Posts Tagged ‘ge2019’

Forecasting the 2019 General Election using the PM and the Pendulum model

Using a forecasting model that captures both the cyclical nature of the competition for power and the important role of prime ministers in elections, Matthew Lebo and Stephen Fisher estimate that the Conservatives will win between 269 and 356 seats.

Rafael Behr said of 2018’s local election results that “Brexit has caused Britain’s political pendulum to stick.” Maybe the forthcoming general election will get it moving again?

The idea of the political pendulum is that public opinion, and so government, alternates between the two main political parties on a fairly regular basis. Maybe there’s a cost of governing, or maybe voters come to feel it’s time for a change. Whatever the reason, there’s evidence for the political pendulum in many democracies. Most notably, the regularity is very strong in the USA where two terms of a president from one party are typically followed by two terms for the other party. Thus Trump’s victory in 2016 was helped by the pendulum swinging to the Republicans after two-terms of a Democratic president.

The pendulum is not unstoppable though. Leaders can halt it, and they can accelerate or decelerate it. By losing the popular vote Trump did not do as well as the pendulum predicted.

For Britain, Helmut Norpoth and Matthew Lebo’s PM and the Pendulum model has been a successful tool for forecasting elections since 2005. It captures both the cyclical nature of the competition for power and the important role of prime ministers in speeding up or slowing down the pendulum.

Without a fixed length of time between elections in Britain, the pendulum model measures time in elections, however close or far apart. So, terms have varying length in years. How quickly the pendulum swings against a government depends on how big the initial win. What’s more, if a government wins even bigger at subsequent elections they can buy their party more time on the clock. In this model, the scale of Margaret Thatcher’s victories in 1983 and 1987 helped John Major to win in 1992, but Tony Blair did not win big enough in 2005 to give Gordon Brown the advantage going into the 2010 election.

David Cameron’s 7-point leads in 2010 and 2015 were big enough for the pendulum to provide a just under two-point advantage for Theresa May going in to the 2017 election. She narrowly exceeded that expectation. Now, Boris Johnson is trying to deliver a fourth general election victory for the Conservatives in a row. The pendulum alone predicts he will fall short, with a narrow lead for Labour of 0.7 points.

Using Norpoth and Lebo’s vote swing to seats model, a 0.7 Labour lead suggests a hung parliament with 282 Conservative seats and 296 Labour seats. While such a result might well yield a Labour-led government, the historical pattern of the pendulum swing is not strong enough to say that Labour ought to be winning a majority at this election.

Prime ministerial approval and the pendulum together

The PM and the Pendulum model improves on the pendulum only model by also using the popularity of the prime minister as a predictor of election outcomes. This is not to say that summary judgments of the prime minister personally are the only things about public opinion that matter. The economy and other issues have an impact by affecting evaluations of the PM.

Boris Johnson is known by some commentators as the Marmite politician. Some love him, others loath him. Levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with Johnson net out close to zero. But since the PM and pendulum model focuses on the two main parties, it needs a way to account for the number of third-party supporters and how they tend to disapprove of the PM. The model does this by dividing the percentage approval by the proportion of people saying they will vote for one of the two main parties.

One further benefit of this measure is that it also takes account the popularity of the opposition. For instance, in 1997 there were a large number of people intending to vote for the two main parties, but very few approved of John Major. The low adjusted PM approval rating in effect showed quite a lot of support for Blair’s Labour party.

By the adjusted PM approval measure, Boris Johnson goes into this election in one of the strongest positions of any post-war prime minister; popular enough, relative to the two-party vote, to pull the Conservatives ahead. His average rating over September and October in Ipsos MORI polls of 41.5% is strong in an electorate when only 61% say they plan to vote for the Conservatives or Labour. With Johnson’s popularity factored in, the model predicts a 2.4 point Conservative lead over Labour. That suggests the Tories will end up with 311 seats, short of an overall majority but still comfortably ahead of Labour’s expected tally of 268 MPs.

Computer simulations can assess the uncertainty of the PM and pendulum model and show a 90% confidence interval for the Conservatives stretching from 269 to 356 seats. The estimates suggest that Boris Johnson has about a 1 in 4 chance of securing the majority (of 326 seats or more) that he needs to deliver his Brexit deal.

What to make of this forecast?

The vote intention opinion polls suggest the Conservatives are heading towards a comfortable majority. That is true also of the Ipsos MORI polls from which the PM approval data are drawn. So, there is a real discrepancy between the PM and pendulum model forecast and classic vote intention poll forecasts. With such different methods, there is no simple way to decompose the reasons for the difference.

It might seem as though the PM and pendulum model is likely to be wrong because it is too simplistic and also problematic in assuming that British politics still works as it did before the 2014 Scottish independence and 2016 Brexit referendums. Elections are no longer adequately characterised as a contest between just two parties, so why pay attention to a model that presumes just that?

While the model does not make forecasts for third parties, it does take into account the numbers of seats held collectively by the two main parties at the last election. So, in effect, the model assumes that the number of third-party seats is unlikely to change much from what it was in 2017. But since John Curtice has predicted record numbers of third-party seats, there is further reason to worry that the model may not work well this time.

The track record of the PM and pendulum model has been generally good. In 2005 it forecasted a Labour majority and lead of 132 seats over the Tories: the actual outcome a 159 seat lead. In 2010 it predicted a hung parliament with a slight edge for the Conservatives. The 311-265 prediction two months prior to Election Day was close to the eventual result of 307-258.

There is always a temptation for forecasters to tweak their methods to adapt to new political developments. In February 2015, Lebo and Norpoth made an initial forecast of a 7.1% Tory vote lead with 322 Tory seats and 254 Labour seats – spot on for the vote lead and extremely close to the actual 307 Conservative and 258 Labour seats. But with the polls looking bad for the Conservatives and the complication of the first post-war coalition government, the authors made adjustments during the campaign, downgrading the popularity of the Prime Minister. Only later did they realize they would have done better to have left the pendulum model alone.

Under current political circumstances it is hard to trust that the pendulum’s swing is likely to thwart the Tories hope for a fourth term. Growing tired of the party in power is not the only underlying factor in the pendulum’s swing. The party in opposition usually gains standing during its years of opposition. The current unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn and the fractured opposition to Brexit makes it difficult for some to see what the pendulum should swing back towards.

Whether or not the model forecast is accurate this year, the PM and pendulum model does provide a helpful historical basis on which to judge the performances of the two main parties. If Corbyn does manage to turn things around and win the most seats in a hung parliament, it will only be as expected given the swing of the pendulum would predict. He needs a majority to show a substantial achievement.

But if Boris Johnson secures the comfortable majority that the opinion polls suggest he will, then his achievement, and Jeremy Corbyn’s corresponding failure, will be historically remarkable. The pendulum really will have become stuck.


About the Authors

Matthew Lebo is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario.




Stephen Fisher is Associate Professor of Political Sociology at Trinity College, University of Oxford.




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.

On dealigning and realigning elections: Is Britain about to experience a Westminster earthquake?

Will this December’s general election prove a watershed contest, or a repeat of the status quo? To help make sense of developments, Pippa Norris discusses various distinct types of election outcomes and their application to the current UK context.

After a series of parliamentary defeats and constant frustration in attempts to get his Brexit deal passed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided that rolling the dice on a UK general election on 12 December, although a high-risk strategy, was the least-bad option left. Is the outcome likely to crack the durable structure of party competition at Westminster and in the electorate? In particular, will it prove a watershed contest, with the Leave-Remain division over-riding traditional party loyalties?

To make sense of developments, we can turn to several ways that political scientists typically think about distinct types of outcomes, including whether elections are maintaining, dealigning, or realigning contests.

A maintaining election?

Party politics are in a state of constant flux, following the fortunes of the latest opinion poll or parliamentary division. Commentators emphasize that today the electorate is more volatile than ever, with the outcome of the general election proving unpredictable and risky. Poll trackers show surges and sudden reversals in party fortunes – the rise of Brexit and the Lib Dems during the European Parliamentary contests, then the revival in Conservative support following Boris Johnson’s anointment. An unpredictable outcome is exciting for journalists desperately trying to flog interest in the campaign among the Brendas from Bristol who prefer to be making their mince pies than watching party political broadcasts. Many ‘Don’t Knows’ in opinion polls are a classic signal of dealignment uncertainty.

Nevertheless, in maintaining contests, despite voter flux, indecision, and churning, the party order still endures, with one party often predominant in government over a series of contests. The relatively enduring features of UK politics persist across successive elections. Party systems in long-established democracies involve patterned, stable and predictable interactions in the competition for seats and votes.  Maintaining elections reflect the status quo: there are no strong issues, events or major shifts in party policy to deflect voters from their habitual electoral preferences. Each party mobilises its ‘normal base’ of support. This concept requires splitting the actual vote cast for a party  into  two  parts: a ‘normal’ or baseline vote to be expected from a group, based on their behaviour over successive elections in the past, and the current deviation from that norm, due to the immediate circumstances of the specific election.

The Labour campaign platform is based on the assumption that the outcome will revolve largely around ‘politics as usual’ – more spending on the NHS, no tuition fees, free childcare, higher wages. It could be 2017 all over again. This is similar to the Democratic presidential contenders betting the house on healthcare, not highlighting the third-rail of immigration. And, not to be out gunned by Labour, the Conservatives have responded with their own series of generous spending pledges, splashing the cash on ‘new’ hospitals and the like.

If this contest maintains the status quo, the potential outcome could be the return of another hung parliament, failing to break the impasse at Westminster. The Remainers would still be divided. The Conservatives would remain the largest party but without an overall parliamentary majority, and, under Johnson’s Brexit deal, with doubts about prospects for a revived parliamentary alliance with the DUP.

Deviating contests: Flux, not flow

By contrast, in deviating contests with a de-aligned electorate, weak partisan anchors are evident. Sharp swings in support towards one party are possible – but in deviating contests these do not endure, so that equally strong counter-surges in subsequent contests remain equally likely. In deviating elections, particular personalities, issues, or events produce a temporary sharp reversal in the ‘normal’ share of the vote for major parties. Deviating contests are characterised by negative protests against the government, which cause dissatisfied voters to defect temporarily to minor parties, only to return home in subsequent contests.

Partisan dealignment is nothing new; it has been observed since the 1970s. But events and deepening divisions over Brexit at Westminster, with dramatic internal splits weakening party discipline in the Commons, are likely to have further dissolved the glue of Conservative and Labour loyalties in the electorate. The British Election Study, for example, found that from 2010-2017, across three elections, almost half the electorate did not vote for the same party.  Personalities, events, and specific issues may encourage base defections from all parties on polling day – notably Corbyn’s deep unpopularity and internal fissures dividing Labour moderates and hard-liners, Johnson’s ‘death in a ditch’ failure to deliver anything on 31 October, the Lib Dem bold but risky Remain stance, revived stirrings of independence in Scotland,  and Farage’s guerrilla war for a No Deal Brexit.

Frustration and anger over Brexit makes protest voting more likely – but the impact of negative partisanship is highly unpredictable in multiparty systems. Flux makes it easier for some modest seat gains by the SNP, Lib Dems, Greens, and Independents. But it is also possible that Brexit has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. The majoritarian First-Past-the-Post system props up the two-party system and penalizes geographically-dispersed parties. Once Brexit is ‘done’ with a formal withdrawal agreement –  in the sense that the UK severs its ties with the EU though facing years of trade negotiations – under this scenario, despite some temporary losses, ‘normal‘ two-party party battles will resume over the standard domestic agenda of health and education, jobs and poverty, spending and taxes, climate change and crime. In this sense, the outcome could be change plus ça change.

…Or realignment along Leave-Remain cleavages

Alternatively, however, the UK could be experiencing that once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, more often predicted than observed: a critical realignment. The concept of critical realignment has a long pedigree, particularly in American political science, which has conventionally divided the party order into distinct historical eras. The theory of critical election originated with V.O. Key (1955) and the extensive literature generated by this work has long debated the historical periodization of party systems. Dispute continues about the magnitude, durability and direction of electoral change, and its enduring consequences for party government, in order for contests to qualify as a case of critical elections. President Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. election, reflecting a hostile take-over of the Republican party by authoritarian-populist forces, is the most obvious contemporary case – although it is unclear whether the key signs of change started with the Tea Party movement under Obama, and heated debate remains about the persistence and legacy of Trumpism beyond Trump.

Classifying recent elections as a critical realignment, without the benefit of hindsight, is often highly problematic. It is far harder to distinguish distinct party systems in the UK; the years from the expansion of the franchise during the mid-Victorian era to the first World War were a period of Conservative-Liberal predominance based on rural and religious cleavages in the electorate. The 1918-39 period, following the rise of Labour and the politics of class, was characterized by a complex and unstable three-party system. By contrast, the era from 1945 to 2010 can conventionally be seen as exemplifying the predominance of two-party class politics at Westminster – but cracks started to appear beneath the surface as early as the 1970s.

In the past there have been many false dawns of breakthroughs predicted by over-excited headline writers as new parties like the SDP or the Greens or UKIP/the Brexit Party have temporarily surged at the polls in second order contests, exemplified by byelections and European elections, only to fall back in subsequent contests. In the aftermath of the Tory landslide of 1983, and Foot’s nadir, many claimed Thatcherism was invincible. Similar hopes surrounded the false new dawn of Blair’s 1997 sweep. As with any predictions, we can only provide cautious interpretations of the current political landscape which may, or may not, be borne out by subsequent events. Psephology is far more like a provisional medical diagnosis based on exploratory surgery than the laws of physics. We will only know the full extent of the change in electoral behaviour which occurred in 2019 after subsequent contests either consolidate or reverse the alterations. Nevertheless, we can speculate whether this election shares some of the characteristics of critical elections in the past, in Britain and elsewhere.

There are basically two types of realignments.

Secular realignments: OK, boomers

These are elections characterised by an evolutionary and cumulative strengthening in party support over a series of elections. For V.O. Key, the American party system maintained a stable equilibrium for long periods of time, over successive elections the pattern of voting by different regions, counties, and social groups was largely predictable. But the party system could evolve due to a gradual shift in the electorate over successive elections, with the more or less continuous creation of new party-voter alignments and the decay of the old. This familiar model gives primacy to broad socio-demographic developments, such as demographic turnover in the electorate and socio-economic trends which gradually produce long-term shifts in the composition and values of the electorate.

Much attention in voting studies has focused on understanding long-term secular trends in post-industrial societies, including the growth of new social cleavages and the process of generational value change which may glacially transform the electorate. The most plausible candidate for secular realignment in the UK concerns the steady fading of class divisions as predictors of party choice in the electorate – and its replacement by a widening and substantial generational gap. Secular realignment model produces an incremental, durable and persistent strengthening in the long-term contours of party support. Elsewhere in Cultural Backlash I have argued that the rise of authoritarian-populism can be attributed to a tipping point in the balance of forces dividing social conservativism and social liberalism, fuelled by enduring generational value shifts. Generation (and education) replaces social class as the core cleavage in the electorate.

Critical realignments

Lastly, critical elections are exceptional contests which produce abrupt, significant and durable realignments in the electorate. with major consequences for the long-term party order. Critical elections have significant consequences, not just for a single administration, but also for the dominant policy agenda of successive governments. In this sense the pendulum of party competition ratchets decisively in a new direction. While every contest sees some electoral flux back and forth among parties, lasting transformations of the party order rarely occur. Critical elections are characterised by three interrelated features:

  1. realignment in the ideological basis of party competition;
  2. realignment in the social basis of party support;
  3. realignment in the partisan loyalties of voters.

Ideological realignment involves major changes in the programmatic basis of party competition, for example if the deep Leave-Remain cleavage over Brexit reflects a new cross-cutting issue reflecting divisions between nationalism and cosmopolitanism which continue to divide parties and the electorate long after Brexit is decided in law.

Cultural Backlash argues that the classic economic Left-Right cleavage in party competition found in many established democracies during earlier decades has faded in importance, replaced by contemporary competition over Authoritarian and Progressive cultural values, on one dimension, and the use of Pluralist or Populist rhetoric, on the other. The simple Left-Right economic cleavage over state v. markets has been replaced by a strategic game of multilevel competition.  The winner-take-all nature of the Westminster electoral system means that whichever side of Brexit loses, loses big. But the electoral system at Westminster also serves as a major constraint preventing party system change, even if no longer fit for purpose in the electorate (or in hung parliaments).

Shifts can also arise if parties shift rapidly or ‘leapfrog’ over each other across the ideological spectrum, for example if Remainers abandon Corbyn to consolidate behind any parties in the Remain Alliance. Realignment can also be signalled if the Brexit party gains seats, especially if Conservatives were ever to form a coalition with them. Social realignment concerns major shifts in the traditional coalitional basis of party support based on structural cleavages, such as the revival of the rural-urban cleavage in American politics and the fading of class cleavages in the UK.

The generational divide over the climate crisis and progressive social values is evident – but to secure a shift in power at Westminster this does require that young people turnout to vote. If Boris Johnson’s strategic appeals break Labour party ties among Leavers, forging a persistent base of Conservative support in key marginals in the Midlands and North – such as Barrow and Furness, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Dudley North – then this would count towards social realignment. Labour and the LibDems also hope to make gains in Remain seats, such as in the Greater London suburbs. Lastly, if these shifts consolidate in subsequent contests, realignments should eventually be observed in the partisan loyalties of voters.

Figure 1: UK Parties respond to the 2016 EU referendum

Note: Overall EU position: the overall orientation of the party leadership towards European integration. Galtan: position of the party in terms of their views on democratic freedoms and rights. ‘Libertarian’ parties favour expanded personal freedoms, for examples, access to abortion, active euthanasia, same-sex marriage, or greater democratic participation. ‘Traditional’ or ‘authoritarian’ parties often reject these ideas; they value order, tradition, and stability and believe that the government should be a firm moral authority on social and cultural issues. Source: calculated from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey on party positions, UK only in 2014 and 2017.

Figure 1 illustrates how political party competition on Libertarian-Authoritarian values and on Europe, and how this changed before and after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Thus, in response to the Farage threat, the Conservative Party shifted in the top-right quadrant, becoming more authoritarian on policies of personal freedom and more Eurosceptic. Most of the opposition parties clustered in the bottom-left quadrant moved simultaneously in the opposite direction, becoming more Remain, heightening polarization over the EU. This laid the conditions facilitating the Remain Alliance. The one clear exception is Labour, which moved after the referendum towards the centerground on Europe, just at a time when the general electorate polarized. Under Corbyn’s assiduous fence-sitting, Labour adopted a position which is neither Remain fish nor Leave fowl.

Significant change across not one but all three levels in the 2019 contest would provide convincing evidence for a durable and deep-rooted alteration in the party order which is likely to persist for more than one term of office. These changes would transform the familiar geographical map of party support, threatening party heartlands, exemplified by the GOP take-over of southern states during the late 1960s. A contest which led electoral reform or Scottish independence, such as a minority Labour-government dependent upon parliamentary votes from the LibDems and SNP, would consolidate persistent changes at Westminster.

Realignment is a high hurdle, however, given churn and uncertainty among the mass electorate – and churn and uncertainty among Westminster parties as well, with moderates deserting the battleground and only true-believers left. V.O. Key identified critical elections as those ‘…in which more or less profound readjustments occur in the relations of power within the community, and in which new and durable electoral groupings are formed.’ These exceptional contests represent sudden and large breaks in the established social and ideological basis of party competition, with enduring consequences for government and for the public policy agenda. Critical elections move the party system from equilibrium to a new level and then this level stabilises and consolidates.

Whether the 2016 Brexit referenda laid the foundations for a critical realignment in the bones of the British electorate, or a more temporary period of uncertainty and flux, or simply a repeat of the status quo in a hung parliament, will become clearer once the smoke rises after 12 December. Calling the election was always a high-risk roll of the dice by Johnson. It is not hyperbole to claim that the future of Westminster party politics, the future of Brexit, indeed the future of the United Kingdom nation-state, all hang in the balance.


About the Author

Pippa Norris (@PippaN15) is the Maguire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard University and the author of numerous books on British and comparative politics, including, with Ronald Inglehart, Cultural Backlash (CUP 2019).



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.

Unite to Remain: how likely are the three parties’ voters to support the alliance?

The Unite to Remain alliance aims to maximise the chances of the UK’s smaller parties – the Liberal Democrats, Greens, and Plaid Cymru – having significant representation in the next parliament. Paula Surridge looks at how much supporters of each of the three parties ‘like’ the other two, and so how likely they are to support the alliance. She warns that, despite the polarisation of politics around Brexit, not all voters see remain parties as interchangeable.

There had already been much discussion of tactical voting, particularly among remain supporters, before the 2019 general election campaign got underway. But the announcement of a formal electoral alliance, Unite to Remain, between the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Plaid Cymru has put this on a different footing.

Unite to Remain covers 60 seats in England and Wales where one of the three parties will be given a ‘clear run’ at the seat by the other two. The list of seats includes many the parties are already defending as well as key targets in this election. Although many of these were likely to have been won by the alliance parties anyway, the strategy looks sensible, especially knowing that the combined share of the Liberal Democrats and Greens in the EU parliament election topped that of the Brexit party. While a general election is a different prospect, there are at least some places on the list where the parties could combine to win a seat they would otherwise not.

But will it work on polling day? It is all very well for analysts to simply move all the votes from one column to another on the spreadsheet, but voters might not behave quite so predictably. We can look at how the supporters of each party view the other party to look at some possibilities.

A starting point is the very name of the pact ‘Unite to Remain’, which implies that each of the parties involved expect their voters’ main priority to be that they want to remain in the European Union. Data from the British Election Study suggests that while a large majority within each of the parties 2017 vote did vote remain, an explicit focus on this could lose them some of their 2017 voters who supported leave. This is least likely to hurt the Liberal Democrats whose 2017 support was overwhelmingly made up of remain voters; but for Plaid Cymru and the Greens, more than one in five of their voters voted leave in 2016. Our first step then should probably be to only move about 80% of the Green and Plaid Cymru support to the other columns in our spreadsheets.

While our politics seems to have become more tribal around the Brexit divide, party loyalties have not entirely disappeared. This can be a double-edged sword when thinking about electoral pacts: party loyalty may lead voters to stay home when their preferred party isn’t standing, but it is also possible that it may lead voters to be more responsive to the cues from their leaders to switch teams. One way to see what might happen here is to look at how voters feel about the other parties. The latest wave of the British Election Study Internet Panel was collected just after the European Parliament elections in May 2019. There have, of course, been important political changes since, not least in the leadership of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Nonetheless, there are questions that were asked that are helpful to us now. Voters for all parties were asked how much they ‘like’ other parties on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being dislike. To measure both like and dislike of the other parties, this has been divided into three parts: those giving their liking of the other party between 0 and 4 are considered to ‘dislike’ it; between 5-7 as being ‘warm’ towards it; and 8-10 as ‘liking’ the other party. These data should capture an element of how likely voters are to follow party cues. Where a party is disliked, it is unlikely even a formal party pact will move a voter to switch to that party.

The figures below are limited to those who voted to remain in the EU referendum as it is not likely that those who voted to leave will be motivated to follow the party as part of an alliance for remain. By far the largest group of voters in the alliance are those who are intending to vote Liberal Democrat – the data were collected at a high point in support for the party but this should still give a good representation of those who may be influenced by the alliance.

Those intending to vote Liberal Democrat are quite warm towards both the Greens and Plaid Cymru. Only 16% of these voters dislike the Green party, a good start for the remain alliance. It is also worth noting that over half of these voters have negative feelings towards the Labour party; despite all the talk of the need for Labour to be part of this alliance, it could be much less successful in carrying voters between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The willingness of the Liberal Democrat voters to switch to the Greens could be critical in Bristol West where both parties have had strong support in recent elections.

The second largest group in the alliance are the Green party voters. This group are a little less warm to their larger alliance partner, with one in three Green voters having a negative view of the Liberal Democrats. This suggests that on top of the one in five who were not remain-leaning, there are a further quarter of Green voters who dislike the Liberal Democrats. So, there may be more muted enthusiasm among the Green party voters where their choice is the Liberal Democrat candidate (though where the choice is Plaid Cymru the pact looks stronger). There are relatively few seats where exactly how much of the Green party vote moves to the Liberal Democrats could be the deciding factor, but it may prove decisive in some seats where the Liberal Democrats are challenging the Conservatives.

The sample size for Wales is small and so the figures for Plaid Cymru must be treated with a little more caution. While Liberal Democrat voters in Wales are very warm to Plaid Cymru, this is a little more muted among the Greens. When looking at Plaid voters though, the opposite is the case: around a third dislike the Liberal Democrats while a similar proportion like the Greens.

The Unite to Remain alliance has been born from a need to make the first past the post electoral system work for smaller parties and to maximise the chances of voters for these parties having significant representation in the next parliament. However, the analysis above highlights that despite the polarisation of politics around the leave and remain camps, there are distinct party loyalties among these and not all voters see remain parties as interchangeable. This will be important for trying to assess the impact at the constituency level where the obvious analytical choice of adding up the votes for all the parties in the pact and allocating them to the party standing there is likely to overestimate the chances of winning the seat.


About this Author

Paula Surridge is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.

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).

What should be in the election manifestos on health and social care?

The 2019 election will be held at a time when the NHS and social care are typically under strain. David Rowland outlines a number of key policies that the manifestos should include if the various crises in the sector are to be addressed by the next government.

Unless the UK dodges the virulent strain of flu which hit Australia earlier this year, the upcoming election is likely to take place against a backdrop of TV footage of over-stretched NHS hospitals and the possibility that a deal to save hundreds of care homes for older people from closure could fall through. So, how should the party manifestos respond to the various crises in health and social care?

A commitment to a substantial increase in funds for the NHS

As was the case in the 2015 and 2017 elections, all the major parties will be under significant pressure to commit to a significant increase in funding for both the NHS and social care. To date, there is no clear consensus on the amount of additional funding which is needed to enable the NHS to deliver high quality universal care. The injection of an additional £20.5 billion into the NHS by 2023/24 is regarded by many as a sticking plaster to cover a wound to the service caused by eight years of austerity.

To equip the NHS to deal with an ageing population, to upgrade its crumbling facilities, and to enable it to meet public health challenges such as obesity will require much more on top of this additional £20.5 billion; the parties will need to be honest with the voters about how much more is needed and how it is going to be paid for.

A workforce strategy which is linked to a wider labour force strategy

Merely providing more money to the NHS is not sufficient. Any party which is serious about addressing existing problems must also commit to producing a workforce plan which is designed to meet the huge numbers of unfilled vacancies in the NHS and social care, especially after Brexit when recruiting workers from Europe will be more difficult.

Any workforce strategy for the NHS and social care must, however, not be separate from a wider labour force strategy – as has traditionally been the case – but should instead form part of a radical plan to prepare the UK’s workforce to meet the challenges of an ageing population, de-carbonisation, and automation. Care work is high-value, low-carbon work, but caring is also an activity which robots or computers will struggle to undertake. As a result, workforce planning for the NHS and social care should form part of a strategy to re-equip the economy and the labour force to meet the UK’s 2030 target on reducing carbon emissions and the replacement of traditional work with artificial intelligence.

Providing additional finances for social care to address the quality deficit

Calculating how much is required to address the crisis in social care is more problematic as this is a crisis of quality, access, and entitlement. As things stand, funding for social care has declined by 13% between 2009/10 and 2015/16. Currently, one in five care homes in England are rated as inadequate or requiring improvement, whilst the workforce which delivers social care is often paid below the minimum wage and the turnover rate is on average 30%. In addition, the market which delivers adult social care – primarily care home and home care services – is so fragile that the government’s impact assessment on a no-deal Brexit estimated that it could fall over if hit with a small increase in inflation or a nasty strain of flu.

Tackling the inequities in terms of access to state funded social care

But it is the entitlement to state-funded social care which is the most pressing political issue. Over the past decade, those eligible for state-funded care have diminished in number considerably – to the point where over half of the £15 billion in income which goes into the private care home industry is now from private payers rather than local authorities.

Even if the care needs of an older person are deemed by local authorities to be sufficiently serious, they still are unable to access free care if they have assets or income over £23,250. As a result of house price inflation, more and more people are now required to pay for social care out of their own resources – a major inequity which all parties will need to address once and for all.

In the absence of the government’s promised Adult Social Care Green paper, a growing political consensus has emerged which recognises that the only way of addressing the inequities inherent within the current social care funding model is to make elements of this free to those deemed to be in need, irrespective of their income and wealth. In July 2019, the House of Lords Economic Affairs committee recommended that personal care should be free to all and funded from taxation – an endorsement of the conclusions of the 1999 Royal Commission on Long Term Care. Any party which does not include a commitment to a similar scheme may suffer at the polls.

Whether the funding for this new scheme comes from income tax – which places an additional burden on working younger people – or from a tax on inheritance or wealth – which is likely to be dubbed unhelpfully by the media as a Death Tax – is a question which all the major parties will inevitably face but which can no longer be dodged. Taxing inheritance to pay for free personal care is likely to be less regressive and will also help to address the wider inequalities which result from the nation’s accumulated housing wealth cascading down the generations.

Major structural reform of the social care market

But again, simply pumping more money into social care will not solve all the problems unless it is accompanied by structural reform. As our new research shows, hundreds of millions of pounds which flow into the care home sector each year leaks out to offshore investors in the form of debt repayments and rental fees. Unless these leaks are plugged before any additional taxpayer money is poured in there can be no guarantee that it will reach the frontline.

Plugging these leaks will require a new law to make care home companies fully transparent in how they use the income they receive and it should be accompanied by the introduction of new regulatory requirements to ensure that any company which is licensed to provide social care is tax registered in the UK and satisfies certain tests regarding their financial sustainability.

A capital investment strategy for all aspects of healthcare backed by public capital

The parties should also commit to a ten-year capital investment strategy but this will need to go beyond patching up run down NHS hospitals; it must also incorporate the provision of social care and mental health facilities.

For far too long, care homes and mental healthcare facilities have been excluded from our common understanding of public infrastructure. Instead, successive governments have relied on private financiers and the market to provide care facilities which provide investors with a return. Yet these also often fail to meet the needs of those who use them, producing bigger and bigger facilities at the expense of care quality. Breaking away from the use of private finance to build infrastructure – a policy which locks in high costs for decades to come – doesn’t just mean ditching the use of the Private Finance Initiative in the NHS: it also means making low-cost public capital available to invest in care homes and mental health facilities.

And these new facilities should be planned as part of the overall health infrastructure for the UK and not just seen as an adjunct to NHS hospitals as is currently the case. The use of public capital to build new care facilities should also be used to require developments which are green in terms of their impact on the environment, but also through using nature and wildlife in their architecture to promote health and wellbeing for the people who use the services and the professionals who work there.

A democratically accountable administrative structure

Because the last two parliaments have shied away from a re-organisation of the NHS infrastructure after the debacle of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, it is now the case that the law which governs the constitutional arrangements for the NHS is now so obsolete that many of the administrative units which are responsible for delivering healthcare in England lack a firm basis in law.

The market-based experiment encapsulated in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act may have been officially abandoned, but a substantial proportion of health care in England is still delivered through a myriad of thousands of independent contractors who are paid £29 billion each year by hundreds of public authorities, few of whom have the capacity to hold the contractors to account for their use of public money. Ending the wasteful contracting culture across the NHS by substantially reducing the number of providers and commissioners of services would put the NHS in a better position to co-ordinate health and social care provision in a much more efficient way.

Any new administrative architecture must also abolish the division between health and social care so that the care needs of individuals are addressed holistically rather than according to an abstract bureaucratic category.

In addition, the provision of healthcare by public bodies must be democratically accountable so that it is clear to all citizens who decides what healthcare they are entitled to; there must also be clear opportunities for citizens to shape the provision of services in their local areas.

The re-emergence of population-based planning for healthcare is to be welcomed but planning decisions should be undertaken by accountable public officials and not by unaccountable private companies.

Reaffirming the values of the NHS as a service based on need rather than entitlement

One of the more pernicious aspects of the Brexit debate has been the attempt by some to recast the NHS as an institution which is there to serve only a part of the population living in the UK – a ‘British NHS for British people’.  This has led to a wasteful and iniquitous regime of charging which has, without doubt, led to many people being denied access to life-saving healthcare whilst burdening NHS trusts with the responsibility of checking the entitlement of patients. The fact that the government has recently spent £1 million on a programme to help educate NHS trusts to prevent them from charging the wrong patients shows that the relevant regulations are a high-cost way of restricting access to healthcare – a fundamental human right – and need to be scrapped.

About the Author

David Rowland is the Director of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest. Prior to this he worked within healthcare professional regulation in the UK as the Head of Policy at three national regulators.


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).


The 2019 general election should be about ideas, not polls

The UK is facing one of the most important elections in decades, and one in which there are clear programmatic differences between the main political parties, writes Lea Ypi. The focus of the public debate should be on the difference between these ideas, rather than polling outcomes week in week out.

If I were to give unsolicited advice to media pundits preparing to comment on the upcoming general election it would be the following: let’s try not to embarrass ourselves again this time. The one lesson to learn about making predictions in the current political environment is that such predictions are about as reliable as turning to the horoscope.

Consider how badly some of the predictions made during the 2017 general election have failed. An initial 20-point poll lead of the Tories over Labour led the vast majority of commentators to warn that, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour was at risk of being wiped out. Yet far from that being the case, Labour’s proportion of the vote grew by almost 10 per cent, the biggest swing since Clement Attlee in 1945. Can we avoid making the same mistakes this time?

To ask commentators to stop making predictions, discuss opinion polls, draw inferences from leaders’ average ratings, and compare voter turnout would be like asking doctors to stop diagnosing their patients. It would be to deprive political “science” of its scientific status, and political debate of its claim to rigorous academic standards.

The turn to opinion poll analyses and leader’s satisfaction ratings in political discourse has its roots in a number of approaches that have sought to make politics amenable to accurate prediction. Inductivist approaches based on looking for regularities in survey data are one form. Deductivist approaches that seek to model political behaviour on axioms derived from economic theory and assumptions of fixed preferences are another. Remove data sets, regression analyses and average voter preferences from the study of politics, and you will have suddenly killed not just a few doctoral projects but an entire discipline.

The theory of the median voter, an imaginary character that is neither left nor right, neither obsessed with politics nor indifferent to it, is at the heart of the mainstream study of politics. Pioneered by the political scientist Anthony Downs in his ground-breaking 1957 book, An Economic Theory of Democracy, his method is announced in the title. The underlying assumption is that the political forum is like the marketplace, that citizens are like consumers, and that public opinion is the aggregate of private preferences. Just as there is demand and supply in the market, there is a demand-side of politics, embodied in voters’ preferences, and a supply-side that the main parties seek to capture and translate in public policies.

According to the economic view of politics, the latter is like shopping. Choosing between more or less public healthcare or between minimal and more extensive taxation is equivalent to choosing between vanilla and chocolate ice-cream. The overall expectation is that in the race to capture the median voter, parties will converge in the centre.

The focus on data analysis, electoral performance, opinion polls and voter preferences that dominates the contemporary study of politics has its roots in an effort to analyse economics and politics as neutral scientific objects. Questions of value are often sidestepped to focus on measurement. This attitude trickles down from academia to political institutions, from think tanks to polling agencies, from media analysts to PR firms. Yet just as the economic reality of the 2008 financial crisis challenged the neoliberal economic orthodoxy, political reality is challenging the orthodoxies of political science. Far from being only mildly interested in politics, citizens are deeply passionate about it. Far from disappearing, partisanship has become more relevant than ever. Far from converging in the middle, mass parties have become more ideologically aligned. In the UK Labour has swung to the Left, Tories have swung to the Right, and Liberals are trying to capture a vanishing centre.

The time has come to think about politics not as a science, but as an art: the art of governing. Politics, as the former German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck famously said, is “the art of the possible”. The dominant trends in political analysis discourage that approach: they insist on the regularities of past individual behaviour rather than the possibilities of future collective action. Changing course requires thinking about democracy not as the aggregation of fixed preferences, but as the process through which citizens develop their views in communication with each other. This means thinking of parties and movements not as trolleys of shopping items but as nurseries of political commitment.

Focusing on the median voter tells us very little about what shapes citizens political views. Average percentages of voting intentions week in week out tell us very little about how citizens exercise their political judgement. If we only focus on individual preferences, we end up taking the status quo for granted and undermining a future-oriented and value-laden idea of political change.

The upcoming general election is one of the most important in decades. It happens to be also one of those rare occurrences in liberal democracy where there are clear programmatic differences between the main political parties. Is it too much to ask that we focus on the difference between ideas, rather than the fluctuation in numbers?

Note: A version of the above was first published in the New Statesman.

About the Author

Lea Ypi (@lea_ypi) is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of The Meaning of Partisanship.

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: Pixabay.
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