England & Wales, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

GE17 lite #4

Image: LGiU

We have arrived at election day and, hopefully, peak vitriol. This final edition of our short election series looks back at a campaign period that has thrown up surprises and unexpected moments for all the parties. 

Is this the brexit election?

A poll by Ipsos Mori taken before the election was called suggested that half of Britain’s adults saw brexit as the most important issue in the UK.

But according to the BBC, Professor Stephen Fisher, from Oxford University, says: “Most people who voted Remain are not desperate for a second referendum.”

In a YouGov survey published earlier this month, 23 per cent of people questioned were classed as “Re-Leavers” – those who voted to remain in the EU but think that the government has a duty to leave, and 45 per cent were “hard leavers” who want out. That left only 22 per cent of people who were “hard remainers” – those who want to stop Brexit – and nine per cent who didn’t know.

“So it might not be the brexit election after all” as the BBC says. We will need to wait to analyse the results before we know whether they are right or not.

Failure to fly

Do we know what issues haven’t played much of a part in this campaign?

Well fracking and the environment are examples (though there could be some places where fracking is a big issue). Schools, and particularly grammar schools also failed to capture attention – there was a bit of a flourish early on but that fizzled out quite quickly. Children’s social care did not feature much in any of the manifestos or subsequent election discussions as our blog explains.

Local government and devolution, perhaps not unsurprisingly, have not appeared high up any campaign agendas. We have already argued that there was little vision and few new policies in any of the manifestos in this blog.

Of course, the election has been overshadowed by the dreadful terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and the debates afterwards have naturally been dominated by issues around security.

But there are some other issues have gained an unexpectedly high profile, most notably social care, which overtook the NHS in campaign time and that must be unique for a UK general election.

And the economy? It is always there of course – in the background if not necessarily up front – especially taxation and spending. But is this election going to disprove the old saying “it’s the economy, stupid”?

Women candidates: greater percentage, fewer candidate

There are more women candidates this time – about 30 per cent of candidates are women – up from the previous record of 26 per cent in 2015. The actual number of women standing is down from 1,036 to 983 but there are fewer candidates overall standing – about 3,300 compared to 3,971 in 2015.

But about 7.5 million people will not be able to vote for a woman as more than 100 constituencies across the UK have no female candidate on the ballot, according to BBC research.

There is one seat where it is impossible to elect a man to Parliament: Glasgow Central has four names on the ballot – all are women.

Will they, won’t they?

The EU referendum saw a huge increase in the number of people turning out to vote; 2.9 million more people voted in the referendum, compared with the May 2015 general election, David Cowling, a political opinion-polling specialist from King’s College London, says. The turnout for the referendum was the largest turnout in England since the 1992 general election and largest in Wales since the 1997 general election.

But the big question is will they all vote again this election? There was a huge boost in people registering to vote just before the deadline, especially among the under 35s. But research from NatCen (National Centre for Social Research) says that only 53 per cent of 18-30 years olds definitely say they will vote – compared to 79 per cent of those over 60 who were surveyed.

Devo parties

Will we see the growth of regional parties in the future? The Yorkshire Party is fielding 21 candidates at this election, campaigning on issues such as school children to receive the same funding per head as pupils in London. Their main proposal, though, is a demand for a Yorkshire-wide parliament or assembly that would lead the way on education and infrastructure in the county.

Its leader, Stewart Arnold, explains the rationale behind the party in this Guardian article. And it is very much that the voice of Yorkshire needs to be heard at Westminster. Will other regions produce similar parties in future?

Are we seeing the spread of ‘junk news’?

Analysis by researchers at Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute has given us some insight on the election on social media. The researchers analysed more than 1.3 million tweets using hashtags associated with the primary political parties in the UK, the major candidates, and the election itself.

They claim that the ‘junk news’ that blighted the US presidential race is also playing a role in the UK election, accounting for almost 13 per cent of relevant content shared (once non-political and spam content is removed). This can include fake, hyper-partisan or emotionally charged news content, much of which is deliberately produced false reporting. Other interesting findings include:

  • One in eight tweets (12.3 per cent) about UK politics are generated by bots (highly automated accounts).
  • Labour is, by some margin, attracting the greatest interest from highly automated accounts (Labour: 21,661 tweets; SNP: 13,819 tweets; Conservative: 13,409 tweets).
  • However, the analysis does not show whether automated accounts are run to reflect positively or negatively on a particular party or candidate, nor who is running these accounts.