Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Libertarian Vote

There has been much talk about the upcoming election, it's supposed to be 'the most interesting' in a very long time indeed. In light of all this excitement, it's perhaps fitting that we in the Libertarian movement indulge in some psephological acrobatics ourselves, and thanks to polling organisations this is possible. I have attempted to assess what may be described as the potential 'Libertarian vote'.  If there were to be a Libertarian party, how much support might it perhaps receive, and from where? Here are my observations. 

Before I begin, I should probably say a few words about my methodology. I have relied on a sample of around 100 constituencies across England because I couldn't possibly assess all them  on my own, this would have been prohibitively time-consuming. To calculate a constituency's receptiveness to Libertarian values, I have mostly relied on YouGov's 'election centre'. I have taken into account the 'role of the state' ( the less the better) and measured it against the 'Libertarianness' (the more the better) of the area. It is important to mention here that YouGov almost certainly uses the term Libertarian in a social context, and not an economic or political sense. That much was obvious from trawling through the large number of constituencies I analysed to create this article. There will inevitably be those who disagree with the methods I have used to calculate the 'Libertarianness' of certain areas, and I fully welcome these criticisms. Any steps to improve my calculations can only benefit the movement as a whole. 

Selected Constituencies: 
  • Putney
  • Hammersmith
  • Wimbledon
  • Bristol West
  • Surrey Heath
  • Warwick and Leamington
  • Northampton North
  • Worcester
  • Guildford
  • Canterbury
  • North Cornwall
  • Kingston and Surbiton

So what do these areas have in common? The first thing I will say is that none of these areas are solidly Labour territory, no surprise there then. Even in areas where a Labour victory is likely in Hammersmith and Bristol West, it is set to be a tight race. However, apart from Surrey Heath, Canterbury and Guildford none of these constituencies are particularly safe seats for any party. 

Taken at face value they don't have much in common. Bristol West is quite far to the left  on all issues and Surrey Heath is firmly cemented on the right. However, Bristol West is more liberal regarding the 'size of the state' than other issues such as nationalism and education as well as having a very strong social Libertarian impulse. For this reason, I have decided to include it in my shortlist. In stark contrast, Surrey Heath is very supportive of a smaller state, much more so than other areas in the UK, and has only a 'small' authoritarian streak. So for different reasons, I have decided to include them in my analysis. 

In general, these constituents tend to be young, southern and living in rented accommodation. Only in Surrey Heath and North Cornwall are the majority older homeowners, and this was a small majority. It may also be useful to point out that these are all 'middle England' areas. None are particularly poor or overly affluent. Perhaps putting to bed the idea that Libertarianism is an ideology exclusively for rich bankers and CEO's. Areas where the very wealthy live like Chelsea and Fulham, seem to have more authoritarian impulses. Money woes are a big issue for these potentially Libertarian seats, fitting then, that Libertarian Home held a 'cost of living crisis' seminar last year. 

Another myth we can dispel by looking at polling data is that Libertarians are at home deep in the countryside, far away from civilisation. The constituencies I have selected are either urban areas or, quite densely populated suburbs. The obvious exception being North Cornwall, set to be an ultra-tight Conservative/ Lib Dem contest. Rural areas are likely to be more authoritarian and nationalistic than their urban counterparts. Additionally, the constituencies in the shortlist are generally reliant on online media for the majority of their news, even when TV is the dominant source of news, it is only by a small margin, as is the case in Warwick and Leamington. The reliance on  online news, over television is generally an urban phenomenon for obvious reasons.

However, there are some foreboding signs that emerge from the polling data. For someone that has been brought up in Hull, it is disappointing to note that the Yorkshire cities seem to be particularly hostile to Libertarian values. Places like Leeds, Doncaster, Hull & Rotherham are all solid Labour territory that have quite strong authoritarian leanings. Much more so that other 'working class' cities. Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham are more generically 'left'. Desiring a bigger state, but have a more socially liberal outlook. Surprisingly for some (and perhaps not for others), areas where UKIP are predicted to do well, are the least socially liberal and are right-wing on all issues including crime and nationalism. If the Libertarian movement wants to gain momentum, it will serve us well to realise that UKIP are not our political allies. UKIP voters also tend to be older and get the majority of their news from the TV. Bucking the trend of my younger, tech-savvy constituents. 

Yet this doesn't mean it will be  easy for a potential Libertarian candidate to win in these areas. Constituencies that are socially liberal as well as wanting to reduce the size of the state are few and far between. The most recent data from IPSOS MORI shows that only 5% of those surveyed, strongly supported the privatisation of public services, compared to 50% who wanted those services to remain in government hands. Not that earning votes is easy for any party, but identifying potential supporters for the Libertarian cause will be of great benefit for the burgeoning movement. I write this as a self-professed Voluntaryist. Someone that doesn't have much faith in state-sanctioned democracy. But engaging with the democratic process, and potentially getting politicians in Westminster that actually care about freedom is in everybody's interest.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

TV Election Misery

Last night, the British public was treated to an amazing spectacle! This was a chance for the leaders of all of the parties to have a vigorous debate about their policies and engage with the Great British electorate. Well, kind of…or not at all. In reality, the ‘debate’ didn’t include much arguing over policy. By the time most of you have read this article there will inevitably be a whole range of opinion polls and surveys revealing who ‘won’ this debate but for now I will have to rely on my own judgement. In reality this was simply a platform for a handful of politicians to spell out their policies on various issues, apart from a rogue heckler towards the end, the whole thing looked extremely contrived, But I must admit that I wasn’t expecting anything else.

So far, the election campaign has been dismal. There has been much talk in the build up to GE2015 of how new forces in politics are going to really shake up the British political system. Yet so far the campaigns have been woefully predictable, both the Conservatives and Labour are championing the same issues they were in 2010. But surely a debate that includes the other parties will be more interesting? Sadly this isn’t the case. Arguably the thing that stood out most from last night’s debate was that each politician was clearly trying to appeal their own crowd and little beyond that. Seemingly there will be no one to mercifully break through Britain’s election dullness.

The first question was somewhat predictably about the economy. The striking thing about the first section of this discussion was how close to the Tories Ed Miliband looked. There was a pretty clear split between the parties that accepted austerity and those that didn’t; with Plaid Cymru, The Greens and the SNP backing the latter. It was noticeable how Ed Miliband spent the rest of this section desperately trying to join the other side to get away from David Cameron. Speaking of David Cameron, it has been noted by others that Cameron’s reason for agreeing to this discussion was that he stood a better chance of doing reasonably well in a room full of people as opposed to a one on one debate. Clearly there had been some strong words with the Conservative leader after his grilling by Jeremy Paxman; Dave seemed to be more comfortable than he did last week.

Next the panel was asked a question about the NHS. On this issue, there was a miserable consensus. From this point onwards it was clear that Nicola Sturgeon was going to be the most charismatic person on the panel and Natalie Bennett has so far avoided a meltdown so at least the discussion was bearable to watch. It was fitting that The SNP’s leader led the charge condemning the ‘privatisation’ of the NHS, the other parties followed suit. Essentially the leaders all took turns to accuse the panellists of not being committed enough to the health service. Despite there being an uncomfortable moment when Nigel Farage said that a foreign family that got HIV here in the UK would be simple ‘unfortunate;’ this section was relatively dull.

I will address the last two questions at the same time because they were essentially a continuation of the same discussion, more so that the first half of the debate.  The third question was about immigration and the last was about young people. Really these were just chances for the leaders to address their core vote, no one would be surprised that Nick Clegg sprung into life when tuition fees were brought up and immigration saw Nigel’s most animated moments. I would argue there David Cameron saw his worst instance here when he claimed that by voting for UKIP, people were electing ‘Labour by the backdoor’. I could feel the whole country groaning with me. It was also noticeable that Ed Miliband’s most reliable tactic is his ability to distance himself from New-Labour, I imagine he will continue to deploy this through the election campaign.

To conclude, it was clear by the end of the ‘Leaders Debate’ that Libertarian values will play no part in the upcoming election campaign. Throughout the discussion, there were no references to greater freedom and genuine prosperity at all. But on this issue, I am hardly surprised. I believe that David Cameron’s plan to participate in a little debate as possible during the race to Downing Street has worked remarkably well; I don’t think that his opinion ratings will have been damaged or radically boosted by this debate. As for the minor parties, I don’t think that they will have radically changed their electoral prospects. At the time of writing this article it looks like David Cameron and Ed Miliband have done equally well in Salford. The monotony of the upcoming electoral wrangling hasn’t been made any more thrilling.