On the campaign trial
Writing for LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog, Alia Middleton looks at election campaign trails in Britain and what the locations visited and events staged say about the campaigns and politicians involved.
Between 2010 and 2019, the average campaign period for elections was 34 days. This tight time restriction means that leaders and major political figures cannot visit every constituency or electoral area. As a result, locations, timings and optics are all heavily strategised. While the traditional campaign trail technique for many years has been to focus on marginal seats, Middleton argues that the reality since 2010 has been more complex. In both the 2017 and 2019 elections, Brexit voting patterns were a much greater factor in determining the location of campaign visits. In 2017, then Prime Minister Theresa May visited many leave-voting seats with Labour majorities and little history of Conservative success.
As well as discussing the voting profile of seats visited, Middleton also divides campaign visits into two main types. Inward-facing visits focus on a local audience, including party activists and events such as constituency ‘walkabouts’. Outward-facing visits include major ‘grand-standing’ events, such as leaders’ speeches and manifesto launches. These provide an opportunity for the party leader to project authority and display “statecraft” abilities. More policy-orientated outward-facing visits provide an opportunity for a major figure to focus on policy-specific campaigning. This can include visits to hospitals, tours of factories and speeches in schools and colleges.
Middleton then breaks down these types of visits, discovering that certain leaders favoured certain types of events depending on their political objectives and public profile.
Read the full article:
- Alia Middleton, ‘The campaign trail of UK party leaders is a carefully planned series of public appearances in strategically selected locations’, LSE British Politics and Policy, 13 April 2021
Ten years on from the AV referendum
May 2021 marks ten years since the referendum on the alternative vote (AV) electoral system. Writing for the Political Studies Association, Ben Williams looks back at this “forgotten referendum”, the reasons why the result was so emphatically against the adoption of AV, and the consequences for the next decade of government.
The vote was held as a compromise between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party under their coalition agreement of 2010. The Liberal Democrats, long supporters of electoral reform, campaigned heavily for the change, while their coalition partners campaigned against. Turnout was relatively low (42%), with 68% voting no to AV and 32% yes. Williams suggests several reasons for the result, including:
- lack of voter interest or understanding of any benefits of the AV system itself; and
- political factors that encouraged voters to “punish” the Liberal Democrats by voting against.
Williams goes on to argue that the AV referendum set in motion a trend for direct democracy to decide “difficult” problems over the next ten years. In Williams’ view, the then Prime Minister David Cameron used the experience of his successful ‘no to AV’ campaign to shape his thinking on future problems. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum, on which Cameron also campaigned for an ultimately successful ‘no’ vote, cemented this approach. WIlliams argues that this then backfired in 2016 with the European referendum, where Cameron campaigned for the ultimately unsuccessful remain campaign. This marked the end of his experiment with direct democracy, that began back in May 2011 with the referendum on the alternative vote.
Williams concludes that the period has shown that the referendum is “both a novel yet dangerous method of governance”.
Read the full article:
- Ben Williams, ‘The AV referendum a decade on: David Cameron’s first gamble’, Political Studies Association, 1 April 2021