If opinion polls prove accurate, on Thursday the UK Independence party will win its second-ever by-election – and its second in two months. Victory in Rochester and Strood – whose demographics are less amenable to a Ukip win than Clacton, which the party won in October – would be its latest hefty thwack to Britain’s mainstream political parties. It would lead Labour and Conservative members of parliament to call for their parties to change position on immigration, based on the assumption that Ukip’s policies are behind its success in the polls.

This is a superficial reading of why Ukip and other populist parties are gaining support across Europe. Contrary to what they or Jeremy Clarkson may say, party leaders have been talking a lot about immigration. They have changed their policies. And yet Ukip marches on. Something more profound is happening in politics in the UK. For a deep and prophetic analysis of what is going on, turn to Peter Mair, an Irish political scientist who died in 2011. Ruling The Void, his last and latest book, is a terse and cogent explanation of “the hollowing of western democracy”. Read more

The question raised by Labour’s intervention – and the various Conservative announcements, past, present and future – is ‘where does this end?’ Curbing migrants’ access to condiments, the Paddington Bear movie, Cafe Nero loyalty cards? Contrary to what politicians seem to think, there is no reluctance among Britons to talk about immigration – quite the opposite. The Labour and Conservative parties have talked a lot about migration. They’ve incrementally become tougher on EU migrants’ access to benefits. And has it curbed the rise of Ukip? It doesn’t seem so.  Read more

And doesn’t he have lovely moustache:

The image is produced by YouGov, a polling and market research company. Using its database of opinion surveys, it has built a nifty new marketing tool that shows the quintessential characteristics of the people who like a certain brand. This brand could be a newspaper, a supermarket, a music group – or even a political party Read more

Welfare, migration and Britain’s membership of the EU – three areas of policy that are unlikely to prompt cool thinking. Throw them together, as in the question of which benefits EU migrants should be entitled to, and you have a recipe for opacity.

On Tuesday, a European Court of Justice ruling cleared a few things up. It could – could – make for more comprehensible policy in an area that has been full of confusion, empty rhetoric, and public anger. It will also encourage the prime minister to think he can go further in restricting access to some benefits for some EU nationals, a move he is reportedly considering. This is not because the ruling changed EU law but because it clarified the law, implying that, broadly, the approach successive UK governments have taken is legal.

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Digital technology is changing the labour market, from the supermarket check-out to the trading floor. A lot has been written how automation will mean robots doing jobs otherwise done by humans, and how artificial intelligence means that professions are no longer immune from the change brought by machines. Many of these predictions cite research by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford university suggesting that 47 per cent of jobs in the US are at “high risk” of replacement in the next 20 years.

In a report published on Monday, Frey and Osborne apply their model – discussed in more detail in this post – to London. The chart below summarises their results, depicting the distribution of jobs in the city that are at low, medium and high risk of replacement in the next 20 years. Thirty per cent of jobs are classed as “high risk” – many of them in sales jobs or in office and administrative support work.

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“Social mobility” is a leitmotif in British politics. Successive governments have launched strategies to improve “equality of opportunity”. Alan Milburn, a Labour MP, publishes an annual report listing “indicators” of its progress. There is common agreement that social mobility has stalled: that the UK is in an uniquely immobile spot. The truth is far more nuanced but it is nevertheless a depressing picture.

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This week the UK government began sending letters to income taxpayers that suggest how the state spends its citizens’ money. For example, someone paying £10,000 in direct taxes will be told that they are “contributing” £1,900 to public spending on health, which accounts for 19 per cent of state expenditure; £100 to overseas aid, which makes up 1 per cent of spending, and so on (see picture). George Osborne says that by giving people bespoke descriptions of how their contributions equate to spending by various parts of the state, he is increasing transparency.

On the contrary, the chancellor is being opaque. What is pitched as an exercise in numerical transparency is also a lesson in how language confuses public policy.


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A politician wants to vote for the decriminalisation of marijuana. But she knows that opinion polls suggest that her electorate is against easing access to weed. Although she cares about the issue, she also cares about being re-elected. What should she do?

Should she: 1) Heed the pollsters and vote against decriminalisation; 2) Appeal to her electorate, citing evidence and appealing to their values; or 3) Just vote for it, since her electorate will support her anyway?

I think most political advisers would suggest the first or the second option. But a fascinating new experiment by David E. Broockman and Daniel M. Butler suggests politicians have broad latitude to shape public opinion without any electoral cost. The third option – vote for decriminalisation – may be more viable than it appears. The research implies that politicians could worry less about what the public thinks. Read more

In his conference speech, David Cameron said a Conservative government released from coalition would make two changes to income tax by 2020. He presented the first – a rise in the amount of money people earn before they pay income tax to £12,500 – as a tax cut for minimum wage workers. He presented the second – a rise in the level at which workers start paying the 40p rate of income tax to £50,000 – as a tax cut for the middle class. Neither change is quite what Mr Cameron says it is.

The chart below suggests how much people making various incomes stand to benefit from the changes. (Source: Ben Richards.) Treat it as illustrative: the exact numbers will depend, among other things, on when the cuts are introduced. But it shows how the bulk of the benefits would be skewed towards those in the top quarter of earners.

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‘We love our city and belong to it. Neither of us are English; we’re Londoners, you see,” wrote Hanif Kureishi in his screenplay for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. The film touches on a theme that has become even more powerful since its 1987 release – the idea that to be a Londoner is to transcend nationhood and, in particular, Englishness. Economically and financially, London has diverged from the rest of the country. Culturally and politically, there are signs that its 7.8m inhabitants are doing the same.
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The Parisian arriving in London by train alights at a resplendent station. St Pancras, and the adjacent King’s Cross, make Gare du Nord look like a provincial hub. The surrounding area, once a ramshackle collection of properties, is gleaming with new hotels, offices and prime accommodation. It is a clear sign of how London’s economic geography has changed in the 21st century. The inner city has developed rapidly. Poverty is moving to the outskirts of the capital. As its core grows faster than its periphery, London is becoming more like Paris. Read more

Pollsters would have been confounded by a Yes, instead they were mildly surprised by differential turnout.

The “shy Nos “were not so shy. The “missing million” went missing. Read more

On Thursday, Scots will vote on whether Scotland should be an independent state. Such a referendum seemed unlikely 10 years ago. A Yes vote would have seemed even more surprising. This is an attempt to explain why the vote is happening – and why it is happening now – for interested and befuddled people from all over the world. In other words, it is a history of 1,000 years of Scottish nationalism. Read more

The defining characteristic of recent polling on the independence referendum has been convergence, not volatility. Six new polls were released over the weekend. They affirm patterns evident since August: a narrow (and narrowing) No lead based on voting patterns among different genders, ages and social classes. If Yes were to win on Thursday it would be cause for serious reflection for all of the pollsters.

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After the shock of its poll last week showing the Yes side ahead in the Scottish independence referendum, YouGov’s latest is a return to relative calm. Based on an online survey carried out between Tuesday and Thursday of this week, the pollster puts the Yes side on 48 per cent and No on 52 per cent, excluding undecideds.


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If the poll released by Survation on Wednesday evening were the only poll about the independence referendum published in the past two weeks there would be no panic. No all-party devolution plans. No saltire on Downing Street. No last minute visits.

Before this poll, the three previous surveys (two from YouGov and one from TNS) had each undermined the established story about the vote on September 18. They suggested that Yes was gaining support, including among women and young people, leaving the No side relying on Scots in their dotage to carry them to the finish line.

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In 2003, Carol Craig published The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence, a book that led to a lot of debate in Scotland. A mix of overgeneralisation and insight, it argued that Scots were mentally ill-equipped for the 21st century. Craig wrote that this was not down to an inhibited Scottish identity but rather from too much Scottishness. An inheritance of Calvinism, socialism and patriotism had bestowed on Scots a narrow perspective on the world and their own potential to shape it. She also criticised an overly masculine culture soaked in whisky, football and that dandy Robert Burns.

As one might expect this provoked quite the reaction, which in many instances supported the points Craig was making. Either way, her aim was a good one: to try to encourage a more vibrant, entrepreneurial, pluralistic and open Scottish society. Read more

Now we know: the YouGov poll that on Saturday ended complacency about the outcome of the independence referendum was not an outlier. On Tuesday, TNS BMRB, another pollster, published results from its final survey. These show No on 39 per cent of possible voters, Yes on 38 per cent, with 23 per cent undecided.

Summarising the results, Tom Costley, TNS Group Director, told me it’s “almost all good news for the Yes campaign” and the race is “neck and neck; too close to call”. His poll is further evidence that the momentum has swung towards the Yes side.

The charts below show the running TNS tallies, first for all likely voters, and second for voters who say they are certain to vote in the referendum. When it comes to certain voters, the two sides are both on 41 per cent. (TNS likes the certain voter measure. Mr Costley says it is very highly correlated with actual turnout.)


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On September 18, Scotland will vote to leave the UK. That is the conclusion being drawn from the latest YouGov poll on the independence referendum. Published Saturday, it has Yes on 51 per cent and No on 49 per cent, once don’t know votes are excluded. The sides are within the margin of error but the momentum is with Yes.

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“It is not about nationalism, it is about socialism.” That is the argument for Scottish independence made not only by many Scots but also by some on the English left. In Scotland, the Jimmy Reid foundation, Common Weal, the Scottish Socialist party, the Scottish Greens and some of the SNP have called for “radical independence”. This idea has attracted left-wing supporters from south of the border: Billy Bragg, John Harris, George Monbiot, Tariq Ali and other writers often found in the Guardian. They hope that Scottish independence will serve as a catalyst for England’s left. A No vote, Monbiot argues, would be an act of “self-harm” and “system justification”.

Although the formal Yes campaign has not gone as far as some of the fringe groups, its underlying argument in the final months of the campaign has been that Scotland is politically and morally different from the rest of the UK – it is crying out to be a social democracy, while the Conservative-led government in London drifts to the right. Read more