Coalfields and curtains – two very surprising things about the general election on May 7th

Coalfields%20v%20labourIn all my reading about the general election, two things have particularly surprised me.

Firstly, the Labour winning vote situations are virtually identical to were there are coalfields in England and Wales.

Secondly, a major academic study says that the Lib Dems didn’t lose because of policy, but because of valance issues. You know, curtains. It was curtains for us. No, that should read valence issues. Valence issues? I had to look up the word “valence”.

Mark Pack explains:

Political scientists crunching the evidence over how people decide who to vote for (such as in Affluence, Austerity and Electoral Change in Britain) find that policy issues matter much less than ‘valence’ issues.

That is, people don’t decide who to vote for based on looking at policies and seeing how closely a party or candidate’s policies match up to their own preferences. Rather, they lean on decisions over perceived competence on issues where different parties all have the same shared objective. For example, voting Conservative because you think they’ll be best at creating new jobs is a valence choice. All parties want more jobs, so picking the Conservatives is about perceived competence, not ideology.

Although there certainly are ideological choices and they do have an influence, it’s valence that dominates in British elections. Hence the problem for the Liberal Democrats in the general election wasn’t about having controversial policies which people didn’t like. There wasn’t even a small echo of the problems with the immigration amnesty policy of 2010 for example (good policy but burdened with the fatal combination of being both controversial and not amenable to a one-sentence defence). Asked where they put the Lib Dems and themselves on the political spectrum, voters kept on putting the party near to themselves overall.

Rather the problems were valence ones – about competence and trust in particular. Overhauling the party’s perception on those is not going to be a minor matter.

To be done seriously, the work has to infuse every corner of the party’s operations, from its disciplinary procedures through to how well the party does (or doesn’t) respond to voters getting in touch for the first time. The new leader, if they wish to be successful, needs to ensure a thorough overhaul, both internally and externally.


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