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Decision 2015

The United Kingdom general election is less than a month away, and it is proving to be on a knife’s edge. Only a few percentage points separate the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, and for now no party seems to have a decisive advantage in the polls. Meanwhile, smaller parties such as the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Scottish National Party (SNP) could hold the balance of power in a hung parliament after May 2015. What are the predicted outcomes of the upcoming election, and how can we accurately forecast the vote? What would a coalition government look like? How will Britain’s relationship with the European Union develop after May 2015? What is …

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.

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.

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.

English devolution has emerged as a prominent feature of the 2015 general election campaign for a number of reasons. One is the ongoing process of devolution that has been taking place across the UK, with the formation of the assemblies for Northern Ireland and Wales, and the Scottish parliament. Another is the aftershock of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Throughout this time, England has also solidified as a distinct national political community. Research indicates that over the past decade or so we have witnessed the progressive “Anglicisation” of the Westminster-based unionist parties. This means that Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats have all become more focused on England, in their political outlook. But up until now, these parties have sought to avoid the complications and risks of large-scale internal organisational reform in England. They have lacked the appropriate party structures, leadership or explicit policy agendas to properly engage with the complex set of “English Questions”, which have emerged in a post-devolution UK.

If we are in a constitutional moment, it is time that ‘We the people’ have a right to settle what happens. A Constitutional Convention (CC) is one way to give the people this leading role. A CC is unlikely to refound the British state if it is set up to function as, in effect, an advisory council to the UK Parliament on a relatively narrow range of issues. The UK is in what the lawyer and political philosopher Bruce Ackerman would call a ‘constitutional moment’. There are, obviously, deep and urgent questions about the future of the Union and ‘devolution’. There are related questions about the second chamber of Parliament and the election itself is likely to raise again questions over the voting system. …

One of the central problems with studying the politics of constitutional change in the UK is that the public does not care about the constitution. Unsurprisingly, constitutional reform does not figure prominently in the party manifestos for the May general election. That does not mean that these documents tell us nothing at all: they show that parties stick with their old policies; that the Conservatives seem to avoid any explicit reference to the constitution; and that all political parties appear to be willing to use the constitution to their own advantage. In this blog post, I distil some of the constitutional issues in the party manifestos of the three largest parties in Westminster in the last parliament: the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats (if there’s time, I will do another post on the smaller parties’ proposals). I define ‘constitutional’ issues as distinct from ‘distributional’ ones, which involve reallocation of resources (and the regulation of behaviour). Constitutional issues are about how decisions are made, not about the outcomes themselves, and should be neutral between, say, more or less progressive (or conservative) substantive policies.