Politics with distinction

distinctionIt seems like ages ago that I finally handed in my dissertation but it’s only been two months. Two months of regularly checking my University email account for notifications while second-guessing everything I wrote in it, until today the maring was done, the exam board had met, and I got my final grade: a distinction for the dissertation, which meant an overall distinction for my MA, so those two years of studying and several thousand pounds of fees weren’t wasted in the end.

Anyway, this is just to say thanks to those of you who read and commented on the posts about my dissertation and other degree-related things as you did help me work through my thoughts and come up with ideas in a lot of areas, and all that helped me get to this point. The title – and the opportunity to flog the phrase ‘politics with distinction’ until it becomes devoid of all potential humour and meaning – is all mine though.

Right, time to start applying for next year’s PhD courses and funding…

Predict the election result and win beer! (Or a drink of your choice) (Possibly)

I said Carswell, not Criswell!
I said Carswell, not Criswell!
We are now just 58 days away from the 2015 General Election, which you might have heard about through the odd fleeting mention of it on the news, in the media or even on this blog. What you might also be aware of is that I’m currently a Masters student in the Department of Government at the University of Essex and the academics there are also aware of this upcoming event. (It’s usually known as a ‘large scale sampling of voter intention data’)

The department is having a competition to predict the outcome of the election, for which the winner will receive £200. Entries are limited to students within the department, but we’re not limited to the methods we use to generate our predictions, so I thought I should take advantage of this blog’s readership (and my Facebook friends too) to see what sort of prediction would come from the wisdom of (small and possibly skewed) crowds.

So here’s my idea. You give me your predictions, I put them through a complex process of weighting and discarding obvious outliers and submit my prediction. Should it win, I will use some of the winnings to pay for drinks at a pub-based gathering of you all (date and location TBC should I win). As a special bonus, the person in the comments who gets the closest to the final result will receive the traditional prize of British political blogging, dating back to before the 2005 General Election: Matthew Turner’s CD of Simply Red’s Stars.

I have to get my prediction in before 10pm on Thursday 12th March (eight weeks before polling closes) but you can keep predicting here long after that if you so wish. So, the two questions in the prediction are:

1) Predict the Great Britain (i.e. excluding Northern Ireland) percentage share of the vote for the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and UKIP. (1 penalty point awarded for each 0.2% the prediction is out per party)
2) Predict the number of seats won at the election by the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and SNP. (1 penalty point awarded for each seat the prediction is away from the result)

The winner is the person with the fewest points. I think that makes it all quite clear, but please ask if it’s not. So go ahead and predict, and just maybe the post-election drinks will be (partly) on me.

David Sanders’ inaugural Regius Professorship lecture now available to watch online

wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegA couple of months ago, I wrote about Reluctant Europeans?, David Sanders’ inaugural Regius Professorship lecture at the University of Essex. The lecture, and the panel discussion chaired by John Bercow that followed it, are now available online for you to watch. I think a lot of you will find both parts of it interesting.

The lecture is about an hour long and it’s a very good look at how British people think about European issues. It uses some quite recent academic research but isn’t aimed at a purely academic audience and Professor Sanders is a very good lecturer, so everyone should be able to understand the points he’s making.

The discussion that follows features Sanders, John Bercow (a graduate of the Department of Government at Essex), Professor Dame Helen Wallace, Baroness Shirley Williams and Professor Anthony King. It’s very wide-ranging around the points Sanders raised and has some interesting questions and comments from the audience.

Professor David Sanders’ Regius Professorship Lecture 2014 – Part 1: Lecture from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Professor David Sanders’ Regius Professorship Lecture 2014 – Part 2: Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Reluctant Europeans? David Sanders’ lecture on Britain and the European Union

wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegAs I’m sure my regular readers have noticed, I’m currently a student in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. The University and the Department have recently been honoured with the appointment of the first Regius Professorship of Political Science which has been granted to David Sanders, who has lectured in the department since 1975 and been one of the most important figures in British political science in that time.

Last night, he delivered his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor: “The Reluctant Europeans: Britain and the EU, 1973-2015” I naturally went along to hear it, and there were lots of interesting points made. The University were filming the lecture and the discussion that followed, so I would expect it to be available in full on their site soon. Until that is available, I did get pictures of many of the slides that illustrated and expanded his points, which you can see here.

The main thrust of the lecture was looking at how Britain has always been a more reluctant member of the EU than other countries and trying to explain why that is so. Support for the EU is lower amongst both the general population and the political elite in the UK than it is in the other member states, and Sanders believes that there are seven main reasons for this. He calls these seven stories that we tell ourselves, and they are:

  • Our historic conception of British foreign policy sees Britain as a world power, not just a European one, and we don’t want to be constrained by Europe.
  • A perceived economic disadvantage, where the rest of Europe does better out of free trade than we do
  • A sense of constitutional disempowerment – Europe as the remote and uncontrollable behemoth – coupled with a story of ‘we never signed up for this’
  • A widespread belief that the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court were imposted on us by the EU, and that the decisions made there go against the authoritarian instincts of many Britons
  • The issues and perceived problems caused by immigration, and by mainstream politicians ceding discussion of immigration to the extremes for many years
  • Beliefs about the relative transparency and efficiency of the British state compared to Europe, and beliefs that Britain implements rules more rigorously than other EU states
  • Inconsistent messages from mainstream parties, reflecting their internal divisions over Europe, have led to no consistent pro-European message to lead public opinion
  • There’s more information on each of those points, including some YouGov polling on questions relating to them, on the slides Professor Sanders used during the lecture.

    I’m not going to go into too much more detail as I’ll likely miss out important points as I wasn’t taking notes, and the whole lecture should be available soon for you to see, I hope. However, he did conclude the lecture with a discussion of points that both those pro- and anti-Europe should take note of in advance of any referendum that may occur. There are issues that both sides haven’t addressed that could be crucial in any campaign – for those in favour, they’re mostly centred around the list above, but for those against, there is strong evidence that the financial benefits of being in the EU are much bigger than the costs, and that the most enthusiastic supporters of Europe are the young, particularly those with friends and family living or working elsewhere in the EU. Support and opposition to EU membership in the UK is affected by external factors which cut across all demographic groups, and the prospect of success in any referendum could be strongly affected by any shocks that might occur in the run up to it.

    After the lecture, there was a very interesting panel discussion, chaired by Essex graduate John Bercow MP, and featuring Professor Anthony King, Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Dame Helen Wallace and David Sanders. Again, a lack of notes prevents me from covering it in detail, but Anthony King made a very interesting point about how the key difference between any future EU referendum and the 1975 one would be that the popular attitude towards the political class has fundamentally changed since then. In 1975, the party leaders’ endorsement of a Yes vote helped to secure the victory, but it’s unlikely it would have the same effect now as it did then, especially having seen what happened in the Scottish referendum. There was also some discussion of what might happen in the effect of strong regional and national differences in a referendum, especially the scenario where Scotland and Wales vote to stay in the EU but are outvoted by England.

    All in all, it was a very interesting evening, and definitely worth watching if and when the University make it available. (UPDATE: It is now available to watch online)