Did voters for the progressive parties in the May 2015 UK election share common policy concerns?

So, the election… yeah. That didn’t go the way anyone was expecting.

The prospect of a progressive coalition melted like a rainbow at dusk, and both Labour and the Lib Dems are in psychological shock. The Greens and UKIP both have every reason to call for electoral reform. The SNP must be excitedly planning how to spend or save their new political capital in Scotland.

The soul-searching of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour is painful to see, but what I’m curious now in the immediate aftermath is not so much the campaign mechanics of how each party rebuilds itself, but what the election tells us about national culture and which policy issues connected across voters.

Is there any core of values across the left-wing and/or progressive parties?

Given the fiendishly complicated Maggie Simpson map that is the Which, as you all spotted, looks (a bit) like Maggie Simpson.British constituency system and my lack of psephological chops, the best I could do until the political analysts have done their thing was look at Lord Ashcroft’s polling on people who voted, and this absolutely lovely Buzzfeed article about the political maps of #GE2015.

Getting grounded in the facts, here are the figures for the proportion of the vote at the national level:

Parties % of vote Seats
Con 36.8 331
Lab 30.5 232
Lib Dem 7.6 8
UKIP 12.6 1
SNP 4.7 56
Green 3.8 1
Others 4 21

These figures are percentages of the 66.1% of the electorate who voted. One third of the electorate either did not want to vote, or fell through the cracks.

The first concern from a progressive point of view is that even adding up percentage shares of Labour, Lib Dem, Green and SNP is still less than the combined figure for the Conservatives and UKIP (Nick Clegg’s hypothesized ‘Blukip’ coalition).   The Conservative result on seats is not counteracted by a progressive groundswell split over the other parties.  Another concern for Labour is that turn-out was lower in regions where Labour did well on the night.  If Labour did lose voters to UKIP when Nigel Farage ‘parked his tanks on Labour’s lawn), could it win them back and at least swing the popular vote away from the Conservatives?

Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 11,898 people who voted produced the following percentage shares:

Parties % of vote
Con 34
Lab 31
Lib Dem 9
UKIP 14
SNP 5
Green 5
Others 2

So the poll is somewhat under-representative of the actual Conservative share, and over-representative of Lib Dem, UKIP and Green vote share. And of course it says nothing about people who did not vote. But it’s a good place to start comparing some numbers.

Is there any common core of policy issues of across the Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the SNP?

What was important to the people who voted for the parties in that hypothetical rainbow coalition that never was?

I looked at the summary of Lord Ashcroft’s post-vote poll data for this and did some colouring in.

The people he polled were asked to rate the top three issues facing their country, and then asked separately to rate the top three issues facing them and their family.

I ranked the data so that the issues were rated from most important to least important across all parties. (1)

Then I coloured the set of voters that found each issue most important in green, and the voters that found it least important in red. If another party’s voters were within 5% of the highest or lowest group of voters, then I coloured them in appropriately too. I put the most important issue for each group of voters in bold (or two issues if they were only apart by 1%). I highlighted ‘dealing with crime’ in amber, because all groups of voters were within 5% of each other, and it was a relatively unimportant issue for all voters.  My charts are on this link:  ashcroft country

The NHS

One of the things to stand out is that Labour voters distinctly thought the NHS more important than anyone else, but the NHS was nevertheless the issue most often selected in the top 3 issues facing the country not just by Labour but by the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP. However both the Lib Dems and the SNP had an issue which was just as important to them, (‘Getting the Economy Growing and Creating Jobs’ in both cases) and for the Greens, the Environment was not far behind the NHS. Labour voters were unusual in the distance between the NHS and the next most important issue (the economy and jobs).  Only UKIP had a top issue which stood further from the others (immigration).   Paradoxically, when asked which issues most affected them and their families, the NHS grew slightly or significantly in importance for all groups of voters except for Labour, for whom it decreased.

Economy and jobs

The voters most likely to agree that ‘Getting the economy going and creating jobs’ was one of their top 3 issues were the Conservatives, Lib Dems and SNP. Labour and the Greens were less likely to rate this issue in their top 3, but the surprise to me here was how low the UKIP score was – only 27% of UKIP voters put the economy and jobs in their top 3. This is especially surprising given that elsewhere in the poll, 51% of UKIP voters agree with the statement ‘I am not feeling the benefits of an economic recovery and I do not expect to.’  SNP voters had a markedly different reaction: they were the most likely to agree with the statement ‘I am not feeling the benefits of an economic recovery and I do not expect to,’ but rated the economy and jobs as their joint most important issue affecting the country.

Cost of living

‘Tackling the cost of living crisis’ moved up significantly in importance across all voter groups when asked to rate the 3 most important issues affecting them and their families, compared to its positioning when asked to rate the most important issues facing the country. The issue was up by 20% or more for Conservatives, UKIP and Lib Dem voters when asked its importance in relation to them and their families.  It is hard to interpret this unanimous uprating in importance when the issue is considered from the personal rather than the national level.  Possibly those voters were more swayed by the country issues than the personal ones, or equally possibly, perhaps they did not see the issue as owned by Labour.

Relatively unimportant issues – education, the environment and crime. 

You can see that issues that did not feature much in campaigns really fell by the wayside in terms of the importance that voters gave them when asked about importance to the country. Education and crime were relatively unimportant to voters from all parties when asked to take a view on the country as a whole, and the Environment was only significant to Green Party voters (53% of Green voters unsurprisingly included it in their top 3 issues, against an average of 9% across the other parties, and only 3% of Conservatives). Education became somewhat more important when voters were asked to name the three most important issues affecting them and their family, although even then, only 18 – 22% of Lib Dem, Labour, Green and SNP voters put it in their top 3 issues. Only 13% of Conservative voters and 9% of UKIP voters put it in their top 3.

Do any parties place similar importance on the issues?

Looking at the top 3 issues for the country across all voting groups, Labour is not very close in its importance ratings to any other party. Looking at the top 3 issues for self and family, Labour is only close to one other party on issue: similar percentages of SNP and Labour voters rated ‘tackling the cost of living crisis’ in their top 3.

Labour, Green and SNP, and sometimes the Lib Dems become closer in their ratings on the issues that overall were not rated as most significant across all parties, such as education, Europe, and welfare reform. Arguably, the left-wing or progressive parties are more similar in what they don’t care about so much, than the issues they care about.

The Conservatives are very close to UKIP on many issues, but not on ‘Growing the economy and creating jobs’ where they are most like the Liberal Democrats and SNP, or ‘cutting the deficit and the debt’ where they are most like the Lib Dems.

How similar are Labour and UKIP?

Hardly at all. There are almost no issues where Labour and UKIP are close to each other in their ratings, which suggests it might be hard for Labour to reach that group of voters on other issues, even if a social consensus on immigration could be reached. There is no one piece of common ground. This could be very significant for Labour’s electoral prospects. UKIP’s vote share went up across the nation, even in Scotland.  A growing portion of the population is choosing a party for whom the far and away biggest issue is immigration. UKIP’s stress on immigration is not only unmatched by any other party, the percentage of people choosing that issue in UKIP was higher than the percentage in any other party choosing their most important issue.

Overall, is there a common set of important issues among progressive and/or left-wing voters?

I do not get the sense of one progressive or left-wing voting bloc which circumstances split into different parties for this occasion – the different ratings in importance between the parties feel  significant. It is interesting that the NHS did have such broad importance but that its cardinal importance to Labour (maybe reflecting its Labour origins) is unique.

It looks as though the Lib Dems and the SNP pulled away significantly from Labour in how much they rate the importance of the economy and jobs.  Whereas UKIP and the Conservatives are quite similar in many things, but not on the economy, jobs and the deficit. And UKIP is not much like any other party in the primary importance of the immigration issue.

Perhaps the most worrying factor for Labour would be that of the voter groups who felt that the economy and jobs was one of the biggest issues, one is in a country that may become independent or at least more politically separate sooner rather than later, and those votes, lost this time, may never have the option to return again.

Voters rating issues in top three facing country

Voters rating issues in top three facing country

Voters rating top 3 issues facing them and their family
Voters rating top 3 issues facing them and their family

(1) Ranking the issues from left to right as most important to least important is based on averaging the percentages produced by each group of voters.  It  is not the same as saying that the ranking shows the ratings for the whole population as there would be more individuals producing some of the party percentages than others. But it gives a snapshot of something like combined party voice.

(2) The poll data also shows many other reasons why people voted – there is no intrinsic match between policy issues and voting decisions, as factors such as leadership, tactical or local voting play their part. But the policy issues matter if you’re trying to build bridges, which is what many progressives are thinking about now.

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Keeping children safe – what can business do to help?

No-one should want to spend a long time on the topic of child abuse.  So I am going to get through this as quickly as possible: talking about how businesses can help stop child abuse. I will cover some quick wins, some  structural solutions in specific sectors, and then look at the big challenge –  how to create a culture that prevents child abuse before it happens.

Picture of dolls used in anti-exploitation game.
Anti-exploitation campaign in the tourism industry in Nicaragua: The dollies’ badge says ‘No excuses! We are children!’

There are corporate leaders in this area such as Visa Europe or the anti-exploitation campaign I saw at every tourist spot across Nicaragua (pictured) – so this is definitely a subject where business can make a difference.  I’ve kicked off the Q and A here, but please join in and share your ideas for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. NSPCC analysis indicates that one in five children in the UK have experienced abuse.  As a society, do we want to live with that?

Q: This is awful stuff for sure, but it doesn’t seem like the job of business?  Shouldn’t someone else be responsible for this, like the government, or someone like the UN?

A:  There was a grim news report last week that the UN had sacked a whistleblower who leaked the allegations that French peacekeepers had abused children in CAR. It’s not the first time that such abuse will have taken place and won’t be the last but the UN should be throwing their resources at better safeguarding, not at sacking the whistleblower.

The UK government appears to be unable to resolve the ever-growing allegations that people with power in the British establishment abused children in systematically organised rings. It appears that politicians who abused children were aided by the police turning a blind eye. Important files were ‘lost’. The UK government failed for too long to find someone to head their inquiry into child abuse who was not related to or friends with some of the principal participants in the inquiry.    The high-ranking political and legal elite of the establishment should be drawn from a nation of 60 million but you’d be forgiven for thinking they all come from one remote village, given the inter-relationships.

Some charities are doing a good job – although many of them could be more transparent about where things go wrong, and what their limitations are.  But charities are not enough on their own to bring about a cultural shift.  Businesses are everywhere, aren’t they?  Why shouldn’t they have a go at fixing a problem that no-one can fix alone?

Q.  I don’t know, this seems like cultural stuff, not business.  Can’t we leave this to the Church?  

A:  Have you been living under a rock for the last ten years?

Q:  Still, it’s pretty sensitive stuff right?  You don’t want to just wade in feet first or you could make things a whole lot worse.

A:  Acutally, I agree with that in some cases.  But then there are other times that you just have to get on and do it. There are lots of charities who can offer good advice and there are lots of things that companies could do straight away that are low risk, cheap and simple.

Many firms have a code of conduct or statement of values. Inserting some language in there about safeguarding children and other vulnerable members of our community would start to send a signal.  Firms could include clauses in contracts specifying that if a staff member was found guilty of child abuse their contract would instantly be terminated. They could state that employees who whistleblow will be supported. They would do it for fraud, or for dangerous work on a construction site. If they want to, they can do it for child abuse. It would be easier if it was part of a broad campaign to help everyone understand why it was happening now, but anyone could do this any time they want to.  It could be an opportunity for staff engagement – everyone who has seen the news in the last few years will know this is a problem and might appreciate their firm taking a positive stance on it.

In company comms and media, firms can safeguard children by not providing identifying information.  I read a Financial Times article which showed photos of children, gave their full names and the name and location of their nursery.  Do the reverse of that.  There are established guidelines on what not to do with information about children.

Some of the more complex things really make sense because brands’ products and services may be used by people who want to exploit children, and it makes sense for them to reduce that risk. I remember working with some smart people from Visa Europe  on an education project and hearing about the work they were doing with CEOP to prevent Visa cards being used to purchase material which exploits children. Other financial services could look at how they could do similar things. Internet services such as Twitter have held up their hands to say they have no powers to stop trolls from bullying. If they were a bit more switched on about it, they could find structural things to do, helping build a culture where abuse is spotted, reported and resolved. Privacy issues should be thought about too but children’s right to be safe should take priority. Adults should be able to work stuff like this out so that children can be safe.

Tourism is an industry which has a particular role in helping to end child abuse: http://childsafetourism.org/actions/choose-child-safe-businesses/  Some companies are going to be trying harder than others. When you book a holiday this year, tweet or send an email to the company you booked through asking them to help end child abuse.  I just tweeted AirBnB to ask them what their policy is.  They seem like a thoughtful kind of company and I’m hopeful they’ll reply.  I will update this blog if they do.

Thinking about holidays made me think about transport.  A taxi company was linked to one of the huge child abuse scandals in the UK of the last few years.  Some taxi companies prize safety, others do not.  Taxi firms that screen their employees could make that part of their sales pitch.  Of course those who do not have employees (hello Uber) are probably not in a position to do that.   See whether your favourite taxi firm takes any steps to monitor the safety of its passengers and other people in their community.

Safeguarding children in other ways, eg from injury, may provide some quicker wins and kickstart a culture of child and vulnerable adult safeguarding. I expect construction companies have had to think about how to make their sites more child-safe. If everyone in the country spent 30 minutes a year thinking about whether there was one thing we could do at work to make children safer then we might be surprised at what we can achieve.

For whatever reason, we – in the UK and globally – have not yet built a culture that safeguards children. Those who wish to harm children are hopefully a tiny minority, but as the UK and UN examples show, their actions are enabled by those people who are either incurious and unconcerned, or perhaps worried that those with power will harm them should they try to protect the vulnerable. In the case of the UN, not only did it fail to protect the vulnerable, it failed to protect a whistleblower. The case shows that although it should be unthinkable for someone to lose their job for speaking out for children, it is entirely possible. And that’s the UN, not a rogue minicab operator.

Q:  Some of these things sound like they could help.  Still, it’s government and charities, not businesses, who are responsible for how people behave.  Businesses can’t be held accountable for the fact that some people are just plain bad. 

A:  Except that some businesses make profits from the criminal justice system, and I would argue that they have a social responsibility to reduce offending – and it would also improve their reputation if society believes that such companies are not out to make a profit from human misery.

I’m talking about the operators of private prisons.  This is an unlikely partnership for me to suggest as I believe in restorative justice, and reports such as those from the Howard League do not paint a rosy picture of private prison providers.  However, it might be possible for such a private prison provider to innovate in its appproaches and find ways to prevent offenders from reoffending – or from starting to offend.  It seems unlikely and I suspect they would try to pass off the delivery and reputational risks to the not-for-profit sector.  The Quakers used to run a programme called ‘Circles of Monitoring and Support’ where they did what they said they would – monitored sex offenders but also supported them to overcome their urges to offend.  If this sounds like being soft on offenders, that’s not the point.  You may not personally believe that people can reform, but if you think it might help a child being lost, then think about whether you would support a prison provider to run such a programme.  We are always hearing about how the private sector takes risks and innovates – so go ahead, innovate and save children.  I  leave the last words to Coral and Paul Jones, who lost their daughter April when she was five years old, as reported in the Guardian on 9th April:

“Paul Jones said: “If you are thinking that way and you haven’t committed any crime, if you call out for help, that can only be a good thing.

“If you don’t call out for help you might eventually turn into a Mark Bridger yourself. Someone calling out for help deserves a chance. If you do carry on and you become a paedophile, the law should be thrown hard at you.”

Coral Jones said she hoped the book could at least “save one child, one family”. She added: “If someone says to the doctor: ‘I have these feelings, can I have help?’, it would be better to try to help them before they ruin someone else’s family.”