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Political Science

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.

When president Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term, serious unrest exploded in the streets of Bujumbura. In the last three weeks, violent clashes with the police have triggered fears of a new civil war and destabilisation of the entire African Great Lakes region. So far, the international community has been unable to calm the situation and 100,000 Burundians have already fled the country. The Oxford Central Africa Forum hosted a round-table on the 15th of May to examine the causes of the current situation and discuss the prospects for peace and democracy in Burundi and the region. It gathered six researchers who have conducted fieldwork in Burundi. We present some of their analysis and findings here in a short series of three articles. In this first post, we explore the forces present on the ground.

Is there evidence that UKIP support is channelled by local concerns about the influx of immigrants? In fact, the UKIP vote is not actually driven by experience of change in local areas. Instead, the UKIP vote is correlated with the perception of levels of immigration. The renewed interested in the connection between immigration and electoral politics can be traced to the spectacular rise of UKIP. Even though the party secured just one seat in 2015 general election, its anti-immigration rhetoric resonated strongly among certain sections of Britain’s electorate – UKIP polled 13 per cent of the vote and came second in 120 out of 624 contested seats. Although the party originallyfocused around Conservative euroscepticism rather than immigration, relative to supporters of other parties UKIP sympathisers are much more likely to see immigration as the single most important issue facing the country (see figure 1). Aside from party rhetoric, exemplified by Nigel Farage asserting that parts of Britain were becoming like a ‘foreign land’, is there evidence that UKIP support is channelled by local concerns about the influx of immigrants?

Satisfaction with party leaders of the two main parties would have predicted the outcome of the last nine UK general elections, including the most recent. This measure is worth looking at in more detail as voting intention polls led many forecasters astray in 2015. Lord Ashcroft’s post-election poll (pdf here) showed the ‘three main reasons for voting’ for each political party in the 2015 UK general election. The biggest difference between parties was the number of people who voted on the basis that ‘the Party Leader would make the best Prime Minister.’ David Cameron, at 71%, far outstripped all his opponents, with Ed Miliband (the next most popular) coming in at 39%. On no other question did the Conservatives have such a large lead.

Studies of human behavior and psychology have received extensive attention in public policy. Economists, social theorists and philosophers have long analyzed the incentives of human actions, decision making, rationality, motivation, and other cognitive processes. More recently, the study of happiness furthered the debate in public policy, as many governments brought up the necessity for new measures of social progress. The discussion was bolstered when the UN passed a critical resolution in July 2011 inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people as a tool to help guide public policies. It was also hoped that discussions about happiness would serve to refine the wider debate about the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030 and the standards for measuring and understanding well-being. The World Happiness Report, a recent initiative, attempts to analyze and rate happiness as an indicator to track social progress. These recent initiatives serve as reminders that sound public policies must evolve in strong connection with an understanding of human psychology, emotions and the sources of happiness and satisfaction. Nevertheless, there are further invaluable insights from neuroscience that have remained less explored. Contemporary neuroscientific research and an understanding of the predispositions of our neurochemistry challenge classical thought on human nature and inform us of fundamental elements that must accompany good governance.

The British socialist and labour movements of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century chose to view Magna Carta as an important symbol to invoke in their own struggles against the current system and its abuses. The Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, recently announced that if Labour are returned in the upcoming general election every school will be required to teach the history of Magna Carta. He is keen to ensure that ‘every school child is taught the medieval past and modern power of this heroic charter’. Unsurprisingly, this declaration caused a variety of responses from those within his own party and those on the left more generally. For a number, Magna Carta should not be celebrated in this way, for …

Centralisation has certainly failed, but the promise of devolution to Greater Manchester is being massively hyped. Manchester is a great world city which has long divided observers.  In the mid-nineteenth century, what was for de Tocqueville a ‘foul drain’ and for Taine ‘Babel built of brick’ was for the Edinburgh Review, by contrast, ‘foremost in the march of improvement, a great incarnation of progress’.  Most recently, with ‘devo Manc’, the city of 1980s de-industrialisation and indie music has been transmuted into a symbol of post-industrial regeneration and devolved government. All this is being talked up as a matter of electioneering by the Treasury and Westminster politicians.  After all, the coalition government must be seen to have a policy on ‘rebalancing …

From the University of Cambridge comes ELECTION, a weekly politics podcast; asking the questions that no one else is in the run-up to the British General Election with the most interesting people inside and outside the political arena. Here below are the sixth and the seventh podcasts. #6 – Rae Langton on Charlie Hebdo, hate vs free speech & blasphemy What constitutes hate speech? Does the Press do more harm than good in our democracy? When should words become the government’s business? We put these questions to Professor Rae Langton – award-winning philosopher and the world’s ‘fourth most influential woman thinker’ – and discuss whether free speech can ever be reconciled with a need to suppress hateful voices. The team then discuss the fallout of Ed Miliband’s ‘second kitchen’, whether politicians can – or should – keep their families out of the media spotlight, and the lessons from the Israeli election result.