“The rising tide of UK anti-immigrant sentiment”

by Stephen Tall on November 18, 2014

aljazeeraThat’s the headline of a piece I was interviewed for, published by Al Jazeera today. Here’s what I had to say:

Few political issues have stirred the 21st century British state like immigration. As the country continues to wrestle with its place within the European Union, the influx of EU migrants to UK shores has become one of the most controversial – and thorny – topics of discussion in recent years. …

“I don’t think the debate is a healthy one at the moment,” Stephen Tall, editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, the leading independent website for British Liberal Democrat party supporters, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s good that there is a debate because there was a period of time when there was no grown-up discussion about immigration at all. There were people saying that we didn’t talk about immigration, and 10 years ago that was possibly true, but it’s not true anymore. But, in terms of whether that discussion today is braced by facts, then clearly it’s not.”

Tall said as large swathes of the British – especially English – electorate continue to show their discontent with all things European and immigration, the economic facts – one of which, according to a recent University College London study, stated European migrants contributed more than £20bn ($31.3bn) to UK public finances between 2001 and 2011 – appear “irrelevant to the debate”.

“Immigration has helped fuel economic growth in London and it’s probably [partially responsible] for the huge improvement in London schools over the last decade, making London one of the most successful educational capitals in the world – and that’s partly been driven by the ambition of the immigrants who’ve settled here,” said Tall.

“But, for a lot of people, London feels like another place – it feels raucous and busy and uncomfortable and not somewhere they’d like to live or not somewhere they’d like their towns or villages or cities to turn into.”

That last sentence is a point I briefly explored here, too: Does everyone want to live in London?

As for how I think pro-immigration liberals (surely a tautology?) need to make our case, you might like to read my recent article for ConservativeHome: My open borders immigration policy is, I admit, a fantasy. The pro-immigration case has to be rooted in reality.

What the YouGov profiler says about Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on November 18, 2014

YouGov-Profiles-launchMarket research firm YouGov poll a lot of people about a lot of things. As a result they have a data trove which they’ve turned into a visualisation tool which can profile a typical customer for any given brand… including if that ‘brand’ is the Lib Dems.

Before I get to the fascinating screenshots, and you all shout back “But that’s just not true”, here’s what YouGov says about what the data show:

This app does not show the *typical* fan or customer. If it did, most groups would look very similar, and you wouldn’t learn a lot about the specifics of particular thing.

It shows what is *particularly true* about a group. We compare the group to their natural ‘comparison set’ (for example, fans of Downton Abbey compared to anyone who has rated any TV shows) and see which of the thousands of datapoints most overscore in our target group.

For example, if something is only true of 1% of the overall population, but is true of 6% of our target group, it might score very highly (and shows you something interesting and true about that group). But it doesn’t mean that it is true of all of them!

Another example: many of the football teams show a *female* character – this does not mean that most of the fans are female, but simply that compared to other football teams, there are *more* female fans than you would expect.

Right, caveat inserted, here’s what it shows… (Incidentally the Lib Dem sample size is 782, a pretty decent figure for this kind of exercise.)


YG profile - demog

One thing which is particularly true of Lib Dems is… there are a lot of young professional men working in London in government / civil service. (I know: you’re stunned.) You may be more surprised to see the Lib Dems identified on the far left of the left/right axis, so note YouGov’s explanation: “Simplifying a group of people onto a left-right axis is notoriously hard. PhDs have been written on the subject! Specifically, the left/right dial shows where this group *ranks* among their comparison set in terms of the percentage of Conservative voters among the total. So it’s really a measure of Conservatism.” Ie, Lib Dems are very *not* Conservative.


YG profile - lifestyle

It’s official: Lib Dems are most likely to like cats. It looks as if Martin Tod’s long-standing suspicions of cat-entryism within the party are well-founded. By the way, the food which came out top for Lib Dems (ie, something which is especially true of Lib Dems)… aubergine parmigiana. Of course.


YG profile - personality

We are particularly likely to self-describe as “analytical”, “clever” and “knowledgeable”. But we do recognise our (occasional) faults, too: “disorganised”, “procrastinating” and “self-absorbed”. Hmm, so we’re smart ditherers… I think we’d better keep that concealed from the voters. And I know you’ll pay attention to my advice, seeing as we’re especially disposed to get most of our information from the Internet.


YG profile - brands

We are, it seems, avid BBC-ers: Radio 4, BBC online and iPlayer all rank as three of the top 10 brands. Which makes it a little surprising that Topman is our favoured clothing brand (responsibility perhaps lies with our key demographic: see above). The other shock is that we’re disproportionately loyal to First Direct, rather than the Co-Operative. Incidentally, Coutts came second.


YG profile - entertainment

I think it’s fair to say this represents an array of tastes; perhaps best symbolised by our top two television programmes being Only Connect and the Eurovision Song Contest. (The surprising absentee here is, of course, Dr Who.) Though the nostalgia on display — only one of the five films was made in the last three decades — suggests our key demographic of young professional men must be fogeys at heart.


YG profile - online

True to form, we’re especially likely to Like on Facebook the sites of the party, its leader and the Electoral Reform Society. Less true to form, two of our most-favoured tweeters are musician Ed Sheeran and actor Stephen Mangan. And the website that comes top: ThisIsLocalLondon.co.uk. A few weeks ago, political commentator Ian Birrell called for the founding of a Metropolitan Party: looks like we’re it.


YG profile - media

We’re quite likely to be online for more than 50+ hours a week (ie, at least seven hours every day); we’re disproportionately Guardian (and Independent) and Economist (and New Scientist) readers; and we like watching Newsnight and listening to the cricket. Does any of that sound like you? Say what you like, I think YouGov has got us pretty much bang to rights.

You can try the YouGov profiler out for yourself here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Why the ideal candidate is a local GP (who preferably left school at 18)

by Stephen Tall on November 16, 2014

There’s an interesting article in Political Studies journal by Rosie Campbell and Philip Cowley which attempts to find out ‘What Voters Want’. Published last year, it looks specifically what they want in terms of the characteristics of their candidates.

The core of the study consisted of six split-sample internet surveys. Each survey involved respondents reading two short profiles about hypothetical candidates, and then answering four questions about those candidates. Following Kira Sanbonmatsu, our research design included profiles of two candidates (Sanbonmatsu, 2002), whom we (initially) called John and George:

John Burns is 48 years old, and was born and brought up in your area, before going to university to study for a degree in physics. After university John trained as an accountant, and set up a company ten years ago; it now employs seven people. John has interests in the health service, the environment, and pensions, and is married with three children.

George Mountford is 45 years old; he lives in the constituency and studied business at university.He is a solicitor and runs a busy local practice. George is passionate about education, with two children in local schools and a wife who is a primary school teacher.

John and George are plausible election candidates in a British election; they are both middle-aged men, in professional occupations, and although we alter these profiles throughout the experiment, the biographies remain those of plausible candidates.

In the baseline survey, John was preferred to George on all three measured traits — approachability, experience and effectiveness — by a consistent 16% and as the overall preferred candidate by 21%. Campbell and Cowley then started varying the characteristics of the candidates while maintaining their overall biographies to see how voters would respond…

Biological sex:

John became Sarah.
Result? “changing the candidate’s sex – and nothing else – generated a 12-percentage-point increase in their lead on approachability, and a 19-point decrease in their lead on experience but had no statistically significant impact of sex on the candidate’s perceived effectiveness or preference for the candidate.”

Apparent religion:

one candidate was given an apparently Jewish name (‘Daniel Goldstein’), and the second an apparently Muslim name (‘Mohamed Lafi’). Again, nothing else in the profiles was altered.
“The effect of making one of our imaginary candidates Jewish was relatively small … The religion of candidates mattered more when one of the candidates appeared to be Muslim. This effect, though, was more complicated than might have been expected. John increased his relative lead over George/Mohamed on all three candidate traits (and by a statistically significant amount) but this was as a result of the ratings of both John and Mohamed falling but at a differential rate, with the percentages of respondents preferring neither candidate increasing on every question.”


solicitor George became (1) a GP and (2) a politico.
“In the original comparison John was preferred to George by 21 points; George the GP, however, became the preferred candidate of respondents with a lead of 6 points, a 27-point change in the overall standing of the two candidates … Making George a politico had a huge effect on how voters perceived his experience relative to that of John, but less dramatic changes elsewhere. … respondents clearly recognised the extra experience that a candidate who had a background in politics would enjoy, but they did not then especially reward it when it came to deciding which candidate they preferred overall.”


45 year-old George was made either younger (32) or older (60).
“There was little impact in terms of respondents’ overall preferences … Respondents … [judged] the candidates differently in terms of their experience (and in a way that was intuitively reasonable: perceiving a 32-year-old as less experienced than a 45-year-old, and a 45-year-old as less experienced than a 60-year-old), but they did not then see it as important when determining which candidate they preferred overall.”

Residential status:

local George’s residency was changed to (1) having moved into the constituency two years previously, and (2) to living some 120 miles away but being prepared to move to the constituency if elected.
“Explicitly identifying that [George] had moved there recently had the effect of increasing … John’s position as the preferred candidate by some 12 points … The effect was even more dramatic when we made George live outside the constituency. This … produced a 30-point increase in [John’s] position as the preferred candidate. These are huge differences, all statistically significant, and the largest of any of the tests we carried out.”

Educational status:

university-educated George was changed to either (1) having left school at 18, and (2) having gained a PhD.
“The less educated version of George was seen as less experienced (John’s lead increasing by some 17 points), but in every other way he was seen as a better candidate than the university-educated version. … The version of George with a PhD was perceived to be slightly more approachable, but on other traits a higher level of education merely made him seem less experienced and less effective, and produced no difference at all when it came to who was the preferred candidate.”

Their conclusion:

Our interest here is in the overall relative impact of the characteristics and while we found that all six of the cues we tested had some statistically significant impact on the way voters perceived candidates, we found particularly large effects with education, occupation (with candidates who had served as a local doctor being highly rated) and residency (with candidates from outside the local area being especially heavily penalised).

These are summarised highlights of their research. You can read their paper in full here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Two pieces of good Lib Dem news from Cambridge

by Stephen Tall on November 14, 2014

Here’s the first piece of good news… Viki Sanders gained a seat from Labour in a crucial city council by-election last night (comparison with 2012 result):

    Viki Sanders (Liberal Democrats): 933 votes (36%, +1%)
    Labour: 790 votes (31%, -9%)
    Conservatives: 614 votes (24%, +5%)
    Green: 222 votes (9%, +3%)

cambridge lib dems

It’s a result which augers well for Julian Huppert‘s campaign to hold the Cambridge constituency the Lib Dems first won in 2005, a tough marginal which Labour has in its sights.

george watson - LOFTYIMAGESHere’s the second piece of good news… “Cambridge don leaves Liberal Democrats £950,000″ announces BBC News:

The Lib Dems have received their second biggest donation ever, from an academic who bequeathed the party £950,000. George Watson, a former professor at Cambridge University and one time Lib Dem candidate, died in 2013, aged 86. His gift was the single biggest sum reported in the Electoral Commission’s table of party donations for the third quarter of 2014. … Professor George Watson, a former fellow in English at St John’s College Cambridge, stood for the Liberal Party in the 1959 election.

The Lib Dems have received £9.86 million in individual donations since 2010, not far behind Labour’s £12.69m (but a long, long way behind the Tories’ £65.01m). Compare that with the previous four years (2005-09)… the Lib Dems received £7.54m, Labour £27.77m and the Tories £62.01m from individual donors. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories have improved their fundraising from individuals, while Labour’s has more than halved.

To find out more about The Liberal Democrat Legacy Fund simply click here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Iain Dale to host political fundraiser for Lynne Featherstone

by Stephen Tall on November 14, 2014

Iain Dale, former Conservative candidate and blogger turned LBC Radio broadcaster, made the shock revelation this morning on his ConservativeHome diary:

Next week, shock horror, I’m doing another political fundraiser. Brace yourselves. It’s for Lynne Featherstone – yes, the Liberal Democrat MP. She’s a mate and did sterling work on equal marriage, so I’ve decided to do it – and hang the consequences. All I need now is to do one for a Labour and UKIP MP or candidate, and I will truly be able to say that I have been politically balanced.

Lynne was, if I remember rightly, the first politician to guest on Iain’s show for 18 Doughty Street, the short-lived internet TV politics channel. It’s been a good last couple of weeks for her, as her key role in securing same-sex marriage has rightly been recognised not only by promotion to the Home Office but also by awards from PinkNews and Stonewall.

If anyone knows booking details about the event, do please leave details below…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

My must-reads this week November 14, 2014

by Stephen Tall on November 14, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

The transience of the Tower of London poppies

by Stephen Tall on November 13, 2014


I finally made it to the Tower of London  today, as the volunteers were gathering the 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies which have filled its moat to mark the centenary of the First World War.

I wish I’d seen the full display, but there is also something quite affecting about seeing the care with which each individual poppy is plucked and packaged ready for its new owner, and  about watching the red tide slowly recede and normality re-assert itself.

It is the out-of-the-ordinary transience of this memorial which has made it stand out. Permanence would have robbed it of its impact.


Labour’s Mili-madness is over. Now what?

by Stephen Tall on November 11, 2014

Labour’s moment of Mili-madness is over: Ed will lead his party into the next election. Alan Johnson’s re-re-re-confirmation that he has no appetite for the job has thwarted any chances that he might be drafted into the post as caretaker leader to see his party through the remainder of the season.

It was a plan borne of desperation. Alan Johnson is admirable in many ways — he’s had a life before politics, he speaks human — but he has ruled himself out too often, too categorically, to be a credible potential Prime Minister. His is not the modest, aw-shucks-if-I-must reluctance of an ambitious politician who knows better than to look too ambitious: it is genuine. That many in Labour have been so keen to promote a man unwilling to be promoted says much about the incumbent.

Ed Miliband’s personal ratings are dire (as bad as Nick Clegg’s and therefore much more of a drag on his party than the Lib Dem leader is on his). Labour’s ratings are diving. In part, I feel sorry for him. It would have been hard for any leader to help their party dust itself down after the May 2010 result – the second worst in its modern electoral history – and to re-bound straight into office.

Yet he has not made it easy for himself either. His economic policy has slalomed between slamming the Coalition’s austerity drive and then occasionally backing it (eg, public sector pay freeze) while famously forgetting to mention the deficit at all in his September conference speech.

The supposed 35% strategy — bolting 6% of Lib Dem defectors to Labour’s core vote of 29% — was always risky, and made decisions such as the juvenile attack-ads on Nick Clegg even harder to understand.

And then there’s been the complacent underestimating of threats from the SNP (whose potency threaten a Labour majority, as I pointed out here last July) and Ukip (who may well establish themselves as the anti-Labour alternative primed for major gains in 2020).

Should Labour have ditched Ed Miliband? One answer is this: they should have done what their opponents least wanted them to do.

There is no doubt that the Conservatives are among the most enthusiastic of #webackEd supporters because they know David Cameron beats him all ends up on the leadership stakes. They will ruthlessly exploit his perceived weaknesses in the next six months, backed up their friends in the right-wing press. Cameron will likely try and avoid a televised leaders’ debate to side-step the risk that Miliband ends up surpassing low expectations.

BY that criterion, then, Labour should #backEd over a cliff. However, it would be a risk. First, because it’s far from clear any of his probable replacements would actually prove much better than him. And secondly, because Ed is the symptom, not the cause, of Labour’s problem. The central question was set out by the Labour blogger Hopi Sen in 2011:

To win again, we must confront the issue that Brown sought to elide, successfully as Chancellor, disastrously ineffectively as Prime Minister. What is the role of the progressive state when you are at the rough upper bound of state spending as a proportion of GDP that a market economy seems to find politically and economically acceptable? What is the progressive case in a fiscally conservative time?

Though Ed Miliband has tried to grapple with the problem, via wonky solutions such as pre-distribution, he has failed to offer a clear, compelling solution about how, at a time of austerity, Labour will deliver (apologies) a stronger economy and a fairer society. But have Alan Johnson or Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna got a better answer? Unless they have, it’s far from clear that switching the guy at the top will make a jot of difference, even if they can eat a bacon sandwich attractively.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

European Arrest Warrant: I’m a sceptic (but not a Eurosceptic)

by Stephen Tall on November 10, 2014

As I write, the House of Commons is debating the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Well, sort of. In fact, the Speaker, John Bercow, has already pointed out that “there will not today be a vote on the specific matter of membership of the European arrest warrant”. But Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling say there will. In the Tories’ Alice in Wonderland world, when they use the word vote it means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

As with any debate involving Europe, there is a danger of it being used as a proxy for the wider in/out debate. Tories are largely against the EAW. Because Europe. Lib Dems and Labour are largely for the EAW. Because Europe. However, you don’t have to buy into the Tories Euroscepticism to be an EAW-sceptic.

Indeed, much kudos for the reforms to the EAW the Government has introduced should be given to the Lib Dems’ Sarah Ludford who, as an MEP, successfully championed the reform of the EAW, noting earlier this year:

“In the ten years since it came into force the warrant has become a vital tool in the fight against crime, enabling hundreds of Britain’s most-wanted criminals to be brought to justice. To abandon it would be would be a gift to criminals and a slap in the face for their victims. However, there remain serious concerns over a number of cases that have led to serious miscarriages of justice, and the warrant is sometimes used disproportionately to extradite suspects for petty crimes or as an investigative fishing tool for cases that are not ready for trial.”

However, it’s not clear that these have yet gone far enough. Here, for instance, is director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, highlighting her concerns:

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of the real injustice the EAW, in its current form, creates. Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.

If the Government had succeeded in reforming the system to prevent such abuses, that would be fine. But it hasn’t, says Shami:

Liberty has long called for reform of EU extradition arrangements as part of our wider campaign against unfair, summary extradition. We have never argued that the warrant should be dropped, but we have consistently called for greater safeguards to allow a balance to be struck between the broad public interest in effective extradition and the protection of basic rights and freedoms. Among the protections we have sought is a requirement that a basic or prima facie case be made in a domestic court before a British resident is extradited. We are not alone in calling for change: earlier this year the European parliament adopted a resolution setting out essential reforms to the EAW.

But for all the prime minister’s talk of renegotiation and improvement, the EAW system remains unchanged. To give the government its due, it has inserted two safeguards into domestic law on extraditions within the EU. Liberty welcomed these measures, which are aimed at preventing disproportionate extraditions and the lengthy pre-trial detention of British residents. These are important protections, but they are unilateral changes not necessarily reflected in the EAW system. What is more, the government has given with one hand and taken away with the other by introducing legislation scrapping the automatic right of appeal against extradition to countries in the EU.

There are, it seems, serious concerns still about the EAW: not the principle, but the practice. That it emanates from Europe, that the public backs it, are not in themselves reasons to back the EAW if it can still cause injustice. I hope we’ll hear from the Lib Dems in the Commons tonight how the reformed EAW our MPs will be backing addresses this.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 10

by Stephen Tall on November 8, 2014

Congratulations to Jon Featonby, whose team “What bitey racist?” continues to lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 10, having amassed 601 points. Hot on his heels are George Murray (589) and Sam Bowman (584). There’s then a gap of 25 points separating fourth-placed Andrew Wiseman. Still, there only just over 50 points between the top 10 and three-quarters of the season left to play.


For those struggling with their form (like me) don’t forget you have a Wildcard — allowing you to make unlimited free transfers (ie, ditch your current team and start again) — you can use at any point in the season. You get another Wildcard after Week 20.

There are 150+ players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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