The local elections in Spain on Sunday have attracted international attention with the Guardian saying that‘Spain’s indignados could rule Barcelona and Madrid after local election success’ and the New York Times that ‘Spain’s local election results reshape political landscape’. What these reports capture is that Spain has gone from a two-party to a multi-party system in the four years since the last general elections and that this fast political change started with the occupation of public squares by the Indignados, known as 15M, on 15 May 2011. In this blog post I seek to go beyond the headlines and explain some of the political transformations that are at play in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy.
How do we go about deciding who we’ll vote for? And how should we go about deciding?
For every decision there is, in principle, a rational way to decide. Political scientists have formulated the idea of ‘correct voting’, whereby a voter can be said to have voted correctly if they have selected the candidate or party whose priorities are most closely aligned with their own. If Mr Spock were voting, this is the logical, rational approach that he would take.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, voters are not perfect, rational decision-makers. For one thing, voters typically have insufficient information to make a rational decision, either because politicians haven’t released relevant information (where they would make cuts, for example) or because voters haven’t availed themselves of this information.
But a more fundamental reason why voters don’t always choose rationally is that decision making in general is not rational, as demonstrated by a long history of psychological research, beginning with the Nobel prize-winning work of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It’s important to qualify this point by noting that not being rational doesn’t prevent us from — usually — making good decisions. There may be very good reasons for us not to strive for perfect rationality in most situations: a fast, “good-enough” decision may trump a slow, optimal decision.
One thing the parties agree on is that we need more houses. The quality of this housing has rarely been mentioned in the election debates and housing consumption – driven by social trends including increased divorce, an aging population and second home ownership – is positively taboo. Housing supply, however, and how to increase it, is central.
Each party has a housebuilding target. The Lib Dems suggest 300,000 a year; Labour pledged 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and have recently upped this target, to say that they will start building 1 million houses by 2020; the Conservatives don’t have a global number but have pledged 275,000 affordable homes by 2020, 200,000 starter homes and funding for housing zones, which will create 95,000 new homes; UKIP propose 1 million homes by 2025 on brownfield sites; while the Green Party would build 500,000 social rented homes by 2020.
What is conspicuously absent in each of these pledges is concrete machinery to reach these numbers. The Liberal Democrats are explicit about this. Their 300,000 figure is a target. They don’t have a plan yet, but have pledged to publish a long-term plan that sets out how the goal will be achieved in “the first year of the next Parliament”.
The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures have seen the most sustained decline in household incomes since the 1930s. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, more than 13 million people were living in poverty in 2014, and the 2012 UK Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey reveals that the extent of deprivation has increased dramatically since the last survey in 1999. In this context, Eldin Fahmy examines here the main UK political parties’ policy commitments on poverty.
It is impossible here to provide a full assessment of the scope of policy commitments on poverty partly because poverty is a policy arena with implications across a very broad remit of governmental responsibilities including, for example, health, housing, education, labour markets, and migration. A more comprehensive assessment is provided by the UK Academics Stand against Poverty. This commentary considers the anti-poverty implications of UK political parties’ commitments in relation to fiscal policy and social security policies before going on to summarise some of the key commonalities (and shortcomings) of existing political discourse on poverty in the UK as reflected in party manifestos.
Provision of primary health care is always in the headlines and is a priority for all the political parties. Of particular concern is the number of GPs and nurses in practice, and patients’ real and perceived access to them. Expansion of primary and community health as an alternative to A&E is hotly debated as resources are carefully allocated. An ageing population coupled with high expectations of the general public mean that timely and appropriate primary health care provision is a major issue for any potential government.
All the five main parties pledge improved NHS health care personnel provision in their manifestos. Whilst there is mixed evidence that the number of GPs in practice influences A&E attendance, we do know that care from the same GP (continuity of care) does help reduce it.1 However, there is a very clear association of lower socio-economic status and lower educational attainment with greater emergency care use within a primary care practice population. So if the Liberal Democrats do have the opportunity to follow through with their aim of encouraging more GPs into deprived areas this is likely to improve patients’ satisfaction and potentially reduce use of emergency care.
The last time I’d been here it had been for ‘What the Frock’. I half expected Bristol’s very own platinum-blonde award winning comedian Jayde Adams to start serenading from behind a velvet curtain. However, on this sultry spring evening at the Square Club in Clifton, Bristol, my job was to chair the Institute for Arts and Ideas’ Bristol West Hustings.
Seven parliamentary candidates were present. Sitting to my left: the incumbent Stephen Williams (Lib Dem); Thangham Debbonaire (Labour), Darren Hall (Greens) and Paul Turner (UKIP). Sitting to my right: Claire Hiscott (Conservative); Dawn Parry (Independent) and Stewart Weston (Left Unity).
When faced with a question about what anyone wants from the 2015 general election, the first port of call is the outstanding resource that is the 2015 British Election Internet Panel Study (BES). Beginning in February 2014 the study will follow a panel of the UK population on to the 2015 General Election and beyond. The data presented here were drawn from Wave 2 of the data with fieldwork conducted in May/June 2014. This wave of the data comprises 30,000 interviews allowing for detailed responses both by gender, and gender in combination with other social characteristics.
Most important issue
When considering what women might want, we first turn our attention to what respondents considered the most important issue facing the country. This question is routinely asked on opinion polls but the BES questionnaire takes a slightly different approach. The question asked here is entirely open ended (people are not given a predetermined list of important issues to choose from); in addition only one issue is recorded rather than up to 3 in most opinion polls.
The next election to the European Parliament, the eighth contest since direct voting began in 1979, will take place over 22-25 May. This will be an important event in the history of the European Union. Many national elections in the past few years have witnessed governments ousted because of their handling of the economy and their support for austerity policies (namely in Greece and Cyprus, but also in France and Italy). However, this is the first time that citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions in a ballot on the handling of the Eurozone debt crisis at the European as opposed to the national level.
Moreover, for the first time in its history, more than 400 million European citizens will have a chance to decide not only on the composition of the European Parliament, but also about who might become the chief of the European executive, the President of the European Commission. Even if the Commission’s role is said to be weaker than it was in the past, the incoming President will nonetheless play a key role in deciding the future direction of political and economic integration in the EU. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in late 2009, the European Council composed of the Heads of State and Government of the 28 member states now proposes a President of the Commission to the European Parliament, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. For many this represents the first opportunity for a truly pan-European election.
Once trade unionists are asked to contract in to Labour, the current means of electing the party leader has to be abolished.
Labour’s special conference meets in early March to discuss a series of reforms to the party’s structure, including the relationship with its affiliated trade unions. It has become clear recently that the proposals will include the end of the electoral college by which the party leader is elected. To understand why its abolition is the inescapable result of the reform process, we need to look at the measures mapped out by Labour leader Ed Miliband last summer and assess how the electoral college has developed over the last couple of decades.
From the very start of this review, Ed Miliband has emphasised the importance of individual trade unionists ‘contracting in’ to the political levy and to affiliated membership of the party. Since 1946 most trade unionists who have affiliated to Labour have been signed up automatically. If they objected to this decision, taken on their behalf, they needed specifically to opt out of the arrangement. Miliband’s argument was straightforward: this procedure might have made sense in the 1940s and 1950s when a large proportion of the workforce was organised in trade unions and when political identities were frequently defined by corporate memberships. Now, however, more emphasis should be placed on individual choice than on group affiliations en bloc. Moreover, such affiliated membership undermined, Miliband hinted, Labour’s development of an actively engaged party membership.