Archive for the 'Policy & Politics' Category

What is the long-term impact on China of the recent fall in shares value?

In today’s guest post Andrzej Bolesta, author of China and Post-Socialist Development, provides his insight into why the current situation will have minimal long-term impact on China.

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

Dr Andrzej Bolesta

Recently the media have been writing a lot about China’s stock exchange. They have been speculating about the reasons for the fall in shares value and about the possible long term trends impacting China’s development trajectory.

Between the middle of June and the end of August, Shanghai’s stock exchange composite Index fell by around 40 percent, whereas Shenzhen’s by around 45 percent. Although for many investors and analysts it is important to see short term causes and consequences of the current “correction”, for researchers like myself, the paramount issue is whether the current situation is part of a larger package of occurrences, which might impact China and thus the world.

Limited long-term impact

My opinion is that the current situation will have a minimal long‐term impact on China, if any. China’s other challenges are way bigger than the recent troubles related to the stock market.

Firstly, bear in mind that the indexes are still higher than when the boom started last year. This boom is difficult to associate with robust economic growth, as the “new normal” pace is not a double digit figure. Consequently, it is also difficult to associate the current correction with some specific troubles of the Chinese economy.

“there are many things about the companies listed on the stock market that we don’t know…”

Naturally, there are all sorts of factors which are believed to have contributed to the current state of affairs; for example, the financial supervisory authorities have manipulated the regulations concerning the availability of credit to purchase shares, the August devaluation of the RMB has been perceived as an illustration of another weakness of the Chinese economy, speculations that the US Federal Reserve will increase interest rates initiated the flight of the dollar back to America.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there are many things about the companies listed on the stock market that we don’t know. Many of them are state‐owned enterprises with
only limited share available for trading and China’s economy is not the most transparent one.

Consequently, these companies’ standing often depends on non‐market, political factors. Hence, investors have a limited knowledge upon which to act. This contributes to the level of uncertainty, which, in turn, may perhaps generate fluctuations and these fluctuations can be perceived as irrational.

Active macroeconomic policy

Thirdly, to try to amend economic problems, China still has room for active macroeconomic policy. Unlike the US and Europe, it can comfortably continue lowering its interest rates. Moreover, its central government’s debt is comparably low.

Fourthly, the impact of the current situation on the Chinese citizens, as broadly argued, will be rather insignificant. The stock market capitalization as compared to the national GDP is lower than in advanced economies and thus their influence on the national economy is limited. Moreover, the shares are significantly dispersed among many small scale private

“So whatever happens in China does not stay in China”

Nevertheless, make no mistake. Whatever happens in China has most likely either short term or long term, or both, consequences for the rest of the world.

Soon to be the biggest economy in the world (according to purchasing power parity estimates it already is), China is an integral and deeply integrated component of the global economy. Shanghai is becoming one of the capitals of the financial world.

So whatever happens in China does not stay in China. Consequently, many stock markets around the world have followed suit and recorded falling indexes. However, what may worry the rest of the world the most is China’s slowing rate of economic growth, inevitably perceived to become a long term trend. The slow down affects primarily China’s suppliers of raw materials and energy resources, then the economies with a large share of export directed to China, for example, as part of the regional production chains, and then everybody else.

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The Illusion of China’s Economic Liberalization

China and post socialist development [FC]For more insights into China and it’s systematic following of the Post Socialist Development State (PSDS) model why not take a look at China and Post-Socialist Development which is available to purchase here from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Democracy, Inequality & Power: Policy & Politics conference 2015

Policy Press Journals Executive Kim Eggleton gives us a whistle stop tour of the key themes and speakers from the 2015 Policy and Politics Conference. Whether you’re looking to find out more about the event or just be reminded of all that was covered over it and to have a flick through some of the photographs taken then you’ve come to the right place…

Danny Dorling addresses the delegates at the Policy & Politics conference

Danny Dorling addresses the delegates at the Policy & Politics conference

Last month saw the annual Policy & Politics conference take place in the centre of Bristol. Over 154 people attended to listen to 140 papers on varying themes relating to Democracy, Inequality & Power. 

This conference always offers an exciting line up of keynote speakers, and this year was no exception, with Mark Purcell, Danny Dorling, Kate Pickett and Andrew Gamble all delivering excellent plenaries to the attendees. Summaries of all the plenaries are available on the Policy & Politics blog, as well as short video from Danny Dorling.

The conference also had some fascinating themed panels on subjects such as education as public policy, neoliberalism in post-crisis societies,  the regulation of sex work and pornography, and communities and dissent.  28 countries were represented at the conference and a good deal of discussion and debate was enjoyed by all, some of which you see on Twitter using the #ppconf2015 hashtag. Some pictures of the conference are below, you can see the full collection on Flickr.

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Policy & Politics 2015 [FC]For more information about the Policy and Politics journal as well as link to free institutional trials please click here. And why not head on over to the Policy and Politics Blog which is full to the brim with great content from the journal, it’s contributors and editors.

6 free articles on the economic impact of austerity

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Number 10

In the immediate aftermath of the first wholly Conservative government budget in nearly 20 years reaction has been mixed.

Some believe Chancellor George Osborne’s move towards a higher-wage, lower-tax economy is fair and will give the majority of families a higher standard of living. For others, the budget was seen as ‘deceitful’, with the proposed cuts in benefits outweighing the gains, leaving the poorest even worse off.

The coming weeks and months will of course reveal the true impact but now is a good time to review some of the economic impacts of the austerity programme to date, assessing them on the basis of scholarly evidence and research.

For the next week we’re giving you FREE access to six articles from across our journals. These examine austerity economics across local government, the legal system, disability movements, social work and the voluntary sector:

Weathering the perfect storm? Austerity and institutional resilience in local government (Policy & Politics, volume 41, number 4): Evidence from case study research shows the dominance of cost-cutting and efficiency measures, as in previous periods of austerity. But creative approaches to service redesign are also emerging as the crisis deepens, based upon pragmatic politics and institutional bricolage.

Austerity justice (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 21, number 1): Discusses why civil legal aid has reached this low point and the impact of the loss this source of support for advice on welfare benefits and other common civil legal problems.

Cutting social security and tax credit spending (Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, volume 19, number 3): Examines the scale and nature of earlier government cuts by focusing on the indexation and capping of benefits, making benefits more selective and the fate of contributory benefits in the cuts.

Out of the shadows: disability movements (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 2, number 2): In resisting cuts to disability benefits and services, today’s disability activists have consciously established themselves as an important part of a wider resistance to austerity.

Crisis, austerity and the future(s) of social work in the UK (Critical and Radical Social Work, volume 1, number 1): Examining the impact of the Government’s policy of ‘austerity’, which seeks to shift the costs of that crisis onto the poorest sections of the population while seeking also to undermine the post-war welfare settlement.

Decoupling the state and the third sector? The ‘big Society’ as a spontaneous order (Voluntary Sector Review, volume 4, number 2): Draws on Friedrich Hayek’s theory of ‘spontaneous order’, suggesting that the Big Society involves some implicit Hayekian assumptions. It concludes by considering the implications of regarding the third sector in such terms.

We publish seven highly prestigious journal in the social sciences. If you’d like to find out more about Policy Press journals and for information on how to subscribe to any of the journals then click on the links below.

How financing affected the 2015 UK General Election campaign

What part did financing play in last week’s election results? We know that political parties are crucial to British democracy and that the grassroots constituency branches provide both people and money to drive an election. 

Ron Johnston

Ron Johnston

Ron Johnston, co-author of Money and Electoral Politics discusses campaign finance and how it has affected the 2015 general election on the Guardian Politics Weekly Extra here.

Charles Pattie

Charles Pattie

In their much-needed book, Money and Electoral Politics, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie use the latest research and hitherto unpublished material to explore financial differences across the UK’s three main parties in the four years leading up to the 2010 General Election. They look at how much local parties raise for election campaigns and find that the more money candidates spend then, the better their performance.

Analyses of their annual accounts, however, show that many local parties are unable to raise all of the money that they are entitled to spend on such campaigns. This reveals an unhealthy picture of grassroots party organisation in which the capacity to engage effectively with many voters is concentrated in a relatively small number of constituencies and is likely to remain so.

Policy Press CoverWant to know more? You can purchase a copy of Money and Electoral Politics from the Policy Press website here.

Don’t forget Policy Press newsletter subscribers get a 35% discount when ordering through our website. If you’re not a subscriber yet why not sign up here today and join our Policy Press community?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


Shame, stigma, fear and rage: Lessons from Berlin the day before #GE2015

Policy Press director Alison Shaw recently travelled to Berlin for a few days. Contemplating a wealth of history during the trip, Alison shares with us her thoughts on some of the similarities with the threats facing us today, especially around freedom of expression, the use of  shame as a political tool and the rhetoric around food and work.

Policy Press - 018 resizeA few weeks ago I was in Berlin. It is an amazing city with a complex history. We went from gazing at stunning statues of Queen Nefertiti from 14th century BC to mind-boggling brain-activated artificial limbs (husband is a neuroscientist!).

We saw the now rather glamorised Wall that separated East from West, but the thing that stood out was the Topography of Terror, a museum on the site of the central institutions of Nazi persecution, where the leadership of the Secret State Police, the SS, were housed.

Politics today

It is an astonishing museum on the history of the Nazi movement. Three things struck me in particular that are relevant to politics today.

Burning booksAs a publisher I was taken by the photos of piles of burning books – knowledge is power, and clearly those that take away that knowledge wield an intensified power. Freedom of speech and tolerance of ideas is so vital in society.

The Charlie Hebdo murders, and the response from the different communities, put this into stark relief. Our ‘global village’ is small and we have to find a way to live in tolerance with each other. The rise of extremism is something that concerns us all. But the almost hysterical rhetoric about immigration in the UK is deeply concerning.

The question is how do we engage communities who are fearful of other cultures. The rise of UKIP is something both the left and the right in Britain need to understand – they are providing something people want – so, in a multi-cultural society, how can the traditional parties address those concerns whilst staying true to their beliefs?

“The significant effect shame has on people has come to the fore recently in work on poverty.”

The second aspect that stood out was the use of shame and stigma as a method of control, such as the parading of individuals down the streets with shaved heads and placards reading out their misdemeanors.

Shame is a powerful emotion that most of us want to avoid and thus is extremely powerful. The significant effect shame has on people has come to the fore recently in work on poverty. Amartya Sen described shame as the “irreducible core” of poverty. The shame of it by Gubrium, Pellissery and Lødemel takes research from across the globe to show how policy makers must take account of the psychological aspects of people’s experiences  to provide policies that work effectively.

Families and poverty with border [FC]Closer to home O’Hara’s interviews with those facing the savage cuts to welfare in the UK for Austerity bites highlighted how shame plays a significant role in people’s responses to poverty with Daly and Kelly’s ground-breaking study Families and Poverty supporting this.

Jennifer Jacquet’s Is shame necessary? (Penguin) turns the concept on its head by looking at how the public can shame the powerful into behaving better as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the shaming of the 1% such as by Dorling in his fully updated edition of Injustice and Sayer in Why we can’t afford the rich. It will be interesting to see if there are real changes made to policy and legislation to address the inequality of the 1% to the 99% as a result.

One text line stood out for me at the Topography of Terror and that was “Those who do not work, shall not eat” which was used as the justification for the murder of the mentally and physically disabled and the mentally ill. Now we don’t murder people in the UK but we have moved to an extremely punitive sanctions regime for those ‘who do not work’ and we do leave people with literally nothing to eat.


I remain outraged that we have benefit sanctions that are so tough that people have no money at all for months because they are late to a benefits appointment by 5 minutes. What are they meant to do? The bedroom tax has had an appalling impact on the disabled and the welfare cuts are hitting the disabled and mentally ill hard as services and care support are cut.

In the new Afterword to Austerity Bites, O’Hara gives the example of a young disabled woman who had had her support cut – she had gone from being a Cambridge undergraduate who, although severely disabled had been able to live a full life filled with promise, to someone who said: “There have been just two emotions in the last month – fear and rage. I joke that the Tories should just round up all us disabled people and have us shot – it would be quicker and cheaper than what they’re doing and it would put us out of our misery. It’s a dark joke but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I wonder when will we fight for equality for the disabled?”

According to Mahatma Ghandi, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” How are we doing as a society? Pretty badly I would say for one of the globe’s wealthiest nations.

Related links

How benefit sanctions left me sleeping on the streets

Policy Press April ‘editorial picks’: Politics

Continuing our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’, and with our focus very much on the election it makes sense for our Politics Senior Commissioning Editor Emily Watt to tell us a little bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Politics titles and why she feels certain New Zealand will win the Rugby World Cup this year…

Policy Press - 013Name: Emily Watt

Title: Senior Commissioning Editor

What’s your background story?
I have been at Policy Press for just over 10 years, which is still hard to believe, working my way up from Editorial Assistant in January 2005 to my current role as Senior Commissioning Editor.

About 4 years before this and about a year after graduating from Lancaster University with a BA Hons in American Studies, I went travelling with my best friend for 15 months to the US, Australia and South East Asia. I didn’t really know at this point what I wanted to do, so I was hoping this trip would enable me, in true clichéd style, ‘to find myself’. It was an amazing experience, but it didn’t get me much closer to a career decision.

When I returned I found out that one of the friends had just completed an MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes and then the penny dropped, I suddenly knew this is what I wanted to do! My Mum had also done copy-editing and proofreading and worked in magazine publishing, so publishing had always been there in the background.

One year of study later, during which I worked part-time at Berg, I finally got my qualification and, just as importantly, was put in touch with Alison Shaw, the Director at Policy Press. While back in Bristol, I wrote a letter to Alison to ask if she had any work for me. The rest, as they say, is history and I haven’t looked back since.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?
As a Senior Commissioning Editor and manager of the Commissioning Team, my role can be really varied. For example, one morning I can be reading and feeding back on new book proposals, planning for the next conference or campus visit, preparing paperwork for our next Acquisitions Meetings or sending out referee comments or contract offers. By the afternoon, I could be reviewing the Team’s budget, analysing the commissioning targets to feed into plans for the following year, or attending a cross-team meeting.

I really relish balancing such a variety of tasks in any one day and being able to challenge myself to think through problems and make swift decisions. I enjoy managing the team, but my real passion is commissioning and being able to see an early idea start from a conversation I had at a conference to becoming a finished product. This gives me great satisfaction.

What most excites you about your subjects?
I look after a good range of subjects including Politics, such as Public Policy, Social Policy and Welfare, Social Geography and Urban Studies and Housing and Planning and although they interlink, I like that the books I work on can be so different in scope.

I am particularly engaged in areas of my list that have a social justice or equality angle, that challenge current thinking and push the debate forward and which truly bridge the gap between theory and practice. Great recent examples of this are ‘Making policy move’ by John Clarke, Dave Bainton, Noémi Lendvai and Paul Stubbs, which is out this month, ‘New philanthropy and social justice’ (part of our Contemporary issues in social policy series) by Behrooz Morvaridi and Julian Dobson’s campaigning book ‘How to save our town centres’.

What key things are happening in Politics at Policy Press this year?
You could argue that everything we publish has a relevance to politics and policy, but in Politics we started the year off well with the release of a new trade book by Peter Hain MP entitled ‘Back to the future of Socialism’, which is a real boost to our Politics list. Written by a former Labour MP, who was in the Blair and Brown Cabinets, Peter’s book revisits the classic 1956 work by Anthony Crosland and uses it as a springboard for putting forward his political prospectus for today. The book, pitched at a wide readership, is a real boost for our Politics list and makes for an academically engaging and personal read, one that I think is very important given the public’s growing disengagement and disaffection with mainstream political parties.

Another important book that has just been released as a paperback is ‘Women of Power’ by Torild Skard which charts an impressive 73 female presidents and prime ministers worldwide over the last 50 years. Based on an astounding amount of research by the author, the book looks at these women’s motives, achievements and life stories in politics and it is a must read for anyone interested in gender, politics and leadership.

There has also been some excellent content on key political issues published in the latest issue of our Policy & Politics journal. I was particularly drawn to ‘the politics of quangocide’ from Katharine Dommett and Matt Flinders and ‘Governing at arm’s length’ by Catherine Durose, Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher. The journal co-edited by Sarah Ayres (Bristol) and Matt Flinders (Sheffield) is a leading international journal in the field of public policy that importantly prizes itself (as Policy Press does too) on bridging the gap between theory and practice and linking macro-scale political economy debates with micro-scale policy studies.

Our new Policy Press Shorts are an ideal format for Politics given that the subject is so fast-moving and topical. Being able to offer flexible publishing options has opened up new opportunities in all our subjects and the Policy Press Shorts have a 12 week turnaround from delivery to publication. They are an excellent outlet for publishing original ideas quickly and making a difference in a concise and accessible way, ideal for politics.

One great example is a Policy and practice Short entitled ‘Battle of the Bedroom tax’ by Dave Cowan and Alex Marsh which publishes just after the election. The bedroom tax was a key and highly contentious policy and one which could slip down the political agenda depending on who gets in power in May, so having the Short out quickly so that it hits the right political moment is key.

What interests you particularly about Politics?
The key issues that interest me in Politics at the moment are political disengagement, devolution and a shift in power from a Westminster-centric view and the ongoing debates related to independence and the decline of mainstream political parties in favour of more extreme parties, such as UKiP (there is much more to be said here!).

I am also keen to commission more politics books in areas we are known for and which are continually on the political agenda. This includes political issues for disadvantaged groups, such as those in poverty, older people, disability and gender and books that push the boundaries and put forward radical and fresh perspectives.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt that was chosen by our very own Victoria Pittman for book group. I really like what I’ve read so far, but I have a feeling the book will be by my bed (or on the bus with me) for a while!

Laura Vickers led the editorial picks in March – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?
Her sheer determination. When she puts her mind to something she doesn’t give up and makes sure it gets done even though it might be really challenging along the way or take a long time.

Laura’s question for you is: Who will win the Rugby World Cup?
This question from Laura is a not a surprise as she is a massive fan of rugby and most sports. I have absolutely no idea how to pick a team to win the World Cup, but I will base it on a place where I have always wanted to visit – New Zealand.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?
Who would be the 4 best/most influential people you would have dinner with and why? They don’t all have to be alive!

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Policy Press March ‘editorial picks’: Environment and Sustainability

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks’: Criminology and Criminal Justice

Related reading

Policy Press CoverMoney and electoral politics by Johnston and Pattie

There are fewer people registered to vote in 2015 than there were in 2010: is that to Labour’s advantage?

Policy Press authors and academics Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie have teamed up with David Rossiter to write a recent LSE General Election 2015 blog There are fewer people registered to vote in 2015 than there were in 2010. We were fascinated to read about the discrepancies in voter registration between this election and the last one, especially as we have been supporting the Bite the ballot campaign, encouraging people to register to vote. Here is their post reblogged in full…

AuthorsThe 2010 general election result was considerably biased in Labour’s favour: if they and Conservatives had won equal shares of the vote total, Labour could have obtained as many as 54 more seats than their Tory opponents. This bias partly reflected unequal electorates across the country’s constituencies.

Recently published data show that the number of registered electors nationally has since declined. But is Labour’s advantage still there? Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie and David Rossiter analyse those data and show that, unless the Conservatives win a lot of seats from Labour on 7 May, if the two parties are roughly equal in their number of votes Labour could again benefit from the inherent biases in the electoral system, perhaps by as many as 30 seats.

All UK general election results since the 1970s have been biased, favouring Labour over the Conservatives – bias being defined as the difference in the number of seats each would have gained if they had equal shares of the votes cast. If that had occurred in 2010 – with votes distributed across Britain’s constituencies in the same proportions as the votes actually cast – Labour would have obtained 54 more seats than the Conservatives.

Pro-Labour bias

Several factors create this pro-Labour bias; the most consistent have been differences between constituencies won by the two parties in their average electorates and turnout rates. Small constituencies can be won by fewer votes than large ones; so can those with low turnouts compared to those with high. The mean electorate in Conservative-won seats was 72,304 in 2010, but 68,672 in those won by Labour; average turnout in those two groups of seats was 68.2 and 61.2% respectively. The former difference was worth 18 seats to Labour in the total bias of 54; the latter was worth 31 seats.

The Conservatives tried to remove the impact of differences in average electorates: the 2011 Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act required all constituencies to have electorates within 5% of the national average by the time of the 2015 general election, and the Boundary Commissions’ revised recommendations for new seats applying this rule would have removed any pro-Labour bias. But the redistribution was aborted, the Liberal Democrats voting with Labour and against their coalition partners to delay the redistribution until 2016, in retaliation for the lack of progress on House of Lords reform.

But has that difference in mean electorates been reduced, if not eliminated, by changes since 2010 in the distribution of the electorate across Britain’s 650 constituencies? Labour’s advantage over the Conservatives was a consequence of:

  • Smaller constituencies on average in Scotland and Wales (65,234 and 58,627 electors respectively) – where Labour won 67 seats and the Conservatives only 9 – compared to England (average 71,918), where the Conservatives won 297 seats to Labour’s 191;
  • A decline since the constituency boundaries were defined – using data for 2000 in England and Wales, and 2004 in Scotland – in the average electorate in seats won by Labour (most of which are in urban areas) compared to those won by the Conservatives.

In general, Labour won the smaller constituencies and those with declining electorates: they needed fewer votes to win there than did the Conservatives in the larger constituencies and those with expanding electorates.

As the 2015 election is to be fought in the same constituencies as 2010, these differences presumably remain in place – and might even be exaggerated, thereby enhancing Labour’s advantage – which could be crucial in determining the largest party in a close-run election. But has there been any clear pattern of change over the five years?

The Office of National Statistics recently published the number of registered electors in each constituency in December 2014 (except that the Scottish data will not be available until May 2015). These will not be the final figures at the 2015 election, because enrolment is open until mid-April, but comparing them with those for December 2009 (before the 2010 election) provides insights on trends since then. (For Scotland, we have had to use the 2013 data.)

“…there are as many as 1 million new ‘missing voters’, joining the several million who were not registered before 2010”

Across Britain, despite overall population growth in recent years, the average constituency electorate declined by 228 individuals – in part because a large number of people have moved home but not registered at their new address (especially young people who were registered as students but have since graduated and moved away): others qualify to vote but have not registered (again, many of these are probably young people). The Electoral Commission estimates that because of these patterns there are as many as 1 million new ‘missing voters’, joining the several million who were not registered before 2010.

Electorate 2009The first graph shows a very strong correlation between each constituency’s electorate in 2009 and 2014 – the overall pattern of constituency sizes has not changed – but with one very clear variation: average electorates declined in both England and Wales (by 558 and 888 respectively) but increased by 2,669 electors in Scotland (no doubt reflecting Scots’ keenness to vote in the 2014 Independence Referendum).

There were considerable variations around these averages, however: 286 constituencies experienced an increase, 158 of them by more than 1,000 electors; 346 experienced a decline – 213 of them by more than 1,000 electors and 96 by more than 2,500. Have the declines been concentrated in Labour-held seats, thus increasing their advantage over the Conservatives? Or has the recent population growth in many UK cities diluted the pro-Labour bias?

Electorate Average constiuencyThe answers – as illustrated in the second diagram – are yes, but only slightly to the first question, and thus no to the second. Only constituencies won by the SNP in 2010 have, on average, increased in size. The mean electorate in Conservative-held seats declined by 224 between 2009 and 2014, compared to 1,179 in Labour-held seats (despite the growth in Scotland where it holds 41 seats).

The difference between the two parties’ mean electorates was 4,016 in 2009; in 2010 it was 4,101. Thus if the Conservatives and Labour each won the same seats in 2015 as 2010, Labour could anticipate a favourable bias of some 18-20 seats if the parties have near-equal vote shares because of this factor alone.

An unlikely outcome

That is an unlikely outcome, of course. Labour’s initial strategy for 2015 targeted 106 seats. If it won them all, and all other seats stayed with their 2010 winner, the average Labour constituency in 2014 would have 68,098 electors and the average Conservative constituency 72,810 – the gap would be 4,712 electors, and the pro-Labour bias probably larger than five years ago. (The 106 seats that Labour would win – 89 of them from the Conservatives, 12 from the Liberal Democrats, 4 from Nationalist parties and one from the Greens – had an average electorate in December 2014 of 68,682.)

On the other hand, the 40 seats that the Conservatives have targeted as potential gains – 32 from Labour and 8 from the Liberal Democrats – averaged electorates of 67,475 in 2014. If all were won, the average electorate in Labour-won seats would be 68,112, whereas in Conservative-won seats it would be 71,442, a slightly smaller gap between the two of only 3,330: there would still be a pro-Labour bias, but reduced because some smaller constituencies had crossed into the Tory camp.

The marginal seats on average have smaller electorates than those that are relatively safe for the two parties, therefore. The more of them that the Conservatives win, the smaller the gap between each party’s mean electorate and the smaller the likely pro-Labour bias in the outcome.

One other scenario worth exploration concerns Scotland, where the average electorate increased after 2009. In 2010 Labour won 41 seats there, the Liberal Democrats 11, the SNP 6 and the Conservatives 1. Some commentators suggest that the SNP might win most of the Scottish seats. If, to take the extreme case, the SNP won all 59, the average electorate in England and Wales would be 67,381 for Labour and 71,795 for the Conservatives. Labour would still have an advantage over the Conservatives in the translation of votes into seats should the two parties get approximately the same number of votes overall.

How about turnout variations? The average in 2010 was 61.2 and 68.2% in Labour- and Conservative-held seats respectively. In Labour’s 106 target seats it was 66.3 whereas in the Conservatives’ it was 64.9; if Labour won all of its targets, turnout in 2015 – if the 2010 pattern is replicated – where it won would average 62.7% whereas in the remaining seats in Conservative hands it would be 68.8%. If the Conservatives won all of their targets, turnout in all of its seats would average 67.8%, whereas in those retained by Labour it would be 60.9.

Once again, the conclusion is clear – Labour would be advantaged by the same pattern of turnout differentials across the constituencies in 2015 as in 2010 (even if the SNP won all of Scotland’s seats, when the average turnout would be 60.9% and 68.2% in Labour- and Conservative-held seats respectively in England and Wales).

“Turnout differences gave Labour a further – and more substantial – advantage over its main rival in 2010…”

Labour had a considerable advantage over the Conservatives in 2010 – as at previous elections – because its seats had fewer electors on average. (Which is not to deny that some Labour-held seats have large electorates: two of the biggest in 2014 were Manchester Central and Ilford South.) That situation will not change markedly in 2015, unless the Conservatives win a large number of Labour-held marginals. Turnout differences gave Labour a further – and more substantial – advantage over its main rival in 2010, and that too is unlikely to change markedly in 2015.

In conclusion if, as all the opinion polls suggest, the two parties are close in their vote shares on 7 May, Labour could get as many as 30 more seats than the Conservatives (with the size of that gap dependent on the outcome in Scotland). This could be sufficient to make Labour the largest party, giving Ed Miliband the first attempt to form a government – even if Labour came only second in the vote tally. Such an outcome is almost certain because of the lower turnout in Labour seats. The Conservatives’ failure to get the differences in constituency size changed, because the creation of new constituencies was aborted in 2013, makes Labour’s advantage even more certain.

About the authors

Policy Press CoverYou can read more on this subject by Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie in their book Money and electoral politics  – available to buy from the Policy Press website here. Don’t forget newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount on all our titles purchased through our website. Not a subscriber? Don’t feel left out, sign up here!

Ron Johnston is Professor of Geography at the University of Bristol. Charles Pattie is Professor of Geography at the University of Sheffield, specialising in electoral geography. David Rossiter has worked in a research capacity at the Universities of Sheffield, Oxford, Bristol, Leeds and Essex. He has been involved in the redistricting process both as academic observer (for example The Boundary Commissions, MUP, 1999) and as advisor to the Liberal Democrats at the time of the Fourth Periodic Review.

This blog was originally posted on the LSE blog here. #bitetheballot #imvotingbecause #whyvote

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