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
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
The pension reforms announced at the Budget have jolted Westminster from its pre-election ennui. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are cock-a-hoop. But “It has been a disorienting few days for the opposition”, as Rafael Behr writes.
This is what can happen when a new policy is as uncompromisingly ideological as the change to annuities. Most of the objectives for government policy are not inherently divisive; parties tend to disagree over means rather than ends. In this case, however, the chancellor succeeded in making whether one supports or opposes the idea of voluntary annuities a case study in moral discombobulation. Read more
Ed Miliband’s announcement on the EU in the Financial Times today is partly a recognition of this:
But it is also made with a keen awareness of this:
The Labour leader is trying to stem the bleeding of support from his party to those on the right. Europe might not be a salient issue but in today’s populist climate, it is a symbolic one. Read more
“Equality of What?” asked Amartya Sen in 1979. The question pithily captures the defining debate of the political left. On Monday evening, in his Hugo Young speech, Ed Miliband gave an answer to Sen’s question: (nearly) everything. Read more
David Cameron announced the figures in the Sun, which shows a picture of him next to a snap of Margaret Thatcher promoting her Right to Buy scheme. It should not take too long to figure out the prime minister’s preferred interpretation of the first figures relating to the mortgage guarantee scheme: the only bubble Help to Buy is inflating is one of happiness in the hearts of ordinary people. Read more
In 1894, Mark Oldroyd, a Liberal MP with a fondness for mill girls and justice, published a pamphlet about the living wage. The textiles factory owner from Dewsbury, Yorkshire wrote that: “A living wage must be sufficient to maintain the worker in the highest state of industrial efficiency, with decent surroundings and sufficient leisure”. It was the first formal call for a wage which met the basic needs of a worker and his family. Notably, it was also a deliberate effort to preserve the value and moral worth of work itself. Read more
There is no obvious middle ground between building all of HS2 and not building all of HS2. The estimated benefits are higher over time and the further it goes towards Manchester and Leeds. And if the money is not spent on HS2 a large share of it will still have to go on increasing capacity. So far at least the opposition has accepted the argument that HS2 is the best way to do that. Read more
A sequel to the earlier post about the battle between the Daily Mail and Ed Miliband. This morning, the Labour leader wrote to the paper’s proprietor to request an investigation into why a reporter from the Mail on Sunday attended a family memorial uninvited. The story is clearly not over. So I thought it worth sharing some research into an aspect of the saga – the relationship between the political beliefs of parents and children. Read more
The newspaper says it wants to discuss “the views of his father and their influence on Britain’s would-be Prime Minister.” No man can hear the “distant footsteps” of another’s father, as the poet Cesar Vallejo wrote. But the Mail is wrong. Its implication is that a Miliband premiership would be an exercise in proving his father right. However, if we must personalise it, his government would be better cast as an effort to prove Tony Blair wrong. Read more
Ed Miliband is not the only political leader to recognise the importance of rising energy bills. But in promising a price freeze he now “owns” the issue. The move tells us a lot about the Labour leader – including how he would govern if he became prime minister. Read more