Archive for November, 2011

Was it just the woman on the tram, or is Britain afraid of foreigners?

Posted in Social on November 28th, 2011 by Leo – 1 Comment

The appalled reaction to the racism of the woman on the Croydon tram (presumably today’s equivalent of the Clapham omnibus) suggests that such attitudes are no longer accepted in Britain. But then that reaction was expressed first and most prominently on Twitter, which is hardly representative of wider society.

Indeed it’s barely 18 months since the Mail on Sunday printed one of the most xenophobic headlines of recent years: “His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg?”.

The calculation was that voters wouldn’t support a leader who was tainted with foreignness. After all, this is the land where memories of the war are so prominent that a German leader’s speech to the Bundestag makes our national headlines when it taps into our fears of bellicose foreign enemies.

But two recent YouGov polls suggest that most Brits are far less suspicious of foreigners than the Mail on Sunday’s headline writers would have us believe.

A poll for Demos did find lower levels of trust for foreigners than for Brits, but overall very little outright distrust:

So while there’s more agnosticism about foreigners’ trustworthiness compared with Brits’, only 1 in 50 feel strongly that they are generally not trustworthy.

And when we look at attitudes to people in specific countries, there are very few grounds for lazy assumptions that Brits still detest Germans. In fact, more people think Germans are very trustworthy than think the same about our special transatlantic friends. Even suspicion of French people is the view of a minority:

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How would Britain react to a government of technocrats?

Posted in Politics on November 20th, 2011 by Leo – Comments Off on How would Britain react to a government of technocrats?

Greece had months of steadily tougher austerity measures. Italy had Berlusconi and a torrid spell in the headlights of the financial markets. Both were facing intense pressures from the EU to take radical measures that would help stabilise the Euro.

Being outside the currency zone, Britain isn’t in the same boat yet. But it’s not hard to imagine a situation where circumstances or bad policies could lead the UK into unsustainable borrowing costs, and the coalition proves not able to take the radical steps that markets demand.

Were this to happen, a government of unelected technocrats could be a realistic proposition. It wouldn’t take much constitutional fiddling to create a new government of all the (hastily ennobled) talents.

Setting aside the likelihood of the British economy reaching that state, what can polling tell us about how the country would react?

We can get some sense of what the initial reaction might be from questions about trust in different professions. Of course politicians fare horribly compared to others:

That said, while politicians are at the bottom of the list, business leaders and civil servants don’t do particularly well either. If the technocrats were seen to be drawn from their ranks, rather than being more like academics and scientists, we shouldn’t expect them to be embraced as the nation’s saviours.

But the problem with polling on this issue is that it can’t pick up one of the major risks for a non-political government.

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How much longer can the coalition blame Labour for the cuts?

Posted in Politics on November 13th, 2011 by Leo – 2 Comments

In the 2000 film Traffic, Michael Douglas’ character is given advice about surviving in politics:

When they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said, “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said, “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said, “Sit down, and write two letters”.

The current government took the advice of the first letter even before coming to power. The day David Laws published a very different letter (“Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money… good luck!”) further reflected their reliance on Khruschev’s advice.

But that line may now be losing credibility.

Since the election, YouGov have been asking respondents who they blame most for the spending cuts. In June last year, Labour were seen as to blame by 31pts more than the coalition. Now that lead is just 14pts:

Labour’s position is still not good. Their argument, that the crisis was international and the UK’s debt was a necessary investment to avoid a worse recession, has apparently still not won through. They haven’t gained much ground on this question the last few months.

But half the country now blames the coalition for the cuts, at least in part. The present switch in the government’s line from “we’re clearing up Labour’s mess” to “we’re facing a European crisis” perhaps reflects a recognition that the first letter has had its day.

Will Scotland ever support an end to British Summer Time?

Posted in Climate Sock, Social on November 7th, 2011 by Leo – 1 Comment

How other campaigners must envy those working on the campaign to shift forward UK time an hour, Lighter Later. A news hook big enough to hang the Glenfinnan Viaduct is gifted to them twice a year with such regularity you could, well, set your clock by it.

Yet the story of public opinion about the proposal has become predictable. Most of Britain wants to abandon the current system, the government are open to it, but nothing will happen so long as the Scots have their say.

The polls back this up to an extent, but the reality is a bit more interesting.

On the question of whether we should make the change, YouGov’s poll from February this year shows about 50% more support than oppose it across Britain, though generally with more support the further south, and less the further north.

But the question of why Scots oppose it so strongly isn’t all that simple.

A poll by Mori in 2005 asked people what they thought the consequences would be of shifting forward the day by an hour. Surprisingly, Scots agreed with the positive arguments for the change, and disagreed with those against it:

Curiously, this poll did exactly what I would do if I wanted to find the highest level of support possible for changing the system. The respondents were taken through the positive consequences of making the change, and then asked whether they would support it. You would expect support after those arguments to be higher than it would have been if people were asked without any prompting.

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