Posts Tagged

United Kingdom

The polls in Scotland just before the last election showed a 21-point lead for SNP over Labour. The SNP went on to take all but one of Labour’s 41 Scottish seats. This week Theresa May called a general election in the wake of polls showing her Conservative party 21 points ahead of Labour. Could Labour now be headed for a Britain wide meltdown of the kind that they suffered in Scotland two years ago? Intriguingly, the distribution of the 2015 Labour share of the vote across the seats they are defending now is very similar to the distribution of their 2010 share of the vote in the Scottish seats that they were defending in 2015. In both sets the vast …

When Prime Minister Theresa May announced her intention to call a snap election on June 8, she took a political gamble. Two polls over the Easter weekend put the Conservatives 21 points ahead of Labour. Mrs May will be hoping to translate this polling lead into a crushing electoral victory and a personal mandate that will free her from the constraints of working with her current slim majority of just 17. If she succeeds, she would be empowered politically to deal with factions within her own Conservative Party and the opposition. But how are voters likely to respond to this surprise move by the government? Party leaders are currently trying to frame the electorate’s views of it. Mrs May is …

The British parliamentary system, inspired by John Locke, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill and many others who believed in a system of checks and balances to guarantee our liberties, has in the past been much admired as a model of liberal democracy, one that has enabled the peaceful evolution that has been an almost unique part of our history. Today it has been superseded. The doctrine of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that the will of the people must always prevail, much admired by autocrats ever since the days of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, now prevails in Westminster instead. Speaker after speaker in the House of Commons debates on Article 50 declared that, although he or she voted Remain and …

“National Interest” has entered the lexicon as a phrase that implies a realist approach to International Relations. It carries an assumption that is it possible to define the national as a melding and cohering of all interests, including business, sectoral, regional, and religious, within a country. When politicians use the phrase National Interest they seek to convey a message about the importance of what they are saying. It is a term deployed to allude to grand ideas and strategies and to conjure up an image of national power, rather than to illuminate what is actually going on in the foreign policy process, or routine political activity. The phrase can and has been applied to the military, political and economic spheres—the …

Iain and I both spent a great deal of time researching on and writing about Britain’s Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 (McLean 2001; Schonhardt-Bailey 2006). The first question that comes to mind when one reflects on this fact is, why? More specifically, why would any modern political scientist find this specific episode in British history to be worthy of extensive academic study? As I write this, let me note that one of the lead articles in this week’s Economist draws upon the lessons of Repeal to explore the current challenges to free trade in America’s 2016 presidential campaign, namely that freer trade creates both winners and losers.[1] Of course, The Economist prides itself as originating in 1843, as …

A long time ago I was a Labour councillor who inadvertently brought down the 1974-9 Labour government. The government could only have lasted a few weeks longer in any case, so I have no regrets. The story deserves retelling, because it has important lessons for today. The Labour government elected in 1974 was the first to realise that it faced an existential threat in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) won 30 per cent of the vote, but only 15 per cent of the seats, in Scotland in October 1974. The Labour Party’s leaders had forgotten Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald, who both started in politics as campaigners for Scottish home rule. After 1945, Labour became the party of the welfare state, …

Technology and the public sector have rarely been happy bedfellows in the UK, where every government technology project seems doomed to arrive late, unperform and come in over budget. The Government Digital Service (GDS) was created to drag the civil service into the 21st century, making services “digital by default”, cheaper, faster, and easier to use. It quickly won accolades for its approach and early cost savings. But then its leadership departed, not once or twice but three times – the latter two within the last few months. The largest government departments have begun to reassert their authority over GDS expert advice, and digital government looks likely to be dragged back towards the deeply dysfunctional old ways of doing things. GDS isn’t perfect, but to erase the progress it …

Cross-posted from the Princeton University Press blog. The authors of Political Turbulence discuss how the explosive rise, non-normal distribution and lack of organization that characterizes contemporary politics as a chaotic system, can explain why many political mobilizations of our times seem to come from nowhere. On 23rd June 2016, a majority of the British public voted in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. The Leave or so-called #Brexit option was victorious, with a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent across the country, although Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and some towns voted to remain. The result was a shock to both leave and remain supporters alike. US readers might note that when the polls closed, the odds on futures markets of Brexit (15 per cent) …