A lot of interpretation of the polls now is rather skewed by the 20% or so that is still going to others. For example, the Conservative share is still seen in the light of whether they need to be over 40%, and we gasp at Labour being down in the low 20s. Both these are a factor of the “others” being up at 20% or so, suddenly there is less support for the main three parties to share.

This makes rather a mess of our heuristics. Normally saying the Conservatives need to be 40+ is a pretty decent rule of thumb, because its very rare for Labour to drop below the high 20s, so 40+ is what the Tories need to have a lead large enough to win a majority. With a big chunk of support going to “others” and Labour pushed down into the low or mid 20s, suddenly it’s perfectly possible on paper for the Conservatives to get a stonking victory below 40%. In terms of national swing it’s the lead over Labour that counts: Conservatives 42%, Labour 38% has the Conservatives above 40%, but might well leave Labour the largest party. Conservatives 38%, Labour 22% has the Conservatives under 40%, but would translate into a towering landslide victory.

There is also a tendency to talk about what happens when the other vote recedes. The largest chunk of it tends to belong to UKIP, and the broad assumption is that those voters are more likely to move to the Conservatives rather than Labour (though it’s not a given – the assumption that UKIP voters would all otherwise vote Conservative is false). It does depend, anyway, on the assumption that the other vote will go down. It hasn’t so far.

On balance I expect it will, but not yet. The reason is on the graph below.

This shows the level of support for “others” in the polls in the last Parliament. The effect of the European election is obvious – a great big spike in support in mid 2004. Notably, it did not immediately disappear once the European elections had passed, it decayed very slowly, but steadily, over almost a year. Now, the present increase in support for others is, to some extent, almost certainly due to the same reason – the publicity and respectability given to smaller parties by the European elections. With that it mind, I wouldn’t expect it to vanish immediately either, as in 2004, I’d expect it to decline only slowly over several months.

The complicating factor here, of course, is the expenses scandal. Part of that increased support is probably nothing to do with the European election, and is instead down to the expenses scandal. I’d expect that to decay as well to some extent, since the exposes have finished and the news agenda inevitably rumbles onwards, looking for new stories, new issues, new focus. To what extent these people come back, however, is much more of an unknown quantity.

99 Responses to “About those “others””

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  1. Danboy – Italy has an entirely unique system – they returned to a proportional system, but they have added an artifical “winners bonus” system, so whichever coalition gets the most votes automatically gets topped up to 54% of the seats so it has an overall majority.

  2. Mike thanks for the latest post.

    I’ll still go with the classic definition of democracy ( the right to govern is vested in the citizens of a country or a state and exercised through a majority rule. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy )

    I think your point is that last time in 2005 was unusual re Labour having a majority of seats on 36%.In fact the over the last 5 general elections the % voting Labour or Tory has declined (especially marked when you compare to 1950s where only 5% of voters did not vote for them) and ‘Others and Abstentions have risen.

    My suggestions is that the rise of others in the last few elections is not a temporary protest but a medium term trend and that therefore the voting system needs to change to reflect that.

    When I say Germany is doing fine I mean over the medium and long term ,the current drop in GDP which is greater than ours is not connected with their voting system but rather the slow response of the ECB to the financial crisis.(Buts thats another subject for another blog)

    I understand your point about manifestos and Big Tent Gov versus Big Tent parties.In real life though the rest of us have to negotiate and compromise every day why shouldn’t politicians be the same.I can think of many occasions when parties elected under our current system have implemented policy that they did not put before the electorate or not implement parts of a manifesto …so thats just politics whichever system you have .

    However if as under FPTP you give one minority party control your getting a minority party policy programme imposed on the majority of the electorate and thats not democratic.

    Cheers for the thought provoking stuff anyway.


    I am not a fan of list based PR systems either its STV for me.After all we have multi member constituancies in Local Government already.This way you keep the constituency link and avoid the party machine.

    Your right about PR in Italy now I think ,but they did give it a try briefly .

    Pete B

    Agree re STV see above

  3. ICM/Populus/Comres and Ipsos Mori all show in the detailed data which party people say they voted for in 2005 . It is easy to analyse the data to see where the increased support for UKIP Green and BNP has come from . I have done this for the most recent polls for each pollster . There is some variation between the pollsters but the pattern is pretty clear .
    Even with UKIP the majority of the increased support did NOT come from the Conservatives , the figure was only 40% . If all or some of the increased support went back whence it came it would go back to the main parties in the proportion 30% Con 43% Lab 27% LibDem to give poll figures something like
    Con 39 Lab 28 LD 21

  4. @Mark Senior – many thanks for the data. I did ask some time ago if anyone had any evidence either way on this, and your post seems to fit the bill. Maybe it will put an end to the endless assumptions that all the Tories have to do is wait for the UKIP vote to subside and they will be back to 45%.
    The projected figures you end with are interesting – if Labour did recover by a couple of points or so on top of returning UKIP voters it would make the GE interesting.
    One error that is often made here is that people assume voters base their decisions on logic – hence the assumption that UKIP = Tory as their policies are (apparently) quite similar. A more realistic view is that many who voted UKIP are soft Labour supporters who feel let down by Brown but can’t stand Cameron. Some will be Tories, but certainly not all. Likewise the BNP support. The fact that such a big protest vote didn’t go to Cameron is not great news for the Tories.
    With the Tories somewhat bogged down on 36-38%, and global conditions putting us in completely uncharted territory, strange things could yet happen.

    An increasing number of respected economists are now saying that the fiscal approach being adopted by the centre right in the UK and Germany could prove utterly disastrous, and that Brown’s spending spree could yet be the best of a bad job. This will be interesting. Japan’s debt reached 180% of GDP during their 1990s slump, and they survived and recovered. Maybe we should worry less about the debt and think more about the pain a rapid contraction of government spending leading to prolongued depression would produce?

  5. @Alec,

    You’re not getting the message. The point is that whilst in normal circumstances 38% might well represent the challenging party being “bogged down”, in the current situation that level of support may well be enough for a substantial parliamentary majority. I don’t think the Tories can exactly be triumphant about their poll ratings, but I imagine they are 1000% happier with their situation than the Labour party is with their own. I personally think you are letting your wishful thinking cloud your judgement. Of course, anything can happen, but the odds of that “anything” being an upswing in Labour support that gets them close to the Tories in vote share and lets them form a minority government (let alone a majority) is looking very remote right now.

  6. I think it is obvious this argument seems to go down the lines of who your preference is,so i will change direction.

    The most major political event that will effect UK politics will not be Conference season but will happen in Ireland in October,after the Labour party conference & probably during or after the Conservative Conference.

    If the Irish were to vote ‘no’ i honestly think the consequences for Labour will be horrendous.

    With a ‘no’ vote,we would see the European Commission & therefore our own Government refusing to say Lisbon is dead,looking at the timeline after the last Irish no vote also the French & Dutch no votes on NICE,we could be looking at six months of spin coming on high from the EU,before any decision was made,the media here & the Conservatives offering the UK a referendum would have a field day with Labour,it would go on & on until 2010 & perhaps even be unresolved at the GE.

    If we have Brown,Kinnock,Miliband going around after October saying they refuse to say if the Irish will vote a third time & they are continuing with ratification in the UK,they will lose by a landslide in May 2010 in my opinion & may even come 3rd in the GE.

    If the Irish were to vote yes,at least the Tories have to come up with an answer on a post ratifiction referendum,Labour however face massive media and public problems as soon as that result is known.

    The most Rosy senario can be painted for Labour.
    1)better economic news
    2)fantastic conferenece
    3)no dissenters to browns leadership
    4)Brown makes fantastic Conference speech & gets another brown bounce.

    This will mean nothing if the Irish vote no.

  7. What if the budget gets voted down? Surely that would spell the end for Brown. It is perhaps not most likely, but by no means impossible, with Frank Field leading a backbench rebellion, citing the scrapping of the 10p rate as his reason.

  8. One factor that could emerge with both the expenses affair and a high vote for others is the local impact of Independents. Martin Bell was the obvious breakthrough candidate but come the election there may be others.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if up and down the Country third place parties in seats are looking around for a “local” anti sleaze candidate. It could be particularly attractive for the Libdems where in seats where they couldn’t in an Independent would be better than Labour or Tory and might even see them improve their position.

    For both Labour and the Tories finding an “Indy” to stand against a tainted Tory or Labour MP where they can’t win could deprive their opponent of a seat.

    It goes against the grain for parties and activists but I think we will see it in at least some seats.

    If it did emerge against sitting MP’s seen as tainted, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come under real pressure from their parties to spend more time with their families.


  9. I love this side discussion about coalition politics – lots of comments about Israel, Italy, Germany, Belgium, hypothetical examples of Labour and LibDems coalition negotiations, but no reference to the THREE RECENT COALITION GOVERNMENTS IN MAINLAND BRITAIN. (Quiz: Can you name them, with start and end dates?)

    The obvious answer to Mike’s question (Say Labour and the Lib Dems went into coalition, would you as a Lib Dem voter be happy to know that the key policy you supported in the Lib Dem manifesto could be jettisoned in the negotiations?) is yes, compromise if okay if some of our stuff gets implemented too (Proof: LD 1999 14% constituency / 12% list, 2003 15/12, 2007 16/11).

    So, basically coalition politics works fine in Britain, it leads to stable government (not chaos), the voters of the parties in questions are not intrinsically set against compromise and it is still perfectly possible to kick out unpopular coalitions in elections – as in Scotland in 2007 (or Germany in 1998 for that matter).

  10. @Christian Smidt – great point, great question. I would hazard a guess at Lib/Lab pact pre ’79 but I couldn’t give any dates on that, possible again Lab/Libs in Feb – Oct ’74, but apart from an informal Tory/Ulster Unionist love in pre ’97 I would then be going back to the national unity government of the war. You’re absolutley right though – there is nothing at all to say that FPTP won’t lead to coalitions, and they can still be effective governments. The biggest problems the UK has suffered from since the 1980’s has been a string of rampantly powerful governments with huge majorities who drive through wrongheaded policies with no effective need to consult or compromise. ‘Strength’ doesn’t mean ‘good’.

    @Neil A – Again, I’m not a Labour supporter, so it’s nothing to do with wishful thinking. I just happen to think the Tories really aren’t very good, and at some point, although probably after the next election, they will be found out, and it will be game on. I can see many circumstances where Labour can recover to over 30%, and with the Tories current support, that spells danger for them. Cameron has been excellent on the short term tactical presentation, but his long term strategic thinking is at best muddled, and at worst woefully inadequate. As a Cancellor in the current epic global conditions, Osborne is about the last person I would want, and his recent 40% gaffe has shocked the city and economists alike.

  11. NEIL

    I hadn’t thought of that,in fact the rebels might have this up their sleeve’s to get rid of Brown.

    I would think it entirely plausable that if they want shot of Brown they have to move before the Conference season.

    Also with recess fast approaching this is there last chance.

    I don’t think it possible personally to remove Brown after Conference season,as the Labour Party that will clap & applaud Brown and say he is the best thing since sliced bread in Conference & on camera to everyone who will listen,they cannot sack him weeks later without looking like hypocrites.

    The media keeps on saying Labour could wait until 2010 & then change leader with six months to a GE.

    I think someone needs to remind the media,a April 6 dissolution is almost certain,,that would of course be after a horror budget in March 2010.

    Even if labour had a leadership contest on the 1st Jan,it would still be roughly 1st Feb before a new leader probably AJ would be in position,he would as i say run into the Lisbon Treaty debate,he supports it,he would have to cope with a horror budget,,then face a GE campaign with the budget still in the papers,knightmare! & he has been in Cabinet the whole time these decsions were being made & supporting them,like brown could not seperate from the Blair record,neither can AJ from Brown’s.

    Labour changed Blair,they thought the grass was greener,then they were 5-10 points ahead,Brown used to bounce,he is waving or drowning now?AJ may do even worse.

  12. I wouldn’t exactly cite the 1970s Lib/Lab pact as an example of effective government. And it was swept out of office quite comprehensively thanks to FPTP, whereas if 1979 had been a PR election it might have staggered on for a few more years.

  13. Christian,

    Thanks for reminding people that, when offered the opportunity, Liberals / LDs are happier propping up an unpopular Labour government than forcing an election.

    Having been bitten twice, maybe Nick Clegg will have the sense to make it clear that he will under no circumstances go into coalition with Labour afere the enxt election. For so long as he is silent or ambiguous on this point, he risks erosion of the LD vote in Con/LD contests.

  14. The Lib-Lab Pact left two great legacies, both a result of Liberal influence. These were the Abortion Reform Act (a private members bill sponsored by David Steel that would never have been passed by a majority Tory administration) and the approved profit-sharing share plans introduced in the 1978 Finance Act which opened up wider share ownership by employees in their companies.

    Not bad for a “failed” pact!

  15. Alec – you mention wrong headed policies. I assume you mean the trade union reforms and privitisation (amongst others). Yet if they were so wrong why have they not been repealed?
    Christian is right that small parts of the UK have had PR in the past 10 years. Remember that in Wales and Scotland those “governments” have limited powers – nothing on foreign, defence, social security policy. Minimal tax powers etc.

    Mark Senior – you state that only 40% of UKIP voters would vote Conservative. I do find this surprising given botht he recent euro/local elections but just empirically. The 2.5 major parties all have a “minor” party at their heels (UKIP for the Tories, BNP for Labour and Greens for Lib Dems). I would expect very few UKIP voters to be Lib Dems supporters since the LDs are the most pro-European party (that may not say much). UKIP’s other policies (not that many people know about them) are typically rightwing Tory (immigration, tax, law and order) so I don`t think many Labour voters would cross over. Of course some people who vote UKIP would not vote in a GE or for any other party but I think the majority of UKIP’s vote does come from lapsed Tories.

  16. @Neil A

    Your’re right a better example was the potential Coalition between Ted Heath and Liberals .

  17. @Alec

    Agree with you re the Tories,there isn’t the enthusiasm there was for Blair in 96/97 though thats partly because the political scene is changing re the death of Two and a Half Party System and that FPTP is slowly strangling itself to death as multi party politics takes hold.

    .Osborne is massively out of his depth if they want a credible Chancellor in waiting look no further than Ken Clarke but that will never happen.

    Vince Cable is miles ahead of the lot of them though.Think the Lib Dems would do better with him as leader .

    Of course the Tories hitting say 38% in a GE would on the current level of others/LD and Labour give them a landslide.Which as I say above will make our electoral system even more skewed !!!

  18. @Mike – “Alec – you mention wrong headed policies. I assume you mean the trade union reforms and privitisation (amongst others).”

    Why do pick those policies? Is it because you assume I’m left wing? As it happens I broadly supported the trade union reforms then and still support them now. Privatisations have been a bit of a curates egg, with some total disasters and some more effective sales. In pretty much all of them however, the taxpayer got appaling value for money, which is why share prices shot up the minute they went on sale. It also meant a need to establish a whole host of quangos, much loved by our Dave, in order to make sure privatised essential services behaved themselves. I’m thinking more in terms of the poll tax, clause 28 etc. There are loads of examples from the New Labour years also. The bigger the majority the quicker governments lose touch with the real world. Unfortunately our next government isn’t even in touch with the real world before they enter power.

  19. Alec

    The fact that you don’t think much of the Tories and hold that they will be found out when in office etc etc is merely your opinion. As they say facts are sacred and opinions are free.
    The proof of that pudding will be in the eating.
    With very thin evidence you have consistantly told us on this site that the economic news is much better than portrayed by parts of the media or pro Tory supporters implying that the latter feel the need for the worst to continue in order to secure victory. But if ever that were true we may have now passed the point where any recovery can change the political fortunes of this government. I suspect that we are now through the worst of the recession but that a significant global and thus national recovery may still be a long way off.
    In other words the best guess seems to be that we face another year or more of bumping along the bottom before a real and note my words sustained recovery kicks in. It gives me no pleasure to say so and see so many more friends of mine lose their jobs as sadly they will. And here in Scotland the worst is yet to come. Talk of green shoots right now is misplaced.

  20. Alec,

    “Privatisations have been a bit of a curates egg, with some total disasters and some more effective sales. In pretty much all of them however, the taxpayer got appaling value for money, which is why share prices shot up the minute they went on sale.”

    Actually I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason share prices shot up. It is a well known fact, particularly to those with good knowledge of economic matters, as traders have, that private businesses are, in general, significantly more profitable than public ones.

  21. Nick is right that time will tell about Tory policies.

    However, part of the psephological role of this site is to see patterns in political behaviour, and to consider whether such voting patterns are adaptive to the country’s needs.

    I think it legitimate for psephologists to point out that in the 1920s and 1930s Labour made inadequate attempts to deal with economic depression, which then led to a huge reaction by naive electors who took the simplistic view that economic problems should be met by “Cuts”. This led to persistent unemployment and economic inactivity until the UK was dragged into a War which largely resulted from Germany’s totalitarian response to get out of its own problems by acquiring assets through conquest (remember, the UK went to war over Germany’s invasion of Poland, not its genocidal policies).

    It looks very much as though the British electorate is embarking on a repeat of the mistakes of the 1930s, and I think it within the remit of the neutral psephologist to say so if that is his or her analysis.

    Whilst opinion polls were not around in the 1930s, the historian of elections can think about political psychology and election dynamics, to consider why the factors underlying voter behaviour led to politcially pathological results (and of course even more pathological results in Germany). Then politicians and voters can think how to avoid repeating these problems whilst preserving freedom and democracy.

    None of the three major parties successfully met the problems of the years between the Wars, particularly not the Liberals (LibDems) whose basic ideas are right at the core of the current economic shambles.Their basic tenets have been tried and found wanting, and many people know it. It is therefore psephologically unsurprising that electors are looking to new parties such as the Greens and UKIP. Hence this particular thread about “Others”.

    If I may stray into opinion myself, we need a different political solution to the 1930s, and none of the major parties are coming up with one. I have suggested elsewhere (for instance in a letter to the “New Statesman”) that what is needed is a massive programme of strategic investment in industry (and trade) along the lines of Lloyd George’s Ministry of Munitions in World War 1. If necessary, the programme will have to be paid for in the short term by cutting “sacred cows” such as education and health, not to speak of pensions – in the long term we cannot have schools, teachers, hospitals or doctors unless the UK is generating real wealth, which at present it is not. Past recessions have ended in war; but it would be better to have a massive worldwide direction of unemployed people and resources to ward off impending climate catastrophe. And, back to psephology, I think that a party that proposed (and meant) such policies would win votes.

  22. “what is needed is a massive programme of strategic investment in industry”

    And who is going to decide what is “strategic”-who is going to pick the winners?

    The Government-The Civil servants?

    You must be joking.

  23. I think the underlying problem for Labour is that Britain is suffering from a Bust after a Boom, and they claimed they had done away with both.

    Brown’s “prudence and competence” in economic affairs has been revealed as simply riding the latest bubble for all its worth and spending the proceeds (and more).

    Yes, the right thing to do would be to cut taxes, increase spending and float the economy free of the rocks. Unfortunately Labour hasn’t left us with the wherewithall to do that, and so we have to increase taxes, cut spending and suffer the consequences, or else face defaulting on our national debt.

  24. ” Osborne is about the last person I would want, and his recent 40% gaffe has shocked the city and economists alike.”

    Has it Alec?-where is your evidence for this please?

    How much time do you imagine Brown & his senior ministers spend on Party matters-ie staying in power.

    Unless they win the next election all their ideas for government are academic. And for the opposition, unless they gain power they have no chance of implementing their ideas.

    I would have thought that in the run up to a GE, a 50:50 Policy/Party split is quite understandable.

  25. @Neil – “Actually I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason share prices shot up. It is a well known fact, particularly to those with good knowledge of economic matters, as traders have, that private businesses are, in general, significantly more profitable than public ones.”

    Precisely. Which is why they should have been sold at a dearer price for the taxpayer. Thanks for proving my point.

    @Colin – it shocked the city audience who heard it, as they were under the impression that the future Chancellor was busting a gut to work out how to save the economy. It was the fact that Osborne thought 40% was a really good effort that really frightened them (and should frighten you too).

    Although there is a counter arguement in that the less time he spends on the economy …..

  26. This is so boring on a site meant to be about discussing polls…

  27. “Precisely. Which is why they should have been sold at a dearer price for the taxpayer. Thanks for proving my point.”

    But to whom? Naturally those buying also want the best possible deal, so if the price is set too high then the business will simply not be sold.

    In any case, that wasn’t how it worked – the government simply accepted the best offer they got in each case – you can’t force someone to pay more than they think the business is worth.

  28. @Frederick Stansfield
    ‘ particularly not the Liberals (LibDems) whose basic ideas are right at the core of the current economic shambles.’

    Excuse my ignorance but my reading of things is that Vince Cable Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor predicted the crisis and has both the analysis of the crisis and solutions spot so what do you mean ?

    To me the roots of the crisis lie with the Conservatives and the 80’s deregulation of the city,deregulation of financial services,mass home ownership (right to buy etc) ,bonus culture,demutualisation of building societies,mass consumerism etc etc.

    Enlighten me Frederick you sound like a more learned chap than me?

  29. Kudos to Vince Cable for spotting the crisis, but then, so did the Austrian School of economics, and one can hardly claim that Cable’s got the “solutions spot”; more regulation? You mean, like last time? Governments failed to spot this one from a mile off, how do you think they’ll spot the next?

    The least regulated banks, i.e. the offshore ones, have suffered least from the crisis, perhaps because they had to convince their shareholders and investors that they weren’t over-egging it, rather than get a pliant watchdog to tick the correct boxes. Bankers and regulators collude, and to see this, one needs to look no further than Brown and the banks.

  30. @Neil – “In any case, that wasn’t how it worked – the government simply accepted the best offer they got in each case – you can’t force someone to pay more than they think the business is worth.”

    Sorry Neil, but that’s rubbish. The big privatisations were stock market flotations – nothing to do with ‘best offers’ . The offer prices and terms of sale were fixed to ensure a big uplift in share prices on day one. The heavy involvement of big city firms in organising the sales ensured their city compatriots got great value (don’t tell me you still have faith in financial institutions) and the government refused to consider time staged partial sell offs to test the market price to enable better value for the taxpayer.

    And I notice you declined to attempt a defence of the poll tax…
    [Please don’t think I’m only criticising the Tories – among other things a Labour government with a huge majority took us into an unjustified war – the ultimate moral and financial folly]

    @Jack – ease up on us mere mortals. Sometimes even polls are desperately boring.

  31. It’s been a while since Anthony posted a new topic for discussion. People’ve said all that can be said on the current thread and are just using it as a convenient space to talk politics.


    I won’t attempt a defence of the Poll Tax either, as I disagreed with it from the outset. I can understand what the government of the day was trying to achieve but I think they underestimated the public’s deep attachment to progressive taxation.

  32. Alec / Neil,

    “Precisely. Which is why they should have been sold at a dearer price for the taxpayer. Thanks for proving my point.”

    Actually I think you are both employing the benefit of hindsight. Firstly, the initial policy was not about stock markets or increasing profits, but reducing state interference in the economy as quickly as possible, and also raising some cash from asset sales to fund reduction of the national debt. Secondly, when the market effect of the early privatisations was seen, the policy was adjusted to maximise the benefits to the taxpayer.

    If you leave aside general impressions and look at the detail of the 1980 privatisations you will see that the post-issue premium was by no means uniform.

    The big profits on the early privatisations were made by those who held them for several years, and not just for a few days / weeks. That was because the profit potential was not evident until after they had been set free from state interference.

    By the mid 1980s the premiums increased because of significant growth in demand as the general investing public realised (a) the general benefits of direct equity holdings and (b) the profit growth potential in privatisations were better than in existing private companies.

    However, by the late 1980s the government had also caught up with the market potential, and so adopted better valuation tools to push up returns for the taxpayer. Several of the later privatisations had little or no post-issue premium – some even showed a paper loss in the weeks after flotation.

    Apart from which, much of the undervaluation on actual disposal was recouped by the government fiscally thanks to higher stamp duty and CGT receipts – not to mention the mountain of Corporation tax paid by companies which only years earlier had been soaking up treasury grant funds.

    Privatisation was actually a very successful policy stumbled upon by accident and pursued until the law of diminishing returns kicked in. Hence there were few privatisations in the late 1990s, and this was not just due to political opposition from “old” Labour.

  33. Richard Dawson, liberalism is the economic policy of Bentham and the Mills (John Stuart Mill was a Liberal MP for a short time). Keynes, another member of the UK Liberal Party, was considerably responsible for the international economic arrangements set up after World War 2. At heart, liberal economics are about abdicating economic responsibility to market forces. The Tories have long since joined this bandwagon, and so has New Labour. I think this philosophy is popular with politicians, because it abdicates responsibility to the market (“I couldn’t do anything, it was just market forces”). In addition, one of the many known defects of the free market is that it has a poisitive feedback loop whereby the rich and powerful get even more rich and powerful, until eventually there is war or unrest, for which (I am observing what I believe to be fact rather than what I wish) technological means of surveillance, augmented by increasingly illiberal law, are “holding down the safety valve”. Free market policies have reapeatedly led to economic depresssion, at various times during the nineteenth century, in Edwardian times, in the 1920s and 1930s, the 1980s and now.

    Vince Cable has predicted the crisis, but has not had the answers, and in so far as he does it is in part because he deviates from basic liberal ideas (as did Keynes).

    Colin, strategic direction must be given by a politician of great authority., and the wisdom to delegate authority providing the people given power exercise great dirive. Lloyd George did it, again abandoing the straightjacket of liberal philsophy, in the First World War. Lloyd George’s remit was not unlike Mandelson’s tody, but Mandelson is no Lloyd George.

    Ultimately, it is up to the voters to find and vote for great leaders, although they need to be warned by the precedent of Hitler that commitment to democracy is an essential if you are going to give a leader real power.

    With respect to our comment about civil servants, Colin, read the history books about the economic history, in relation to the Wars, of C20 Britian written by Correlli Barnett (Barnett’s political views are very different from mine, but I strongly agree with his historical analysis).

    The amateur civil service was set up in the nineteenth century when Britain was the most poserful country in the world. Now we are not even the major poewr in Europe, and with our debts we are liekly to decline still further. The whole civil service system needs to be recognised as a chronic failure. And we also need to address the woeful standards of UK management and the country’s lack of science and technology, both identified as major probelms by Barnett. But the only people who could tackle such desperate and fundamental problems in UK governance are politicians, probably although not essentially from a new party, Which is why the emergence of the Greens and UKIP is exciting and worth watching psephologically.

    Please excuse this post relating to opinion rather than psephology: it is such because it is a reply.

  34. Frederick

    “a politician of great authority” who can direct a command economy may be a pre-requisite for a country placed on total war footing-but not anytime else thanks.

    I don’t buy your equation of war following recession-I see very little evidence in the history for that.

    I think you do well to enter the warning about Hitler in respect of your strange ideas about governance in peacetime.

    I agree that there is a problem with our civil service-but nothing that some tough ministerial management, accountability, and less feather bedding would not put right.

  35. One of Correlli Barnett’s messages is that the real cost of war is economic. The UK has recovered from its appalling losses of people during the two World Wars (although Russia has not recovered its loss of people in the Second World War, and the effects on France of deaths in the Napoleonic Wars and French Revolution are still noticeable). But we never recovered from the crippling financial costs. The financial costs to the UK of the Second World War were second only to Russia.

    In particular, after the Second World War the UK misused generous American funding for social goods rather than the capital investments (for instance in rebuilding and electrifying freight-carrying railways). We dreamed we had won the war, so we lost the peace.

    The costs to the UK of the recent credit crisis are similar in scale to the finance needed for a major war, and yes we do need a war-style economy to pay off our debts. Finland’s payment of reparations to the USSR after the Second World War is probably the best precedent. The USSR intended to break Finland, but Finland found the money.

    For starters, I would tackle the UKs unsustainable pensions, and public sector pay given without regard to affordablity, by introducing not higher taxes but compulsory “Regeneration Shares”, along the lines of the Second World War War Bonds. Such shares, which would be at levels which would seriously hurt (say 10% of take home pay), would be to set up a fund to invest in trade and industry, along with associated needs such as Research and Development, to create two million jobs within two years (which World War I precedent shows to be possible) – which in turn implies the top-down creation of whole new industries – again as Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was created in the early twentieth century. This time, of course, we would invest in environmental sustainability. There would be democratic arrangements for shareholders, workers and government to manage the fund. Profits from the new industries would be used to pay off the country’s debts, but after an initial seven years shareholders would start to be paid dividends if the new industries produced profits and maintained full employment.

    Well, at least that’s a new idea, in that I haven’t heard it recently, to address the credit crisis. If you don’t like it, suggest something else!

  36. Frederick,

    Beware. The current “market failure” in banking occured because excessive regulation of all types has undermined the ability of individuals and organisations to undertake proper risk analysis. How often have you heard the comment – “it must be okay – I followed the rules.” ?

    It is not free markets that lead to economic crises, but attempts by governemnt to “direct” markets which disrupt the normal stabilisers. The more government interferes, the worse the ultimate crash will be.

    That does not mean that an unregulated market will not produce winners and losers with attendant social consequences. There is a role for government to play. But that role should be limited to two distinct areas:

    (a) providing a legal and security framework to protect the nation and individual rights;

    (b) enabling the provision of social goods – including a saftey net for the “losers” so that they can be assisted when in need.

    The one thing the governemnt should not be trying to do is determine strategic investment priorities for industry.

    Governments (of all colours, countries and centuries) have a proven track record in the business of “picking winners”. They identify those propositions which will not succeed, then back them.

    As to whether we need a new kind of politics – yes I agree. One which recognises that it is individuals, not instituitions, who make decisions, and that it is individuals, not institutions, who should take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

  37. “If you don’t like it, suggest something else!”

    Review every government activity from a zero base & ask whether it justifies itself in economic & social terms.

    Constantly test reasons for the State to provide-as opposed to finance & regulate-given public services.

    Keep on asking the question-in respect of this factor of the lives & interests of UK citizens , what is the State’s purpose & how can it best fulfill it?

  38. Colin,

    Really. Why would any Government ask questions which might call into question its own existence ?

    You know what the answers might be so why ask the question ? Taking your three points:

    A – For most items = NO
    B – It keeps the public sector unions happy and gives the “Man in Whitehall” – who anyway knows better than the public what is in their interest – something to do.
    C – Control (answers both parts)

    Asking politicians to exercise self-denial in government policy may be too tall an order.

    [Though, at the risk of being partisan, the PM appears to have almost achieved it – minus the hyphen.]

  39. PAULH-J

    I have rather more faith in an incoming Cameron Government than you it would seem !!

    Certainly if Cameron does not role back the worst aspects of Brownian top down command & control , I will be very very surprised-and more than a bit p****d off since that is why I will vote for him.

  40. Alec,

    I am not trying to dodge discussion – my reply to you is awaiting moderation. Reading it over it may be a little harsh – but fair – do forgive me, I wrote it late at night.

  41. Colin,

    Firstly, as you may have deduced, I fully share the principles behind the approach you offered. It was in fact applied by Michael Heseltine in each department he ran – which is how the DTI shrank so much. You will no doubt have seen reports of recent seminars etc attended by senior civil servants and shadow ministers to study the Canadian experience. This suggests that Cameron will indeed adopt this approach across the entire public sector.

    Dismantling the mighty apparatus of the state will be a major task. It will inevitably cause howls of protest from interested parties who are both vocal and possess media access – unlike the poor folks trying to keep their family together on a modest income in the face of a system which is scornful of their efforts at best and vindictive at its worst.

    Cameron will need enormous courage to carry through the changes needed. And his job is made that much harder by the dire fiscal position he will inherit. The only ray of light is that I believe the public are ready for surgery rather than tinkering.

    But a surgeon needs to take care that he only cuts where needed and that the patient is not left too weak to recover afterwards. For a serious case (such as we are now in) one needs to prioritise those ailments which are life threatening. It will probably take several waves of major reform before we can put the country back on a stable and sustainable path.

    As to my remarks above: Call me cynical if you will, but I have seen too many members of my party “go-native” once in charge of a department (even if it is only a bit part of a small local authority). As they say about power….

    The answer as I see it is for people like yourself to get involved in politics at a local level. Only then can we keep our elected representatives – who are supposed to watch over the bureaucrats – on their toes. The decline in party membership – across all parties – is a major factor in the decline in the quality of government.

    And one final point – which amazingly comes back to the starting point for this thread !

    People have become far more selective in life in general, hence they are drawn to single-issue pressure groups including “fringe” parties. This explains the much higher support for “others”.

    But this “focussed” approach leads to disjointed politics, which in turn produces unintended outcomes. This is because most things in the rich tapestery of life are interconnected behind the scenes. Pick at a thread here or there and who knows what might unravel.

  42. “Cameron will need enormous courage to carry through the changes needed.”

    Yes we can agree on that Paul.

  43. The emergence of “the others” is something I’ve been trying to highlight for a while… there are, as Anthony observes, many more factors this time than in previous “eruptions”…

    I’m sure a more extended graph would show a longer term rise in the “others” over the last 20 years, facilitated by technological changes.

    Now we have a long list of influencing factors on top of just the Euro publicity and the expenses scandal… obvious ones include the credit crunch depression; the unprecedented surge in immigration; the rollout of broadband access; the steady disintegration of societal structure; the steady disintegration of patience and respect for the political & media establishment/regime; the growth in social and economic mobility… there are many new issues; new fears; new drivers, and I think it is yet another watershed for politics in this country… as significant as the shifts that occurred before WW2 …yet this pervasive denial of the change that’s in the offing persists.

    The common thread along the lines of “how can any of the minor parties possibly be taken seriously or retain or increase support” etc… The constant expectation that “things will get back to normal in a few months” is reactionary and misguided in my view.
    There’s no tribal loyalty to parties any more… they’ve gone down the marketing route and so will be subjected to the vicissitudes of brand life… that even cash cows become tired brands and fade to quaintness.
    Labour , Lib Dems & Tory? think Ovaltine, Pears Soap, and Vimto!

    I think the reality is that the issues that minor parties are vehicles for: environmentalism and ethnocentrism, are destined to continue their advance into the mainstream; and the old parties are going to struggle to compete with these dynamic “new”-seeming brands, and remain behind the curve… tired and discredited.

    We’re looking at a hung parliament, and fractious period of attempted reforms that don’t quite work; and of giant gravy train projects like the Olympics and the NHS database and ID/biometrics Database spiralling further overbudget and being exposed as appalling wastes of desperately-needed cash that were always conceptually flawed (i.e. according to leading experts, they can never work… ): lots of tiresome blame and counter-blame flying around between the old parties …the appeal of “others” can only march on; but, I expect only “events” will see them punch through the walls of the westminster cocoon, and we can only wait with bated breath to see how frequent and game-changing those events are.

  44. “they can never work”
    i.e.: deliver what they promise to…

  45. @Frederic,

    It’s nice to see there’s at least one unreconstructed Marxist still around!

    I’d love to see how your newly created industries creating 2m jobs at the behest of the government (without any apparent market demand for their products so far as I can tell) are going to generate the “profits” you refer to!!

  46. I would love to see the current graph of “others percentage” over-laid on the 2003-5 graph. Then we could see if they really are falliing away post-Euros or not.

  47. Promsan,

    Niche parties may well find buyers for their particular brand, but the problem with a niche offering is that it is too narrowly focussed to attract sufficiently wide support.

    The main parties sussed this years ago, hence they are fairly broad in their product offering. It may be that they are suffering a bit at the moment as the competition hots up a bit, but, just as on the supermarket shelf, expect the big brands to fight back and either see off the minor brands, or – as often happens, arrange a “merger” or acquisition.

    To return to you branding metaphor:

    Not so much: Ovaltine, Pears Soap and Vimto. More Heinz, Birds Eye and Kraft. Or even perhaps: Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda.

  48. ive been looking at the polls after the Euros in 1999 & 2004, in 99 the others gained about 2% in the polls after June, the effect fading away over the next 6 months. in 2004 the gain was around 5% & lasted nearly a year.
    this time the others have put on 10% in the polls & im wondering if it will need 18 months to get back to normal ? if so we would go into the GE campaign with others still on 13 or 14%

  49. I was going to post this on the open thread, but since it has degenerated into a discussion on the merits of traditional English legal principles and whether they apply to politics, I feel the contribution may be better appreciated here.

    It is often assumed by the media – and hence this influences the public to believe it true – that in order to win an election Party A must persuade x supporters of Party B to switch their vote or vice versa.

    Actually, this is erroneous. Yes, a certain amount of persuasion is required, but the persuading is directed primarily at the following groups in order of importance:

    1. People who voted for Party A last time – to ensure that they do so again;
    2. People who have usually voted for Party A in the past, but did not vote at all last time – to persuade them to vote this time;
    3. People who have generally voted for Party A in the past, but voted differently last time – to persuade them to “come home”;
    4. People who have never voted in the past, mainly young first-time voters, but this includes an increasing number of older people who have never been “engaged” – to entice them to vote Party A;

    and only then

    5 People who have never voted for Party A in the past – but may be persuaded to change the habit of a life-time thanks to disappointment / disillusion with their party of choice. Note that this only really works against the governing party, but can be used against minor parties in the context of “tactical voting”.

    Only in cases 3 and 5 is any attempt being made to change how an individual votes compared to last time.

    Remember that in order to “win” an election Party A needs to have more votes than Party B. It does not matter if the seat is won by a majority of 1 on a turnout of 20% or a majority of 20,000 on a turnout of 80%.

    So, in order to win, Party A will concentrate its efforts on getting as many people in groups 1 and 2 to vote, hope for some votes from groups 3-5, and most especially, hope that Party B fails to succeed in relation to its own groups 1 and 2.

    What Party A cannot do is overtly persuade supporters of Party B to stay at home, though this may be the outcome of trying to achieve 3 or 5. It it does, it is nevertheless beneficial to Party A.

    This whole scenario produces what is known as “differential turnout”, and is actually by far the largest factor in producing winners and losers in individual seats – especially as 1 and 2 above require resources on the ground for their success.

    In most cases, this will be a contest between Parties A and B. In some cases it may become a contest between parties A, B and C. For parties D E or F to get in on the act, they have the distinct disadvantage of fishing only in the pool of voters under 4 and 5, and so need parties A, B C to be singularly unsuccessful in their efforts in order to pull off a surprise win.

    In 2001 and 2005, turnout was only +/- 60%. This means that the pool of voters in 4 is growing, while an increasing number of voters have been in group 2 for more than one election. That is the main factor which will enable “others” to increase their share of total vote at the next GE – but it is still unlikely to deliver more than a handful of seats.

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