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Inside: Swinging in Britain, tax bombshells, Sadiq's progress. View this email in your browser
Edited by Tom Jeffery

Choices, choices, choices

Are more democratic exercises leading to less democratic outcomes? “We are witnessing”, claims Craig Berry of the Sheffield Political Economic Research Institute, “the undermining of longstanding democratic norms in the British polity”. From this perspective, our choice on 8th June has been whittled away to whether or not we “rubber stamp” Theresa May’s interpretation of the Brexit vote.

However, Compass is marshalling those “ready to collaborate to reset the political system” to form a progressive alliance. Here are the arguments in favour:

  • The 1997 strategy simply won’t work for Labour, argues Jeremy Gilbert. It lacks the energy to speak to swing voters in Conservative marginal constituencies, and the party’s base has now fragmented beyond repair.
  • Anne McLaughlin and Tommy Sheppard argue from the SNP perspective that a progressive climate is essential for further progress towards independence in Scotland, and that solidaristic politics are important in the meantime.
  • Paul Pettinger reminds fellow Liberal Democrats that no significant electoral reform has been achieved without Labour support.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas floated the idea in 2015 when Corbyn emerged as frontrunner to lead the Labour Party, and despite being rebuffed by both the Labour and Liberal leaderships has authorised local parties to do the same.

Green candidates plan to stand aside in favour of Labour in Ealing Central and Acton, Brighton Kemptown, and most recently Ilford North. They are giving Women’s Equality Party leader Sophie Walker a clear run against incumbent Conservative MP Philip Davies in Shipley. Green candidates have stood aside in Richmond Park and North Kingston and Twickenham, while Liberal Democrats are not putting forward a candidate in Lucas’ own seat of Brighton Pavilion.

Does the electoral calculus actually make sense for progressive parties? A YouGov survey - carried out in November 2016 with a sample of 6196 English voters - suggests that seven in ten voters would back some kind of pact. This would seem to reflect the increased propensity of English voters to swing - as Birkbeck professor Rosie Campbell finds in two excellent episodes of BBC’s Analysis.
In 2015, as many as 40 per cent switched parties. YouGov’s Marcus Roberts and Matt Smith argue that these progressive travellers are in the wrong place. They are mainly of the ABC1 socio-economic class, who mainly live in safe seats.

How about younger voters? Traditional electoral wisdom says they don’t turn out to vote. Yet a new survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute of undergraduates suggests that students are planning to vote in strength. T his does not straightforwardly translate into issues-driven or tactical voting. 55 per cent of the sample plan to vote Labour. Only 30 per cent would abandon their party allegiance for a party that’s willing to oppose Brexit. Of these, just over half are prepared to vote tactically in principle. HEPI estimated that students made a decisive impact on five seats in 2015: providing slim Labour victories against Conservatives in places like the City of Chester and Wolverhampton South West. However, this election takes place when they’ve returned home.

Does it make democratic sense? Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society strongly condemns the “grim game” where voters’ preferred candidates lose out either to more marginal priority seats, or to super-funded progressive alliance candidates. She wants “a voting system where it’s always OK for voters to vote for their party”. But Campbell emphasises that the dramatic increase in swing voting last election reflected the chance that minor parties might sway a hung parliament. In her view, voters have compromised for decades thanks to the monopolisation of power by the Conservatives and Labour. In this sense, it’s parties that stand in the way of democratic outcomes. This makes sense when you consider the seemingly unassailable personal popularity of Theresa May going into this election - 61 per cent of voters backed her in the latest poll, including a quarter of Labour voters.

Brexit has voters from both camps on the move, and has left many undecided. Here’s where Remainers have travelled between 2015 and the end of 2016, according to the British Election Study:
According to Hansard Society’s most recent study of political engagement, 56 per cent of voters are ‘absolutely certain to vote’ this election - the largest proportion in 14 years. More voters are mobilising, with a broader set of electoral considerations than ever before. This confusing terrain means that a progressive alliance will probably not deprive Theresa May of the mandate she’s asked for this year. The broader insight would seem to be that political parties are struggling to manage democracy in the way they are accustomed. In the long term, rather than narrowing our choices at the ballot box, shouldn’t we have more?

Quick Reads

Bombshell. “Something unusual is happening in this general election campaign. Everyone is talking about raising taxes”. Resolution Foundation

20 years later. Has independence for the Bank of England led to better monetary and fiscal policy? NIESR

13 of 24. A worrying proportion of successful Government bills from the last session passed on the last sitting day of Parliament - but a raft of major policy decisions have been placed on hold. Institute for Government

Stalemate ahead. The EU wants the European Court of Justice to retain jurisdiction over the rights of EU nationals remaining in the UK after Brexit. That’s never going to be acceptable to a UK leader. Open Europe

Buckled up. Sadiq Khan has astutely lined up some quick policy wins, like the Hopper Fare. But his uncritical commitment to preserve the green belt stands in the way of meaningful progress on housing. Centre for Cities

Reports

What’s holding up housebuilding? The government’s green paper proposes to drop planning permissions for projects unlikely to be started, to use compulsory purchase orders on those that have stalled, and to work with developers to fix practical barriers to development. But “developers can only build houses as fast as they can sell them”, argue Civitas. Land prices are tied to current house prices, enforcing slow development. Demand side policies, like Help to Buy, can only reasonably support those who can afford current house prices and therefore don’t spur faster building to serve waiting customers. The surest way to increase housing supply would be to enable the public sector to do it at a large scale. The next would be to improve the absorption of new houses by the market - specifically by tweaking the conditions attached to planning permissions. Landowners would no longer have the right to sit on land indefinitely, with sites that are needed for new homes subject to compulsory purchase “at a price that does not incorporate prospective planning permission”. Could this work? In a sense, the use of land is already affecting its value - for example where infrastructure commitments are attached. Civitas

Not so fast. There’s a lot of political steam behind regaining powers on immigration from the European Union, but this may be one of the most complicated policy priorities to secure. Certainly, the UK Government can immediately implement a new regime. However, primary legislation will be needed when parliamentary time is in short supply. In administrative terms, the Institute for Government argues, “the scale of the task makes successful implementation of a new immigration regime by April 2019 unfeasible”. This is because much enforcement activity at the moment is carried out by “employers, landlords and public services”. Given that three million EU nationals already resident in the UK will be affected, and the potential for labour market and administrative disruption is significant, the Government should avoid tinkering until a new system is ready. Many want to see a simpler, less burdensome and more easily enforceable regime. To make this happen means well-planned and phased implementation, and that means freedom of movement may need to stay in place for several years after Brexit. Institute for Government

Shock absorbers. Medical wards delivering acute care in hospitals need a plan: they are treating complex conditions, in increasingly frail patients, under growing time pressures. The teams responsible are large and comprise many disciplines, spread out across the hospital. Frequent handovers between staff undermine consistency and mean mistakes are made - not from breakdowns in procedure, but from missed opportunities to provide care adding up. So what can be done at the frontline? Clinical teams are already acting as “shock absorbers” for an overstretched system. Within the NHS, they are taking the initiative to make patient records readily available, and they have been empowered to make scientifically-grounded design interventions to improve care quality - such as redesigning the emergency floor. Wider moves towards greater collaboration, however, are put at risk by a lack of esteem for junior doctors, expressed not only in declining pay and working conditions but “a more fragmented experience”. More collaborative ways of working, The King’s Fund argue, will require a move away from the craftsmanlike model of clinical work towards greater standardisation. There is a cultural shift needed, too: high performing hospitals tend to have a leadership with a visible, personal commitment to quality improvement. Making the change is everyone’s responsibility, however: “no stakeholder ought to be a bystander”. The King’s Fund

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