Birkbeck politics

To celebrate Birkbeck Politics great REF result, we are highlighting some of the department’s interesting research from the past few years

Professor Diana Coole on the politics of ageing

See Diana’s Prize winning article in Contemporary Political Theory here

‘This article examines recent ageing policies and the way they are framed…It speculates that the generation of post-war baby boomers now approaching retirement just might rediscover resources in its counter-cultural memory to imagine a more emancipatory elder life congruent with a more sustainable environment’.

Dr Dionyssis G. Dimitrakopoulos on the UK as the EU’s ‘Awkward Partner’

Two guest lectures on Britain and the EU published here:

‘Britain has been described as an ‘awkward partner’ (George, 1994) within the EU but the chequered history of her membership is even more complex. Although it is true that until 1997 there were only two major episodes of positive engagement (the establishment of the single European market in the second half of the 1980s and John Major’s short-lived attempt, upon his arrival at 10 Downing Street, to place the UK ‘at the heart of Europe’) a more thorough understanding of Britain’s 40-year history as a member of the EC/EU ought to be couched not only in contemporary debates on the future of European integration but also Britain’s own past, present and future.

Dr Rosie Campbell with Dr Jennifer van Heerde-Hudson on MPs and political candidates
Leading cross-university research on Parliamentary Candidates for the General Election 2015

‘Many in the British public believe the political class to be increasingly out of touch, insular and unable to understand the lives and concerns of ordinary citizens. And recent evidence suggests that politicians are increasingly drawn from a narrowing middle class—a privileged class—despite significant efforts at increasing the descriptive representation of elected representatives. We want to know, is it true? How has the political class changed over time, if at all? To answer these and other questions, we are building a single, comprehensive, publicly available database on the socio-demographic, electoral and institutional profile of candidates and MPs’ from 1945.


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The Department of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London ranked 12th in Britain in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) for 4* research – considered ‘world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour – just beneath University of Cambridge. This places it within the top quarter of research-active Politics departments, higher if we include the many institutions that did not enter the REF. It also ranks 12th overall in 4* outputs, 17th overall for Grade Point Average. This confirms Birkbeck’s status as a top tier Politics department within the UK, and the world.

We’ll be posting and tweeting some of our research highlights over the next few days…

Mark Reckless won the Rochester and Strood by-election by 2,930 votes, handing UKIP another victory and an aura of invincibility that is wreaking havoc within the main parties. What is so disturbing for the political elite is that Reckless is a mediocre politician while Rochester – younger than average and relatively middle class – seemed unlikely UKIP territory. Or was it? On closer inspection I argue Rochester was fertile UKIP soil. This doesn’t mean the main parties should be complacent, but it should caution us not to leap to the conclusion that this by-election is a bellwether for 2015.

Let me explain. There is little doubt Clacton was extremely favourable for UKIP. Matthew Goodwin writes that it ranks first in terms of UKIP demographics. Goodwin and his collaborator Rob Ford have written a fascinating book that highlights the importance of cultural anxieties in powering the rise of UKIP. I concur. Hence a focus on those suffering economic deprivation, such as poor pensioners, may lead us astray when it comes to fully grasping UKIP.

The most important correlates of strong UKIP support are ethnicity and national identity. The share of the population of a Local Authority that is of White British ethnicity and, of those, the portion that identify as English rather than British, predict nearly half the variation between Local Authorities in 2014 UKIP European election support, as shown in the table below.


Rochester and Strood is 87 percent White British compared to the English average of 80 percent, and 75 percent of its White British population identifies as English compared to 65 percent nationally. This still placed Rochester well down the list of UKIP-friendly seats, around 144, but well above that assumed by some.

Another reason Rochester turned out to be UKIP-friendly is its opposition to immigration, which is partly related to its proximity to diverse Greater London. Though London is not an easy commute, it is close enough to be familiar to many in the Medway area in which Rochester sits. In Gareth Harris’ and my recent Demos report on the White British response to ethnic change, we focus on what Swedish sociologist Jens Rydgren terms the ‘halo effect’ – whereby fears of change are most amplified in white areas proximal to diversity. Think of a nuclear power plant. Studies find that concerns are not greatest among those living by nuclear stations, nor among those far enough away not to think about it, but among those who are close enough to fear it, but not close enough to understand it. With ethnic diversity, those who rarely have contact with minorities and immigrants but are close enough to diverse places such as London to fear impending change are more opposed to immigration and more likely to support the populist right.

Rochester and Strood fits this description. In the Citizenship Surveys of 2009-2011, survey data shows that White British concern over immigration is relatively high in Medway. Among White Britons in England, 60 percent said immigration should be reduced ‘a lot’. In Medway, this rises to 70 percent among the 182 White British respondents on the survey who resided in this Local Authority. This helps explain why UKIP won 42 percent of the vote in Medway in 2014, 18th out of the 248 Local Authorities that Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit has thus far collated and kindly shared. A glance at the map of UKIP vote share by Local Authority in the 2014 EU elections  – areas in white indicate missing data – shows the Thames Estuary region is a powerhouse of UKIP support.

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On the face of it, even ethnic composition, national identity and proximity to London don’t seem quite enough to explain the favourability of Rochester. This brings us to a further set of factors which seem to characterise UKIP voters and Rochester residents, low ‘social capital’, or connectedness.

Specifically, data from Understanding Society shows UKIP voters trust neighbours and government less than White British people elsewhere. They are less attached to neighbours and neighbourhoods, and express a stronger desire to leave their immediate locale. This is so even with controls for neighbourhood deprivation, crowding and the proportion of renters, as well as a host of individual characteristics such as age, education, gender and income.

This seems especially important in distinguishing UKIP voters from Tory voters who hold identical views. For example, 61.9 percent of White British UKIP voters said they ‘belong to my neighbourhood’ against 70.6 percent of White British Tory voters. In the Citizenship Survey, looking only at White British respondents, 35.3 percent of white Medway residents said they did not ‘strongly belong’ to their neighbourhood compared to 21.4 percent in England and 24.3 percent of Londoners. In the same survey only 40.4 percent of Medway residents trusted ‘many’ of their neighbours compared to 58 percent in the South East and 54 percent in England. Even London’s White British were more trusting.

Low social capital is linked to nonvoting. UKIP seats have significantly lower turnout than average: the British Election Study 2015 Internet panel survey reveals that those who didn’t vote in 2005 or 2010 were significantly more likely to vote UKIP in 2014. Understanding Society finds that an important chunk of UKIP voters didn’t turn out in the previous election. Low social connectedness and trust is linked with low turnout and attenuated local connections to the major parties. This renders switching more likely and reduces loyalty to established brands. Those who switched from Labour in 1997 to the Tories in 2005 are significantly more likely to have voted UKIP in 2014. So too for constituencies: more such switchers signals a stronger UKIP seat even when controlling for Tory support.

Now look at Rochester and Strood. Labour lost 6.8 percent in 2005 and a whopping 13.7 percent in 2010. The Conservatives gained 2.5 and 6.6 percent in those respective elections. A pattern of low party loyalty coupled with rising conservatism generated the seedbed for UKIP’s success. UKIP has been blessed with two favourable by-election targets, Clacton and Rochester. The main parties shouldn’t be complacent about UKIP’s rise, but it is still too early to say that this by-election was straw in the wind.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of Changing Places: the White British Response to Ethnic Change (Demos, October 2014) He may be found on twitter @epkaufm


Wish my boyfriendSomewhere in a book I wrote on International Civil Society there is a comment about folk dancing and basket weaving not really meriting the label ‘social movement’ because such activities only acquire social and political significance as part of a wider collective struggle. Seeing the arpilleras (textile representations of Chilean life under Pinochet, hand-sewn by female relatives of those tortured, murdered and disappeared by the military regime) at the V&A’s Disobedient Objects exhibition made me think again. Of course objects can only be invested with political power by people – ‘every tool is weapon if you hold it right’ as Ani DiFranco raps. But then such things also develop a life of their own, weaving inside their material memories, aspirations, collaborations and disagrements that outlive the specific moment of protest. Once the dictatorship banned public display or ownership of the arpilleras, these seemingly innocent, even infantile textiles acquired the quality of a subversive social movement – they needed to be controlled and  repressed. Continue reading

Pop politics – political writing for a general readership – has never been more widely read. In the United States, George W. Bush’s biography of his father leads the New York Times best sellers list. In the UK, Russell Brand’s diatribe against the political establishment, Revolution, is selling almost as well as Roy Keane’s latest kick and tell. Books of this sort are a mixed blessing for students of politics. At worst, they are premised on a dangerous simplification about the processes and power behind political events. At best, they offer unexpected insights that more scholarly tomes might overlook and, even if not, they can be a lot more enjoyable to read. If nothing else, this new wave of writing shows that the public is interested in politics even though it is disenchanted with today’s political leaders. In this post, members of the Department of Politics at Birkbeck write about works of pop politics old and new that have grabbed their attention this year. Continue reading

The new political class of 2015

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There is a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? With six months until the 2015 general election Rosie Campbell, Chrysa Lamprinakou and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson assess the diversity of the parliamentary candidates selected so far.

There can be no silencing of discussions about who governs us in the wake of the Scottish referendum. As the Westminster parties try to identify means to simultaneously fix both the Scottish and English questions, whilst maximising their electoral advantage, the electorate remains sceptical about mainstream politicians’ commitment to truly represent them. We see evidence of this scepticism in the declining turnout rates at British general elections, the rise in support for UKIP and in the 1,617,989 Scots who decided that they would prefer not to be governed from Westminster at all.

The three party leaders, who travelled up to Scotland to deliver their promise of greater devolution, may not share policy preferences, but on the surface at least they have a great deal in common. All three are white, youngish-middle-aged men with high levels of education and all are career politicians.   The seeming homogeneity of the political elite feeds into a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? Are political parties continuing to select individuals who fit the usual mould to stand for parliament or is there evidence of increasing diversity among parliamentary candidates?

Using data from our study of parliamentary candidates (see, we look at the gender, race, age and occupation of the candidates selected by party and seat winnability so far.


The Labour Party’s continued use of all women shortlists has become very topical once again. Veteran MP Austin Mitchell used the occasion of the announcement of his retirement to complain that the influx of women MPs had ‘weakened parliament’. Mitchell’s intervention was followed by a YouGov poll for The Times Redbox that showed that All Women Shortlists (AWS) remain unpopular with the electorate, although they were even more unpopular among older people and men than among women and members of younger generations. Female politicians and feminist commentators, however, have defended the use of all women shortlists to overcome bias in the parties’ selection processes.

So what is the sex balance of those seeking election to the Commons in 2015 for the seven largest parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green)? Of the 1440 candidates selected so far (including returning MPs) 73% are men (1045) and 27% are women (395). Excluding incumbent MPs, there are 877 candidates standing for Parliament, 70% male (613) and 30% female (264) candidates. Breaking this down by party (see Figure 1), we can see that Labour’s continued use of AWS, means a 8 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives and a 9% advantage over LibDems in terms of selecting women candidates: Conservatives 31%; Labour 39%; LibDems 30%; Green 37%; Plaid Cymru 29% and UKIP 12%.

Figure 1. Percentage of women candidates by party

Figure 1. Percentage of women candidates by party

Among new candidates in the 100 most marginal seats (those with 2010 margins of less than/equal to 5.37%), the Labour party has selected 30 women out of 58 candidates (52%), the Liberal Democrats have selected 11 women out of 34 (32%), the Conservatives 8 women out of 39 (21%) and UKIP trail behind with 4 women candidates out of 36 (11%). The differences are slightly starker when we consider seats where the parties came second in 2010 (i.e. marginal seats they might hope to win in the event of a positive swing). Among our top 100 most marginal seats where the parties came second in 2010, the Labour party has selected 24 women out of 42 new candidates (57%), the Liberal Democrats have selected 8 women out of 18 (44%) and the Conservatives have selected 7 women out of 31 (23%).

And finally, looking at retirement seats where the incumbent MP has stepped down and the party who won in 2010 has selected a new candidate: the Conservatives have selected 16 men (67%) and 8 women (33%); Labour have selected 6 men (25%) and 18 women (75%); the Liberal Democrats have selected 4 men (50%) and 4 women (50%) and Plaid have selected one female candidate.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Candidates

Of the candidates (including returning MPs) selected thus far, we have identified 100 with a BME background. The Labour party has the highest number of BME candidates (43), followed by the Conservatives (29) Liberal Democrats (15), UKIP (8), the Greens (4) and Plaid Cymru (1).

Promisingly, 70 of the 100 BME candidates are not sitting MPs but new candidates and, and as shown in Table 1 below, seven have been selected to stand in retirement seats. Five Tory candidates, Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Nusrat Ghani (Wealden), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Alan Mak (Havant) and Rishi Sunak (Richmond) have been selected in safe Conservative seats. Given the success of previous BME candidates in safe seats, it is likely that all three will represent their constituencies in Parliament in Westminster in 2015.

In addition to retirement seats, 16 BME candidates have been selected to stand in the 100 marginal constituencies, also indicating that parties are attempting to increase the number of their BME MPs. Whilst it remains to be seen whether further progress towards representation will be made in 2015, the selection of 70 new BME candidates this early on, as well as the choice of seats, suggests that the positive trend established in 2010 may continue.

Table 1. BME candidates selected in retirement seats

Table 1. BME candidates selected in retirement seats


One consequence of the professionalisation of politics has been a change in the age at which MPs begin their political and parliamentary career. Peter Riddell and Anthony King have demonstrated the shift from parliamentarians who had established careers elsewhere before entering politics, with a new generation who chose politics as a career, increasing the number of politicians first elected in their 30s and early 40s. This trend is evident in the 2015 selections.

When we compare the average age of the new candidates to the 2010 election candidates we find that the 2015 candidates are younger, with an average age of 46 years compared to 48 years of the 2010. Of the 2015 cohort selected thus far, 73% of Conservative candidates are in their 30s and 40s compared to 50% of Labour and 43% of Liberal Democrats.

The Labour party has selected a higher percentage of younger candidates (16%), compared to Conservative (12%) and Liberal Democrat (9%) candidates. Notably, however, of the three main parties, the Labour party also has a higher percentage of older candidates: 14% are in their 60s compared to 10% for the Liberal Democrats and just 3% for the Tories. Finally, our data show that the vast majority of the UKIP candidates, 75%, are in their 50s and 60s, with one-third of new candidates aged 60 or older.

Looking at retirement seats, the pattern holds for the Conservative and Labour selections. The majority, 53%, of Conservative candidates in seats in which the party’s sitting MP is standing down are in their 40s whilst most of Labour’s candidates in retirement seats, 44%, are drawn from the 30-39 age group. Overall, the data selected for the 2015 cohort thus far, confirm previous findings about the gradual rise of a younger British political class.

Table 2. Age-range of newly selected candidates by party

Table 2. Age-range of newly selected candidates by party


Finally, we look at the previous occupation of 2015 candidates by party and specifically those candidates with ‘instrumental’ occupational backgrounds. Instrumental occupations are those that have a clear link to politics—e.g. local councillor, special advisor, party worker or union leader—and are used as ‘a means to an elected end’ (Cairney 2007).

As shown in the figure below, roughly a third of Conservative and UKIP candidates hold instrumental jobs at the time of standing for Parliament. Historically, candidates from the three main parties came to politics from established professions (e.g. solicitors/lawyers, medicine, university lecturers, etc.) or from business/industry, however, as politics has become more professionalised, the number of candidates from instrumental backgrounds has grown. This is increasingly true for Labour and the minor parties.


Figure 2. 2015 candidates: Candidates with instrumental occupational backgrounds


A new political class?

So, are the 2015 candidates really new in terms of what has come before? Is there evidence of a new political class? We draw three conclusions based on candidates selected to date. First, there is some evidence that parties are choosing a more representative set of candidates, at least in terms of sex and ethnicity. Second, candidates are slightly younger on average, but there is variation across the parties in terms of average age. And finally, there are an increasing number of candidates for whom politics is their first job, confirming evidence elsewhere showing a narrowing of the political class. One consequence of this is that it may serve to reinforce the view among many in the public that Britain’s politicians are ‘out of touch’.

There are some changes, but its early days. With six months until the 2015 general election, we’ll be keeping watch over who’s selected and elected.

Data are correct as of 26 October 2014. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2013-175) .This post was originally published on the Constitution Unit blog.

About the Authors

Dr Rosie Campbell is Reader in Politics at Birkbeck

Dr Chrysa Lamprinakou is a Research Associate and Teaching Fellow in British Politics at UCL

Dr Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson is Senior Lecturer in Political Behaviour & Departmental Graduate Tutor at UCL

Peter Kellner, expert pollster and President of YouGov, spoke to the Centre for British Politics and Public life last Wednesday. You can see some of YouGov’s latest polls here.

His talk is on a podcast here.

Peter spoke of how influential polls could be. He gave the example of the YouGov poll run by the Sun in August 2013 before proposed military intervention in Syria in 2013. This polling had a real impact on the subsequent debate and may have contributed to the narrow defeat of the vote on military action (or to put it more precisely, on the government motion).

Public opinion can also be fickle-see the changes here in public opinion over the War in Iraq and the fluctuation in the ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ column between 2002 and 2007 . The public can also get it wrong (see how mistaken we are about everything here). Peter spoke about the need for leadership and the fact that a leader’s job is to sometimes to tell people they are wrong. Immigration is good example-see this gap between perceptions and reality.

So how about the big question-who will win in 2015? In brief, it isn’t clear. Most elections are decided not by switches to Labour-Conservative but by undecided and Liberal-Democrat voters. However, for 2015 there is not one but, as Peter put it, 3 wildcards.

Wildcard 1: How will the Liberal Democrats do? We do not know whether or to what extent Liberal Democrats will suffer (or not) for being in government. Previous election results were based on Liberal Democrats as a ’third party’ and a ‘protest vote’. How many seats will they lose from their 57? Will they be down to 30? 20? Or will their famously efficient ground organisation machine save them? This analysis concludes ‘there are so many possibilities, you can make up your own mind what it all means’.

Wildcard 2 How will UKIP do? This is less about what seats they may capture-possibly 10 but more likely 4 to 6. More importantly, how may Labour versus Conservative seats will they throw in a particular direction? Here the number may be many more (see this blog by our own Eric Kaufmann and this analysis of UKIP support)

Wildcard 3: How will the Scottish National Party do? A recent YouGov poll gave the SNP an astonishing 19 point lead in Scotland, enough to capture 31 seats from Labour. Even if this does not happen, the SNP could capture enough of them to deprive Ed Miliband of victory. This is indeed Labour’s Scottish nightmare.

So these three wildcards may well shape who wins or loses, without mentioning even more complications such as the Greens, now polling higher than the Liberal-Democrats. The most likely result is some sort of ‘messy coalition’ made up of various parties of one combination or another. One thing is sure, as Peter puts it here, ‘Those days of decisive, first-past-the-post election outcomes might be over, at least for the time being’.

In a special extended essay, Ed Bacon looks into predicting Russia’s future.

The future of Russia, always a contentious subject amongst Russia-watchers as well as in Russia itself, has become an ever hotter topic recently. Browsing the shelves of Moscow bookshops last month, I picked up titles such as Where are the Russians going?, What lies ahead? The Russia which is (still) possible, and Perestroika-2. Experience of repetition. At Domodedevo airport on my way out of Moscow, I bought the latest issue of the glossy news magazine, Kommersant Vlast’, to read about Sergei Kurginyan’s USSR 2.0 concept and growing political movement. This month, at the ever excellent annual conference of the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, there was a special panel laid on even before the conference officially opened, entitled ‘Russia after 2014’, which included the editors of Russia in 2020 (2011) and Russia 2025 (2014).

 Post-Crimean re-boot

Previous anticipations of Russia’s future need re-booting following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the subsequent conflict in southern and eastern Ukraine. Almost no one saw that coming. Myself included. I had to stop the presses as the latest edition of Contemporary Russia rolled off them just to get reference to Crimean events included. At the Chatham House think tank in 2011 a presentation of 3 potential scenarios for Ukraine by leading experts had no mention of the idea that Crimea might be incorporated into Russia within a few years.

There was one very prescient account written in 2013. This had Russia easily taking over Crimea with scarcely a shot fired, presenting a fait accompli to the West before tentatively testing the military possibilities of further territorial gain in south-eastern Ukraine. After which, this 2013 account continued, Russia would decide that the costs of further incursion into Ukraine were too high and so withdraw, but nonetheless gain great kudos at home for regaining Crimea. That particular account made up the plot of Tom Clancy’s last, and posthumously published, novel, Command Authority (co-authored with Mark Greaney), and so may be it doesn’t count as an expert forecast?

Having worked for several years on the possibilities and methodologies of forecasting in the social sciences, with particular reference to Russia, all of this is grist to my academic mill. The content of forecasts invariably fascinates, but my scholarly focus has not been so much on what will happen in the future – after all, no one knows except for those who know and, to get all Rumsfeldian, they do not know that they know until they know. My focus has rather been on approaches to forecasting – what methods are used? what theories applied? what historical frameworks assumed? what key drivers identified? what role for different scenarios and narratives?

The Izborsky Club

Current forecasts for Russia are disturbing. Increasingly to the fore in Russia itself, and indeed in the political élite around President Putin, are the virulently nationalist and anti-western views associated with the Izborsky Club think tank. A blog post does not provide space for detailed analysis of their writings, but some snapshots indicate the tone. The founder of the Izborsky Club, Aleksandr Prokhanov, edits the extreme nationalist newspaper Zavtra (Tomorrow) and is a prolific author. He wrote a novel about Russia’s destiny called Fifth Empire, this being Russia’s coming empire following the previous four of Kievan Rus, Muscovy, the Romanov territories, and the Soviet Union. (Mikhail Yur’ev wrote a similar work, about a vast Russian empire existing in the middle of this century, but his was called Third Empire. Note that any dispute over numbering concerns how many empires there have been in the past, not the certainty of a future empire). Prokhanov’s latest novel bears the one word title Krym (Crimea).

The best known Izborsky Club member is Aleksandr Dugin, dubbed – catchily but a little inappropriately – ‘Putin’s Brain’ in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Much has been written by and about Dugin, from academic analysis which takes him seriously as a political thinker, to a theologically eschatological account which draws its title from Dugin’s writings – The American Empire should be destroyed. Although Dugin does not appear to be as close to the Kremlin as some fear, another member of the Izborsky Club, Sergei Glaz’ev, serves as advisor to the president. Glaz’ev believes that Ukraine is under American occupation, with a Nazi regime installed, committing genocide in the Donbass region and mobilising half a million men with the aim of starting a war with Russia which will become the ‘fourth world war’ (the third being the Cold War).

Analysts are increasingly talking about the dangers of fascism in Russia and brushing off the ‘Weimar scenario’ which briefly flourished in the 1990s. Under this thinking, the post-Soviet settlement of 1991 onwards is akin to the Versailles Treaty of 1919. The latter was used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to stir up resentment and foment revenge against those who imposed so humiliating a settlement on them. The analogy with 1991 is unavoidable in mainstream discourse, Putin to the fore, in Russia today. Repeated reference is made to ‘the West’ having humiliated and deceived Russia in 1991 and beyond. This position has become ingrained in the media and in the minds of many Russians. Like most historical analogies, it serves a purpose but ought not to be pushed too far. Putin is not Hitler. A distinguished Russian speaker at the Aleksanteri Conference insisted on the term fascism for Russia’s current regime, but, declaring this the optimistic view, likened Putin more to Mussolini than to Hitler.

 Redefining optimism

Where then is the optimism about Russia? At the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in October, the astute director of the Centre for Situation Analysis, the Russian Academy of Sciences, attempted to calm concerns about ideological extremism by talking of Putin the pragmatist. In this view, Russia’s president is a man who throughout his political career – from St Petersburg in the 1990s onwards – has prioritised economic matters over abstract ideology. Putin the pragmatist is aware that the well-being of Russia, the Russian people, and by association the current Russian leadership, depends on a stable environment to enhance economic growth. Putin the pragmatist is not a foreign policy adventurist by nature, but only when – in that currently ubiquitous phrase – his red lines are crossed. A year ago this argument would have been easier to buy into than today. Now this view of an economically pragmatic Putin looks a little like wishful thinking.

At the Aleksanteri Conference’s ‘Russia after 2014’ panel, the editors of Russia 2025 disagreed slightly between themselves, one being ‘optimistic’ and one being ‘pessimistic’. The ‘optimistic’ scenario had the Putin government collapsing within a couple of years, the ‘pessimistic’ one seeing the same outcome but a few more years down the line. Leaving aside issues of whether rapid regime collapse would be seen as an optimistic scenario by most Russians (it wouldn’t), leaving aside questions of the likelihood of the regime collapsing (predictions along these lines have been made for years), the methodology-of-forecasting analyst in me needs something more detailed than just an outcome. In scenario development, there needs to be a process before the outcome (and of course the speakers concerned have developed their thoughts in more detail in print). In the case of regime change, we’re looking at either revolutionary overthrow, which scarcely any analyst sees as likely in Russia in the near future, or else at an institutional process.

Bringing the institutions back in

The role of political institutions in removing or installing leaders in Russia should not be overlooked. Khrushchev was removed from the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party in 1964 by a vote of its Central Committee. The collapse of the Soviet Union came about through its republics invoking their constitutional right of secession. Any forecast of the fall of Vladimir Putin should address the question of process. There are four ways to stop being president of Russia: impeachment by parliament, not being re-elected, resignation, and death. Presuming that the forecasters are not wishing death on anyone, that leaves three options to play with. Any non-revolutionary scenario of Putin leaving office must work within these possibilities. Will élite dissatisfaction lead to a ‘palace coup’ with Putin being leant on to resign? Will a drastic fall in his opinion poll standing mean that regime survival is best served by another candidate in the 2018 presidential election? Will Putin himself decide to ‘do a Yeltsin’ and suddenly walk away? It is not that I see any of these as particularly likely, more that scenario methodology requires process in order to posit outcome. This is why fiction writers sometimes get lucky and write remarkably prescient accounts of future developments – they write a narrative, and narratives demand process.

I read another forecast recently. It pointed to a ratcheting up of authoritarianism in Russia over the preceding year or so. It talked of how a few who had protested against the regime had been imprisoned. It noted an economic downturn and a concurrent rise in dissatisfaction amongst Russian consumers, who could no longer so easily buy what they used to. It concluded that Russia found itself in a pre-revolutionary period. When the fall of the regime might come, it argued, is more problematic. Perhaps years, perhaps decades, or perhaps earlier, sparked by a particular event, say, a border war, or unrest in a Moscow market.

That forecast was written about Brezhnev’s Soviet Union in 1969 (Anatole Shub The New Russian Tragedy). The pre-revolutionary period had another couple of decades to go. Amidst the Izborsky Club’s calls for imperial resurgence, and forecasters’ presaging of regime collapse, the Brezhnevite scenario seems strangely absent. Such a scenario would see a relatively stable Russia muddling down through economic difficulties, marked by a corrupt élite, high military spending, exposure to oil prices, and an increasing cynicism about the story which officials and the mainstream media tell. Anatoly Dobrynin said that Brezhnev’s attitude to the United States at the height of the Cold War was summed up in the phrase, ‘the main thing is that there is peace’. The stability scenario may not be as exciting as the alternatives, but it seems at least worth a punt. After all, Putin’s mantra for the vast majority of his presidency has been stability – a Brezhnevite objective par excellence.

Edwin Bacon is Visiting Fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, and Reader in Comparative Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. He has advised parliamentary committees in both the UK and Finland. Amongst his publications are books on the Putin and the Brezhnev regimes. He is also the author of Contemporary Russia, now in its third edition.

In this expert analysis, Professor Kaufmann explains how Ukip will damage the Tories in 2015 but may ultimately harm Labour

Ukip’s Douglas Carswell won the party’s first seat in Clacton while in Heywood & Middleton, Labour held the seat by a whisker. These results prefigure the kind of damage Ukip may inflict on the Tories, making a Labour victory more likely in 2015. Yet in the long run, Labour should worry about Ukip’s riseThe upstart party’s support rose substantially in both contests over its level in 2010. The media and some commentators have spun the story as a tale of dispossessed voters from forgotten constituencies striking a blow against the political elite. On this view, both the main parties will suffer at the hands of the Faragists.

Yet the data does not support the contention that the economically and politically disadvantaged of all political stripes are in revolt. Instead, the by-elections, and the rise of Ukip more broadly, reflects cultural anxieties and status resentments which loom largest among middle income people who lack degrees. These turn on the issue of immigration which I discuss in my recent Demos report on the White British response to ethnic change.

Ukip damages the Conservatives more than other parties and is set to tilt the electoral terrain in Labour’s favour in 2015 and beyond. This means we need to entertain the possibility the Tories may enter the political wilderness, much as the Canadian Tories did between 1993 and 2006 when the populist Reform Party split the right-wing vote.

In Clacton, Douglas Carswell, a high-profile defector from the Tories, carried the seat easily, winning 60% of the vote in a constituency Ukip did not contest in 2010. Popular in Clacton, Carswell carried wide support across a range of social and voter groups. In Heywood and Middleton, Ukip candidate John Bickley won 39%, increasing Ukip’s share by a whopping 36 points over 2010. It was an impressive Ukip tally, but the seat was held by Labour, winning 41% of the poll. Here we have two strong Ukip performances, resulting in a Tory loss in one instance, and a Labour win, albeit narrow, in the other. The constituencies are not typical of the country, but the results are indicative of what may happen in 2015. Why?

First, consider that in both by-elections, Ashcroft polls show the Tories lost a larger share of their vote to Ukip than Labour. These results are corroborated in the admittedly small sample of some 70 British Election Study (BES) internet panel respondents from these seats interviewed in early and mid-2014 about their 2015 voting intentions.

The British Election Study provides data on over 34,000 people, interviewed in both early and mid 2014. Looking at the second wave reveals a stunning pattern: 47 percent of those who voted Ukip in the 2014 European elections said they voted Tory in 2010 compared to just 13 percent from Labour. When it comes to intended vote in the General Election, it’s much the same story: 44 percent of those intending to support Ukip are ex-Tories while just 10 percent said they voted in Labour in 2010.


In terms of current party identification, while 38 percent of those intending to vote Ukip in 2015 identify their party as Ukip, 24 percent say they identify as Conservative, compared to just 10 percent of Ukip vote intenders who currently identify with the Labour party. These data rely on respondents reported retrospective vote. However, the Understanding Society longitudinal survey just compares what people said in the previous wave with what they say in the current wave. These actual results, between 2009 and 2012, confirm the self-reported results from the BES: between 2 and 5 times as many people switched allegiance from Conservative to Ukip as moved from Labour to Ukip.

Some suggest Tory defections are in safe Conservative constituencies where they are unlikely to affect the Cameron-Miliband contest. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there is no evidence for this. The figure below shows the predicted probability that an individual in the BES will vote Ukip in 2015, on the vertical axis, against the Labour share of the vote in his or her constituency in 2010, on the horizontal. The blue line represents those who voted Tory in 2010, the red line those who voted for parties other than the Conservatives in 2010. This is a multivariate model where we also control for a host of other predictors of Ukip voting, such as age, education, ethnicity and so forth. The cross-hatch lines represent confidence intervals, which are longer at the extremes of Labour share because sample sizes are smaller there.


Two things jump out of this chart. First, Ukip will hit the Tories harder than other parties by 6-8 points across all types of constituency. There is no reluctance among 2010 Tory voters to desert the party for Ukip in marginal seats. Nor are Ukip defectors concentrated among Tory voters in Labour strongholds. Where votes averaged 30% Labour in 2010, often indicating a tight contest, a 2010 Conservative voter has a 21 percent chance of voting Ukip, which falls to just 15 percent among their Labour counterparts. Ukip support is holding steady in the polls, and if this continues, Ukip will pose a threat to Cameron.

Instead of fixating on the Clactons and Heywoods where Ukip is strong, pundits should focus on marginals where even a small shift to Ukip could tilt things Miliband’s way. We could see upsets not only in Ukip strongholds like Thurrock, but in middle class spots such as Cambridge or Hendon, often in the South of England, where Miliband may pull off an upset. The plot below shows seats the Tories won in 2010 with less than a six percent margin over Labour. These, and more, may be vulnerable.


If Ukip hands victory to Labour, this raises a whole series of important questions. Can the Conservatives strike a deal with Ukip, as with the ‘unite the right’ initiative between the populist Reform party and more elite Progressive Conservatives in Canada? Should Labour rejoice, or should they look to the reinvigorated Canadian Conservatives as a warning that the rise of the populist right can shift a nation’s political culture against them in the long run? Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford’s excellent book on Ukip warns that the party, with its working-class support base, threatens Labour as well as the Tories. My work suggests working-class Tories rather than Labour traditionalists are most likely to defect to Ukip, but their overall point holds: this is not a movement Labour can afford to ignore.

Eric Kaufman is a Professor of Politics at Birkbeck. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

With the Scottish referendum on independence less than a week away, here’s some answers to three of the burning questions:

1.       What is the current state of the vote?

Very close-the YouGov poll today puts it at ‘too close to call’. Analysis by polling experts here offers the view that ‘while the race has got considerably closer, the polling evidence still makes No the favourite’. However, predicting referenda is not the same as elections and they conclude that

When the result is tight enough to be within the margin of error, polls showing Yes at 49% and 51% amount to the same thing – it’s “squeaky bum time”.’

You can see the ‘poll of polls’ here and Professor John Curtice explains why many have changed their mind in recent weeks.

2. Why has the campaign changed so much?

Until a few months ago, a No victory appeared to be a virtual certainty. So why has it all changed? This great piece by Mark Shephard here explains how YES actually means NO and NO means YES. You can read some research from YouGov here that looks into why there has been this shift –the positivity of the Yes campaign, word of mouth and the negativity of the No campaign all seem to have changed things. It also appears that Ed Miliband’s performance has changed some Labour votes-unfortunately for him, towards Yes.

3. What will happen afterwards?

If Scotland votes Yes, the short answer is it will be complicated and messy-as Robert Hazell’s ‘10 things to know about the referendum’ shows. The independence negotiations will take some time and it may all become very political.

Even if Scotland doesn’t say Yes, the ‘big offer’ by Gordon Brown to give more power and devolution is likely to open up some very interesting issues across Britain. Here’s the Institute for Government’s 16 scenarios for what happens next in the UK.

One fascinating question is whether independence would create a ‘permanent Tory majority’ in what’s left of the UK, by taking away 30+ Labour seats. This analysis here by Full Fact and also these graphs show that this is rather a dubious claim-the vote share for Conservatives and Labour has been falling since the 1950s, so no party is likely to be a ‘majority’ for some time. More importantly, the ‘loss’ of Scotland may create all sorts of electoral ripples across the rest of Britain.

Amid all the noise and discussion, whatever happens next Thursday, things will be different.

Ben Worthy is a Lecturer in Politics