clan, in contrast, has broadly right-wing (or ‘liberal’) economic views but combine this with liberal social values and are in favour of multi-culturalism, gender equality, and take much less punitive views on law and order.

The PPS clan are the largest, making up 15% of the electorate. It is worth stressing this point. The single largest values group within the British electorate have no ‘natural’ party to support as they prefer left-wing economics and social conservativism. The OB clan are less numerous, accounting for 8% of the electorate. Taken together, these cross-pressured clans are one in four of the electorate.

This cross-pressured position is reflected in the political behaviour of these clans, particularly in 2015 before the ‘other’ party’ vote had collapsed. In 2015, around one in four of each of these groups voted for a party outside of the main two parties. The PPS group were the clan most likely to have supported UKIP in 2015 (UKIP gained a 22% share of the vote in this clan), while the OB group were the most likely to have supported the Liberal Democrats (who gained a 19% share among this clan). This highlights how ‘other’ parties, less clearly defined by a single left-right dimension, can attract the votes of these cross-pressured clans. This is especially the case where these ‘other’ parties make strong appeals based on social values (socially conservative values in the case of UKIP and socially liberal values for the Liberal Democrats).

As well as their 2015 voting behaviour, these two clans are particularly distinctive in the education qualifications of their members. The OB clan are the most highly educated of all the clans, well over half of this group hold a degree level qualification (or higher); in contrast the PPS clan are least well educated having both the lowest proportion with a degree and the highest proportion with no qualifications.

The groups are also distinct in terms of their household incomes. Over a third of those in the OB group are in the top 25% of household incomes, compared with less than 15% of the PPS. It is this combination of the economic and the social which produces these cross-pressured positions. The economic interests of the OB group are most likely to be best served by low taxation, but their high levels of education also lead to liberal attitudes on other issues. For the PPS group higher taxation and welfare spending is likely to be in their economic interest but a lack of education leads them to be conservative on social issues.

This is further reflected in the issues they feel are most pressing for the country. For the OB group it is Brexit which most exorcises them: more than 40% of this group say leaving the EU is the most important issue facing society. The NHS appears as their second most important issue, though some way behind Brexit as a concern. The PPS group are much less likely to say Brexit is the most important issue and among this group both immigration (28%) and the NHS (22%) are greater causes for concern. This divide reflects the EU Referendum votes of the two clans. While the OB clan are overwhelmingly remain voters (more than eight in ten voted Remain), the PPS clan are equally overwhelmingly Leave voters.

Given that there were higher ‘third’ party shares for these groups in 2015 and the cross-pressured nature of their value positions, it is especially interesting to look at how they changed in voting behaviour between 2015 and 2017. When faced with parties which seemed to be in decline (and in some cases where no candidate was available), how did these voters negotiate the two main parties?

The OB clan were one of four who saw a declining share of the vote for the Conservatives between 2015 and 2017; these groups are the four most ‘liberal’ of the clans (they were also the four most pro-Remain though the largest swing away from the Conservatives is not among the most pro-Remain group). The PPS group saw a rise in the share of the vote for both the major parties, but this was much larger for the Conservatives than for Labour. In the 2017 election, it appears that economic values were outweighed by social values so that the two cross-pressured clans swung more according to their positions on issues such as multiculturalism, gender equality and the environment than on their position on taxation and welfare.

These cross-pressured clans are especially interesting and sharply illustrate the analytical power of understanding groups according to their value clusters on multiple dimensions rather than relying on ‘old’ heuristics such as ‘left-right’ position or socio-economic position alone. These groups make up almost a quarter of the electorate and the current major parties seem to be unable to make appeals to them that connect with their ‘natural’ economic leanings. It is among these cross-pressured clans that any ‘new’ political grouping could be created. While the political elite chatter endlessly about new ‘centrist’ parties, the voters for whom this pressure is felt most keenly are not in the ‘centre’ of politics but rather combine opposing poles of economic and social domains.


The detailed report on this research can be found here. You can find your values clan by answering the questions here.

About the Authors
Paula Surridge is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.




Michael Turner is Research Director & Head of Polling at BMG Research.



Robert Struthers is a Senior Research Executive at BMG Research.



Clive McDonnell is a Data Analyst at BMG Research.


‘Values clans’: how clusters of the electorate have shaped the political landscape

To explain the divisions which permeate UK politics, Paula Surridge, Michael Turner, Robert Struthers, and Clive McDonnell introduce an approach that takes the dimensionality of voters’ preferences more seriously.

Our political parties are in disarray as they struggle to make sense of divides among elected representatives, members, and voters which do not sit neatly along the existing party lines which have long been organised broadly around an economic left-right division. Some have gone so far as to declare the ‘death’ of the left-right divide but whilst it is the case that one could not helpfully predict the EU referendum vote, nor distinguish between Labour and UKIP (or indeed Green Party) voters at the 2015 general election based on left-right position, it is not the case that economic values no longer matter in our politics. But they are no longer the only thing that matters.

To make sense of the changes in party competition and the electorate more widely, it is useful to think of a set of ‘core values’ that structure our political beliefs. Following Rokeach (1973), we can think of these values as ‘core conceptions of the desirable within society’, or our deeply held views of the kind of society we want to be part of.

Drawing on responses from almost 30,000 members of the British electorate, to 27 items designed to tap into these ‘conceptions of the desirable’, BMG research have identified ten ‘values clans’. Some of these will seem familiar and occupy what might be thought of as ‘coherent’ positions within a broader value and party space. For example, the ‘Global Green Community’ (GGC) are broadly speaking the most ‘liberal-left’ of the clans, while the ‘Bastions of Tradition and the Individual’ (BTI) are representative of the ‘authoritarian-right’. But there are also clans here that represent more complex clusters of values, for example the ‘Modern Working Life’ group who share many ‘liberal’ values around the environment and gender equality, are left-leaning in their economic outlook but who also believe in individual responsibility.

The ten clans identified are shown below. Do not let the specifics of the names of any clans put you off; exactly what they are called really doesn’t matter: it is the clusters of values represented that are important.

Four of the clans combine clear cut values on both economic and social issues; though not always in ways found among party elites. As already described, the ‘Global Green Community’ and ‘Bastions of Tradition and the Individual’ represent the ‘liberal-left’ and ‘authoritarian-right’ respectively. Combining liberalism with more right-wing economics we have the ‘Orange bookers’ (OB) while the largest of the clans, the ‘Proud and Patriotic State’ (PPS), combine left-wing economics with socially conservative values. Together these four groups make up a little under half of the electorate; the PPS group being the largest and OB the smallest of these clans.

Figure 1: Distribution of Values & Identity Clans

A further two of the clans share key sets of values with one of these core clans and are ‘sympathetic’ on other dimensions. The ‘Common-Sense Solidarity’ (CSS) group are similar to GGC in their economic positions but a little less socially liberal, positioned somewhere between the GGC and the PPS overall. Similarly, the ‘Notting Hill Society’ (NHS) group have economic values in line with the BTI and OB groups while laying between them in terms of social values (being less socially liberal than OB but a little more so than the BTI group).

Adding these groups in we now account for roughly seven in ten members of the electorate. The ‘Apathy’ clan, account for a further one in ten of the electorate, are more disengaged from politics and less likely to express strong views on any of the value dimensions. The remaining groups are less clearly defined on any single set of values; in some respects they could be thought of as the ‘middle ground’ of British politics. However, by looking more closely at their political values we can better understand how these shaped their political behaviour and how this changed between 2015 and 2017.

The ‘Modern Working Life’ (MWL) group are economically left of centre in their political values; and share many aspects of social liberalism with the GGC group. They combine this with belief in hard work and a tougher stance on welfare and law and order. This group were the clan which was most likely to switch from Conservative to Labour in 2017; perhaps initially attracted by the modernising leadership of Cameron but finding the less liberal elements of May’s Conservative Party less attractive and the left-wing economics of Corbyn’s Labour more so.

The two remaining clans hold values very close to the centre both economically and socially, ‘The Measured Middle’ (TMM) are the least distinctive of the clans (aside from the ‘Apathy’ group), while the ‘Strength, Agreeable and Respect’ (SAR) clan are distinguished most clearly by the value placed on authority and discipline especially in defence and the criminal justice system.

Figure 2: 2017 General Election Values & Identity Clans (voters only).

The two most ‘coherent’ values clans voted overwhelmingly for the parties we would expect, the GGC for Labour and the BTI for the Conservatives. More than eight in ten voters in these clans supported what might be thought of as the ‘natural’ party. In keeping with their cross-cutting values, PPS and OB were both divided in their voting behaviour, though OB leaned overall a little towards Labour and PPS a little towards Conservative, suggesting an alignment weighted slightly towards their social values over their economic ones. In contrast, both CSS and NHS seem to have followed their economic instincts, the broadly left-wing CSS with almost seven in ten voting Labour and the broadly right-wing NHS with just over seven in ten voting Conservative. This returns us to the need to understand these value groupings as distinct from just positions on value scales alone. For some clans it appears that economic values are more important, while for others social values seems to have the strong effect.

The 2017 election was unusual and saw the squeezing of votes for parties other than Conservative and Labour in England (and to a lesser extent in Scotland where the SNP retained a larger share of its 2015 vote). If we compare 2015 voting across the clans, we can see even more clearly how votes for ‘minor’ parties were clustered within clans. Two clans stand out as having a concentration of votes for minor parties. Among the PPS group, one in five voted UKIP in 2015; while among the OB one in five voted Liberal Democrat. These groups were most ‘cross-pressured’ in their values and this is reflected in voting behaviour where parties making appeals on social issues can pick up large shares of the votes of these clans (something worth noting for anyone currently in the ‘new party’ market).

The values clans framework is powerful as it allows us to move beyond any single dimension of values to understand how clusters of the electorate who share value positions have responded to and shaped the political landscape. They are more powerful than thinking of any single socio-demographic divide alone, though they are strongly rooted in these divides of education, income, ethnicity and gender. They also allow us to understand how reaching out the values of one ‘clan’ may lead to losses of support elsewhere and the challenge of building election winning coalitions of clans for any political party.


The detailed report on this research can be found here. You can find your values clan by answering the questions here.

About the Authors

Paula Surridge is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.




Michael Turner is Research Director & Head of Polling at BMG Research.



Robert Struthers is a Senior Research Executive at BMG Research.



Clive McDonnell is a Data Analyst at BMG Research.





Let’s lose control: public procurement policy before, during, and after EU membership

David Clayton and David Higgins assess UK public procurement policy since the early 1970s. They explain why the EU’s common legal regime has had a positive impact on the UK economy, and therefore why leaving it will have negative implications.

Public procurement was raised during the 2016 Referendum campaign as part of a Leave critique of ‘red-tape’, and to claim that Britain would save ‘£1.6 billion’ if no longer bound by EU rules. No evidence was presented to back this disputed claim. Since then, this important issue had been side lined and obscured in opaque debates about regulatory alignment or divergence. Under ‘Chequers’, the government will probably have to negotiate separate provisions regarding public procurement. The Labour Party proposes to use discriminatory state purchasing as a component in a new industrial/regional policy but it has not explained this in terms of its own ambiguous stance on Brexit.

The failure of politicians to engage the public in debates about this issue is deeply troubling because public procurement is big business: in 2015 the UK’s public procurement market was valued at over £260 billion – 13.6% of gross domestic product, excluding expenditure on utilities. The total public procurement market in the EU, to which UK firms have access as part of our membership of the EU, was worth £1.5 trillion in 2015, which is approximately 15-20% of EU GDP. And these contracts affect the everyday lives of British citizens – from those seeking to get to work to those seeking hospital treatment.

Brexit has generated considerable uncertainty about public procurement. Consequently, how likely it is that Brexit will allow UK governments to ‘take back control’ over public procurement? By looking at this problem using new historical perspectives we conclude that changes to public procurement policy post-Brexit are unlikely and that populist rhetoric about ‘control’ has been confusing. We reach our conclusions via analysis of two periods: before and after the UK’s effective membership of the EEC in 1973.

Before EEC membership, Britain was subject to international treaty obligations with respect to public procurement: the UK was a signatory to the GATT, and the European Free Trade Association (Stockholm Convention). The effects of these obligations were weak. The legal evidence shows that they were not rules-based systems, enforced by international courts but vague protocols. The economic history evidence, based on government records held at the National Archives for 1970-71, indicates that over 90% of central government expenditure on public procurement was awarded to domestically.

This might suggest that a UK government can redeploy nationalist public procurement once the UK exits the EU, but this is doubtful. Firstly, UK companies will need to compete internationally for contracts which will require legal convergence with overseas regimes; secondly, Britain has enjoyed 45 years working within a common EU legal framework, and this may generate path-dependent effects beyond March 2019.

For the UK, the initial years of EU membership circa 1973 to 1979 were a period of transition. British governments gave qualified acceptance of EU principles that contracts must be advertised and awarded to the most competitive tender. But at this stage, EU rules were poorly developed and highly flexible; nationalised industries, a large part of the economy, were exempt, and EU rules did not insist that contracts should be awarded to the lowest bid.

The middle years of EU membership circa 1979-1992 culminated in the Single European Act. During this period the effects of EU law strengthened, and included attacks on the monopoly power of major British companies. But this process of legal convergence worked with, rather than against the direction of UK government policy: this was an epoch of privatisation, a ‘supply-side’ revolution by which all economic sectors were opened up to greater levels of competition.

During the latter years of EU membership, 1992 to date, Conservative and Labour governments have had a profound effect on the revision of EU directives, culminating in the current EU common legal framework, based on three 2016 directives. The outcome has been less (not more) bureaucracy, and the opening up of tendering to small and medium sized enterprises, combined with safeguards for public bodies to ensure that private firms are contracted to meet tougher social and environmental standards.

Although economic-historical evidence is scant for the post-1973 period, it seems safe to assume that this ever-evolving common legal regime had a positive impact on the UK economy, replacing an administrative system that dominated pre-1973 with a law-based system.


About the Authors

David Clayton is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York.




David Higgins is Professor of Accounting & Finance at Newcastle University.




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).

Despite the government’s U-turn on work allowances, Universal Credit still has major problems

While the 2018 Budget proposals mitigate some of the risks of Universal Credit implementation and may help certain groups eligible for work allowances, they overall do little to offset the erosion in household incomes caused by welfare reforms, explains Dan Finn.

Universal Credit (UC) aims to simplify and modernise the income and employment support system for millions of households. The system’s implementation has, however, been punctuated by controversy over missed deadlines, botched IT development, and poor project management. It has also been directly associated with increased debt, rent arrears, hardship, sanctions, and food bank use. Despite the significant problems that remain the National Audit Office recently concluded there is no practical alternative but to continue with UC implementation.

Ministers claim that the difficulties are exaggerated, and in the 2018 Budget the Chancellor announced that UC was ‘here to stay’ and will help ‘drive’ future ‘growth and employment’. He sought to deflect mounting criticism by injecting extra resources into ‘work allowances’ and measures to support the transition of some 2.8 million working age existing claimants onto UC. Concerns about this ‘managed migration’ process had already caused the Department for Work and Pensions to announce a delay in its migration timetable. This process will now be tested on 10,000 claimants in 2019 with fuller migration to start later in 2020.

Work allowances and the 2018 Budget

Work allowances are integral to the work incentive effect of UC. They are a set amount that a claimant in receipt of UC can earn from employment after which their benefit entitlement is reduced at a rate of 63%. The Budget increased the work allowance by £1,000 but only for claimants with a disability or who have children. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that it reverses only half the savings associated with the cuts made in the 2015 Budget. These cuts abolished the work allowance – then worth over £1,300 – for non-disabled and childless claimants, and cut it back severely for other groups. At the time it was estimated that just over three million families would lose an average of about £1,000 per year, saving £3.4 billion in 2020-21. By contrast the £1,000 increase will help some 2.4 million families keep an extra £630 of income each year at a cost to the Treasury of £0.5 billion in 2019-20, rising to just under £1.7 billion in 2023-24.

The government’s original vision for UC emphasised the increased generosity of work allowances and the lower withdrawal rate compared to the equivalent income thresholds in ‘legacy’ benefits. This was true for out-of-work benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance. It remains a false claim, however, when compared with working tax credits that have an income threshold of £6,420, followed by a 41% withdrawal rate (the threshold for those claiming only Child Tax Credit is significantly higher). The number of working families receiving tax credits has fallen from 4.85 million in 2010-11 to 2.86 million in 2016-17.  UC further contracts the poverty-reducing in-work income support system that existed in 2010.

UC payments, Jobcentre support, and the extension of benefit conditionality to around a million low paid workers are expected to encourage more claimants to take up employment and increase their earnings. There is a risk, however, that rather than support ‘progression’, UC will encourage the growth of ‘mini jobs’ and further underpin the dramatic growth in part-time and low paid employment and also fuel in-work poverty.

The unaddressed problems

The other measures in the 2018 Budget add to a patchwork of changes introduced to offset some unanticipated, albeit predicted by critics, effects of paying UC monthly in arrears, that will also ease the forthcoming passage of the ‘managed migration’ regulations that Parliament must approve. Until 2016 most UC claimants were unemployed, often single or childless, and claimed only for a short period. This caseload profile is changing and after ‘managed migration’ UC claimants are more likely to be families in low paid work, the self-employed, and long-term claimants with disabilities or work-limiting health conditions.

Currently, UC applies only to people making a new claim for benefit, or existing claimant households who through ‘natural migration’ must make a new claim because of a change in circumstances. The ‘full’ digital service through which UC is delivered will cover all Jobcentre areas at the end of 2018, after which no new claims will be accepted for ‘legacy’ benefits. The promise of transitional protection has muted criticism of reduced entitlements under UC. This guarantees that claimant households transferred to UC through managed migration will suffer no immediate reduction in income should their entitlement be lower. This protected payment lasts until it is extinguished by a change in circumstances or subsequent increases in benefit rates.

Draft regulations on ‘managed migration’, published in June 2018, raised concerns about the DWP requirement that all existing claimants must make a new claim for UC. The regulations propose a campaign of ‘warm up’ messages advising claimants to prepare for change, for example, by ensuring they have evidence of identification and proof of their right to residence (creating potential for another Windrush scandal). This will be followed by a formal one month notice period for claimants that their current benefit claim will be terminated and that they must make a new online claim for UC and agree a claimant commitment. If someone fails to make a claim on time they risk not only an immediate loss of income but when they do apply they may lose their transitional protection.

Safeguards are proposed for ‘vulnerable and complex’ cases, but concerns have been raised about the likelihood that large numbers of ‘migrated’ claimants will miss their deadline and lose transitional protection. The Work and Pensions Committee has highlighted the problems of a significant minority of claimants when navigating the application process. The Committee recommend that migration should proceed only when the Universal Support system has a much improved provision to assist this group of claimants in developing their online, budgeting, and debt management skills.

The transition to UC risks pushing ‘migrated households’ into debt. New UC claimants must cover their living expenses and much of their rent for up to five weeks before receiving their first payment (if the claim goes smoothly). Claimants can apply for earlier assistance but ‘advance payments’ are a loan which is recovered, along with any other benefit debts, from subsequent UC payments.

Some of the problems experienced by UC claimants were ameliorated in the 2017 Budget. It reduced the initial UC waiting period from six to five weeks, made access to advance payments easier, and rolled on rent support for two weeks for new UC claimants already receiving Housing Benefit. The measures in Budget 2018, which will cost ‘£1 billion over 5 years’, provide further mitigations. They extend two weeks rent support to those migrating from legacy benefits from July 2020. From October 2019, the government will reduce the maximum rate at which debt deductions can be made from a UC award, from 40% to 30% of the standard individual allowance, and will increase the period over which advances will be recovered, from 12 to 16 months. Other mitigations include extending to two years the grace period for self-employed people and ensuring that people receiving Severe Disability Premium have transitional protection.

Anyone who thought that the Budget might end austerity for benefit claimants has been disappointed. It mitigates some of the risks of UC implementation and the increased work allowances will help those eligible and employed enough hours to use them. Most UC claimants are not working, however, and the Budget has done little to offset the erosion in their household incomes caused by welfare reforms and the four-year freeze in benefit rates which continues in 2019-2020.


About the Author

Dan Finn is Emeritus Professor of Social Inclusion at the University of Portsmouth.




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).

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