Posts In Category

Democracy and Elections

In the first of a series of interviews by Phil England examining the situation in Iceland and the possible relevance of developments there to the UK, Phil talks to Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jonsdottir. Birgitta Jonsdottir is a co-founder of the Icelandic Pirate Party and one of three Pirate Party MPs in the Icelandic government. Since March the Pirates have been polling as the most popular party in Iceland. Their core policies focus on direct democracy, civil rights and access to information. A former Wikileaks volunteer, Jonsdottir describes herself as an anarchist and a poetician. She is also founder and Chair of the International Modern Media Inititative (IMMI) which aims to strengthen democracy through transparency of information. Could the right to information clauses …
British Prime Minister David Cameron at the European Council meeting of 6th March 2014. Photo credit: The Prime Minister's Office.

The UK referendum on EU membership may be many months away but with David Cameron laying out his stall with other European leaders, we should be clear that we are embarked on the journey and already some way down the track. It is easy to think of referendums as one-shot deals but in reality they are not. Rather, referendums are long-term games and in this case the game was started in 2013. And it’s easy to think of this as a European process, but whatever grand meals may be consumed in other European capitals, this is very much a result of domestic British politics. The EU referendum is largely down to domestic drivers and the result will likely be shaped as much by the party politics between and within UK parties as by European factors.

The ‘sweetest victory’ of the Conservatives, as David Cameron put it on May 8th, and the sweeping landslide victory of the SNP, winning all but three of the Scottish seats, were indeed shocking wake-up calls for all those concerned about British politics. Labour’s unexpectedly disastrous loss of 26 seats led Ed Miliband to announce his immediate resignation as Labour leader. The Lib-Dems were wiped away, going from 57 to just eight seats, causing the resignation of Nick Clegg as party leader. The party was severely punished by voters who blamed it for betraying everything it had stood for in seeking power. Looking at these results, one could argue that the British voters decided at the very last moment to prevent the formation of another coalition government, assumingly returning to their traditional attitude of regarding coalitions as an exception. For the polling companies too, the election results proved a nightmare. In order to recover their privileged capacity to influence the media, voters, and parties, they are in the course of reexamining why their pre-election forecasts appeared to be inaccurate. Meanwhile, one shall have a thorough look at how many votes the grassroots parties such as the SNP, UKIP, and the Greens, gained in this election. Even though their positions in the political spectrum span from the left to the extreme right, the total number of votes won by these three parties amounted to nearly 6.5 million, against the Conservatives’ 11.3 million. Amongst them, UKIP failed to get more than one seat and is now in the midst of an internal turmoil. Despite that, Nigel Farage is generally praised for contributing to the party’s net gain from 9.6 to 12.6 per cent of the vote. In particular, UKIP has remained popular among those who are disillusioned with the aloofness of the political elite.

With the failure of traditional forecasting methods to accurately predict the outcomes of the UK General Election of May 2015, can social media based predictions do any better? In this article, Andrea Ceron, Luigi Curini, and Stafano M. Iacus (University of Milan and VOICES from the Blogs) find that supervised and aggregated sentiment analysis (SASA) applied in proportional electoral systems produces the most accurate forecasts of election results.

Politics has historically been dominated by men, and women have only relatively recently been elected to the UK Parliament in significant numbers. In order for women to be effectively represented in the political domain, they must also be adequately represented in the public discussion of political affairs that takes place in the news media. The ways women are depicted in news sends out important messages about their place and role in society and therefore, if women are absent or marginalised in political news, this reinforces their marginal status in the political process. Historically, women have struggled to achieve much visibility in electoral coverage, and by drawing upon data from the Loughborough Communication Research Centre’s real-time analysis of national broadcasting and press coverage, we can see that the 2015 election was no different.

Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy, opened the discussion on digital freedoms on an optimistic note by predicting that the UK will have a codified constitution in the next 25 years and can therefore become the first major democracy to harness the participatory potential of the web to found a new constitutional settlement. He laid out three pressing issues for democracy in the digital age: i) What does it mean to be a person? ii) How do we address the corporate power of tech companies? iii) How do we define what we have in common? There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to legal protections against state surveillance, suggested Carly Nyst of Privacy International. We have an …

We are in a curious and uncertain period for the British state, its antiquated constitution and ways of doing politics. A number of serious challenges are on the horizon and it is unclear how much longer the political framework of the Westminster system can remain intact. The traditional attitude of the British elite has been to ‘muddle through’, introducing reform in a piecemeal manner in response to popular demands for change, while doing its best to preserve the core features of a monarchical system based on executive dominance of a ‘sovereign’ parliament via royally acquired prerogatives and patronage. A huge gulf exists between the empowered governance made possible by digital technology and the antiquated reality of the Westminster system. In …

Coverage and analyses of the recent British general election of 7 May have focused predominantly on the surprise victory of the Conservatives, the poor showing of Labour, and the close to clean sweep of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The performance of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), meanwhile, was generally perceived to be disappointing for the party of Nigel Farage. Indeed, it has been argued that, despite the high expectations of the past years, UKIP fell well short of causing a ‘Purple Revolution’. At the end of 2014 the party were trending at around 20 per cent in several opinion polls with some excitable elements in the media claiming the party could win as many as 40 seats in the general election. Given this narrative was just six months before the election, their final result of just one seat compounded the apparent failure of Farage’s ‘People’s Army’ to mobilise.