Learning from the Euro-polls: A single issue election?

June 4, 2009

Euro Polls

In the UK, the Euro-polling has been described as a single issue contest driven by voter reaction to the on-going MP expenses scandal. If only it were as simple as that

The combination of economic and political turbulence in the UK is such that the government is close to meltdown. Or that’s what the opposition parties have been saying with increasingly vehemence. Here, the public mood is primarily occupied with the MP expenses scandal which overwhelms other considerations.

It has been widely predicted that voters will use the regional and Euro-elections this week to take some direct action to exact revenge on the Government. One common refrain is that all politicians are the same. For some, this belief will be translated into voting by not voting. For others is will be translated by votes for parties too limited in numbers to have been caught up in the expenses business.

More interesting, again from the UK perspective, is the degree to which voting patterns will represent the well-known tendency of using such elections to protest. Will there be an adjustment subsequently to older beliefs and voting patterns in a General Election which will take place within a year?

According to veteran political commentator Andrew Grice

Voting today [June 4th 2009] will be all about punishing greed .. Even normally loyal grassroots activists in all three main parties have been so angry about the MPs’ expenses scandal that they have refused to campaign for today’s local authority and European Parliament elections. If people like that are furious with the behaviour of MPs, then it’s an understatement to say ordinary voters are even more angry.
“It’s not so much the moats and the servants,” one Labour MP said. “What I keep hearing on the doorstep is ‘why the hell can’t you buy your own food like the rest of us?'” Until the controversy forced a belated shake-up of the expenses system, MPs were allowed to claim £400 a month for food under their “second homes” allowance, without receipts and even when the Commons is not sitting.
Today the voters will get the chance to pass their judgement on such behaviour. Labour, as the governing party, will take the biggest hit. But the Tories also expect to suffer damage, after the constant stream of revelations in The Daily Telegraph about how they used their allowances to maintain their country estates.

One intriguing question ..is whether the Liberal Democrats are tarred with the same brush as the two bigger parties. [Party leader] Nick Clegg has had a “good war” on the expenses row ..but some Liberal Democrats fear the party may be seen by some voters as part of the problem rather than the solution.
Who will benefit most among the smaller parties? UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party, anti EC single issue party] has looked shambolic since being the surprise package at the last Euro elections in 2004 and does not have an unblemished record on expenses. Despite that, it has been given a new lease of life by the crisis at Westminster. [and because its single issue is Europe] should help ..
[Among the other minor parties] The Greens, who had their high water mark in Britain at the 1989 Euro election, have a spring in their step again and have moved up in the polls.
The Greens hope to deny the BNP [British Nationalist Party] its first seat in a nationwide election. But some party workers fear there may be a “spiral of silence” in which people tell pollsters they will support other parties (such as UKIP) but back the BNP in the privacy of the polling booth.

Pundits (even distinguished ones such as Grice) are relying on the opinion polls to predict voting outcomes. This is an approach with the strengths of taking into account recent and reasonably authenticated information. It does not (can not) explain grounds for assuming that one issue (expenses) which will be the dominating influence as voters head for the polls or stay away from them altogether.

[Non acnowledgement]

I have been trying unsuccessfully to locate the origins of the image, which is evocative of the ‘analysis by spread sheet’ approach much loved by consultants and political commentators. I would be grateful for any help in locating its provenence.


Righteous Indignation and Leaders we Demand

May 26, 2009
Righteous Indignation

Righteous Indignation

The UK political scene has been rocked by daily revelations in the Daily Telegraph of inflated expenses of MPs, including those of Government ministers. The episode is having profound damaging consequences for politicians of all parties. Will it prove a tipping point for political change?

The build-up to all this had been earlier stories of malpractice among MPs which had already prompted a Government enquiry, which was due to report later this year [July 2009].

The Telegraph appropriated (well, OK, bought for a rumoured £300,000 according to the Guardian) the leaked and unexpurgated information made available to the official investigation.

The Guardian was later to set aside its moralistic tone and offered a more generous account of the Telegraph’s coverage and of its young editor Will Lewis

The Daily Telegraph’s young editor has the scoop of the decade with the revelations about MPs’ spending. He has kept a low media profile, but he could go down in history as the man who shook Parliament to the core.

MPs speak of a suicidal atmosphere in Parliament, the Speaker has resigned, several political careers have come to an end and more may follow, and there is talk of wholesale constitutional change

The expenses furore

An excellent briefing by the BBC explained the expenses furore, and noted

There is genuine concern among MPs that Parliament has never been held in lower regard by members of the public. Even MPs who have done nothing wrong are reported to be considering quitting as they are considered “crooks” by the public. Some [commentators] fear that Parliament may take years to recover from the furore, while others warn that voters may take out their anger with the main parties by backing fringe and extremist parties at next month’s local and European elections.

MPs take their medicine

Those MPs who speak out, do so out from painful necessity. They seem to be addressing what is regarded as general mood in the public regarding all MPs as self-seeking scoundrels. A few MPs ’fessed up to their constituents and took the pain with some hope of being granted a second electoral chance (Michal Gove was one). Other attempts in public meetings, such as that by Andrew Mackay, merely served as lightening conductors discharging the wrath of the electorate and party leaders.

The people are speaking

It is hardly surprising that MPs, if they can not remain invisible to media attention, are finding ways to demonstrate visibly as possible their inherent decency. The exceptional cases of defiance appear to show how misguided is such lack of displays of repentance.
The people are speaking, and MPs have somehow to show they are listening.

A similar gesture to popular opinion by Harriet Harman recently suggested that judgment at the court of public opinion was needed for dealing with morally abhorrent cases (she was referring to Fred the Shred’s pension arrangements.

Public outrage in the UK, a month ago directed at anyone implicated in the credit crunch, has been partially redirected toward the new villains, our own appointed parliamentary representatives.

Public reporting, informing, and guiding

The process of capturing the mood of the public is one of the roles of the mass media. The journalistic device of encouraging interviewees to reveal their emotions is ubiquitous, although too easy to extend into intrusion on private grief. (‘How did you feel when the police rang on your door at 1 am in the morning with news of the terrible accident? …What sort of little girl was your daughter?’).

Over time, a shaping process takes place. Interviewees are unconsciously conditioned to supply a rather narrow range of responses. Righteous indignation is one.

This social reinforcement of convergence of accepted behaviours can be detected in style and of ideas expressed in letters read out in ‘points of view’ broadcasts, letters which begin ‘why, oh why…?’, read out in tones of genteel frustration.

The routinization of righteous indignation may also be detected in phone ins. ‘I’m boiling mad at what that earlier caller said, Nicky …’. Media and mediated collude towards the performance.

The sanitized protest

Then there are the sanitized protests on shows such as Question Time, in which audiences present themselves as well-screened and bizarrely fragrant bunches of righteously indignant camera-fodder.

A recent BBCTV Question Time show acted out a memorable version of ‘I’m appalled at your hypocrisy and amoral abuse of public funds’ to the MPs on hair-shirt duty. The show was later cited by the BBC as demonstrating the mood of public anger over MPs expenses. An example of co-creating the headlines.

The leaders we demand

I suspect that these are socializing forces currently amplifying feelings of betrayal and encouraging demands for morally superior leaders.

Forces that produce leaders we deserve become overtaken by forces encouraging support for leaders we demand.

What do we want? New leadership. When do we want it, Now.

Note on Righteous Indignation:

The image is a cartoon illustrating the conceit of Righteous Indignation of two [King] Richards portrayed as attacking their literary creator William Shakespeare. I just liked the cartoon, reproduced in Humanities, September/October 2008, 29,5