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Politics & Law Series: General Election

City academics react to 2015 General Election result

Experts give their views on how the Conservative Party secured victory

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

Dr Almuth McDowall, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, Department of Psychology

AlmuthMcDowall"So here we are, the results of the 2015 election battles have unfolded in front of our eyes. So was my prediction right, that it would be a battle of personalities? Absolutely. Look at Scotland, where the SNP swept the country, in all likelihood due to Nicola Sturgeon's convincing shows around the country and in televised debates.

"This of course had knock on effects,  as crucial seats for Labour were lost. But who would have thought that the exit polls were right, with the Liberal Democrats losing what looks like well over 40 seats? After the 2010 election, it was said that whoever won this election would get punished next time round due to the challenge of the task in hand. It looks as if the voters turned their feet against the coalition party, punishing what many saw as Clegg's betrayal of promises, such as a U-turn on tuition fees.

"Cameron and his party faired better than many had predicted - perhaps fuelled by what was a rather different take on personal strategies in the last week of campaigning, signalling rolled up sleeves and being 'fired up'. But lastly, let's not forget that democracy is about the citizens who vote, rather than the politicians who wanted to be voted for. As Danny Alexander told the BBC: 'I lost my seat, that's democracy. Worse things happen to people'.

"The onus will be on the new government to deliver on the voters' trust."

Philip Booth, Professor of Insurance and Risk Management, Cass Business School

“This election campaign was the most dire I can remember. There was almost no discussion whatsoever of political or economic principles.

"Did the Tories make the case for economic freedom, including free trade, both because it is right in principle and because they believe it will promote widespread prosperity? No. Did they make the case for the importance of parental autonomy and choice in education? No.

"Did Labour make a principled case for more government regulation of the economy and greater redistribution in the name of 'social justice'? No. Did the Greens make a principled case for lower living standards on the ground that it will reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate change? No.

"It is perhaps more difficult to pin down what principled case Lib Dems or UKIP would make because there is such a range of philosophies within the parties. But, even in those cases, there was little inspiration.

"Instead, despite the fact that the next government will have almost no room for fiscal manoeuvre, we simply had a litany of appeals to interest groups - families who have children in child care being promised free care, the provision of 'free' school meals, special treatment for pensioners, tax one group a little bit more to increase spending on another group.

"This is a sad triumph for what economists call 'rent seeking' as predicted by public choice economics."

Tom Felle, Acting Director of Interactive Journalism, Department of Journalism

Tom Felle"All the polls got it wrong and underestimated Conservative support among large swathes of the British public. I appears as if the electorate were convinced, on balance, that the Conservatives were best placed to lead the country for the next five years.

"It's almost certain that the economic messages of more prosperity under David Cameron were key to that. In Scotland, the post-independence referendum nationalism has lead to a massive swing to the SNP at Labour's expense.

"We won't know for some time what impact the partisan newspaper coverage of the campaign has had. But it is likely to have had some impact on convincing voters to reward the Conservatives with a majority in the Commons."

Andre Spicer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Cass Business School

"The polls are in and many prominent MPs have lost their seats to new incumbents. After studying the transitions of professionals and leaders in a range of organisations, there are some important lessons to be learned for politicians who face a big change today.

"When very experienced people are forced out of a high profile job, they are forced to face several issues simultaneously. Firstly, they need to find a new position or even a new industry that values their expertise in their current position. This is often tough because people have already invested heavily in skills which are specific to their organisation or their industry. In this instance, politicians have spent years honing their skills, networks and developing a reputation which is relevant in Westminster.

"The question is whether their political skillset can translate into other contexts? Fortunately, political capital in Westminster is a valuable commodity for many big businesses, plus the skills learned in Parliament are likely to serve someone well in a corporation. This is because as you approach the pinnacle of a firm, the more political intelligence is valued, hence moves into consultancy and advisory roles.

"However, there is also a deeper question of identity. Most politicians have spent decades thinking of themselves as a politician first and foremost. Building another professional and personal identity is difficult.

"Often they have neglected other parts of their life for the sake of politics. So as a result, when their role as a politician is removed, they face a huge existential crisis. They have to start asking themselves 'who am I'? But they may not have another identity to fall back on. This can trigger a sense of loss, purposeless and even depression.

"For new politicians entering Parliament, there is a parallel problem they will encounter. Most of them have invested heavily in building up their campaigning skills, but these are largely irrelevant once they get to Westminster. What they actually need now are skills in dealing with the legislative process. Unfortunately these are in short supply in new MPs. As a result they find themselves floundering for the first few years.

"There is also a personal dimension to this. They often find themselves away from home, cut off from their existing networks and under intense pressure to learn at the same time as deliver results.  Becoming an effective parliamentarian often means changing how they think about themselves. Instead of just identifying with their constituencies and party, they need to start identifying with the institution of Parliament as a whole, which will help them to collaborate with others (such as opposition members, clerks and civil servants) and get the job done."

Dr John Stanton, Senior Lecturer, The City Law School

John Stanton“It is hard to escape, however, the shortcomings of the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral process. Indeed, Douglas Carswell, the newly elected UKIP MP for Clacton, used his victory speech to hammer home the fact that millions of voters were supporting UKIP, but due to the system, these votes did not necessarily mean seats.

"The numbers spoke for themselves: 1.5 million Scots voted for the Scottish National Party (SNP), giving rise to 56 seats. Conversely, almost 4 million people supported UKIP; that party winning just a single seat. Under the FPTP system, the 650 Commons seats are contested in 650 constituencies. The MP candidate who achieves the most votes in their constituency takes one seat in the chamber. The problem is, however, that constituencies vary greatly in size and population. As a consequence, the number of votes cast in favour of a particular political party will not necessarily equate proportionally to seats in the House.

"Electoral reform has been considered in the past. In 2011, motivated by the first hung Parliament since the 1970s and encouraged by the Liberal Democrats' part in the following agreement, a referendum was held on the possibility of FPTP being replaced by the Alternative Vote (AV) system. At the ballot box, this would have given the public the opportunity to number their potential candidates by preference. Due, perhaps in part to a rushed and uninformed debate, the referendum failed dramatically. The issue has not gone away, however, and in the run-up to the 2015 election, parties gave space in their manifestos to the need for change.

"Proportional representation is widely identified as the preferable and obvious alternative. This means that seats are allocated proportionately to votes cast and can operate in a number of different ways. It is used, for example, to select members to the European Parliament. If the House of Commons, post the 2015 General Election, were to be viewed from the perspective of proportional representation, however, the results would be markedly different from the results to which we all awoke on May 8th.”

How could the polls have been so wrong?

By Suzanne Franks, Professor of Journalism, Department of Journalism

Portrait of Suzanne Franks"Watching the results in 2015 felt like 1992 all over again. A consistent pattern of polling throughout the campaign was completely overturned at 10pm on election night, when the exit poll results were revealed. Far from the tight and equal contest that had been predicted for weeks, the prediction now was that Tories were set to triumph, which of  course the unfolding results then confirmed. Peter Kellner boss of YouGov, and responsible for many of those ‘dead heat’ predictions, spent much of the night eating his words. How could this error have happened?

"After 1992 there was much talk about ‘shy Tories’ – voters who supported Conservative candidates in the privacy of the polling both, but who were coy about admitting they were going to support what is often seen as the ‘nasty party.’  This tallies with another familiar concept in social science – the ‘spiral of silence theory’- where certain groups will not voice openly opinions that they fear might be seen as unpopular. The argument went that expressing preference for a party that was associated with selfish individualism, as opposed to one that supported increasing taxes for the wider public good, might be perceived as embarrassing for some voters, so when asked about voting intentions they told pollsters instead that they were ‘don’t knows’ even though they were highly likely to vote Tory when the moment came. A very similar thing happened in 1970, long before the days of sophisticated exit polling. Throughout the campaign the pollsters were uniformly predicting a Labour victory, but the reality on the morning after was Edward Heath in Downing Street.

"In the years that followed 1992 the pollsters discussed the ‘shy Tory’ problem and claimed that they were able to correct for it in their modeling and analysis. There was still a general tendency to under estimate Conservative support (as in 2010) but this remained within the margins of error. Now in 2015 shy Tories have again become a major distortion and overturned expectations. Interestingly this is a phenomenon observed internationally where support for Conservative and right wing parties is underestimated in polling.

"In the recent Israeli elections the pollsters repeatedly predicted a dead heat between the two largest parties, Labour and Likud, just like they did in the UK. But on election night Binyamin Netanyahu received a decisive lead of six seats over his Labour rivals. In the post-match analysis the pollsters pointed to the problem of voters who refuse to answer, frequently because they are ashamed to admit who they are voting for, another version of ‘shy Tories.’ Crucially, the usual rule in polling and surveys, that people who don’t answer behave the same as people who do answer, does not apply in politics. Don’t know may be a cover for something else. This makes political polling much more tricky and is a reason why some polling companies stay away from politics entirely and stick with commercial customers. It is much easier to ask questions about kinds of soap powder.

"One further lesson that pollsters need to digest from 2015 is the disparity between online and telephone polling. The vast majority of the (inaccurate) polls were done online, consistently predicting a dead heat for the main parties. There were far fewer telephone polls, but they in the end were much closer to the correct result. In the final weeks face to face and telephone polls were predicting a steady 3 per cent lead for the Conservatives. Online polling is obviously much cheaper and easier but on this occasion it has failed to capture an accurate picture."

For a list of featured academics who have been commenting on the 2015 General Election, visit our election microsite.

You can also view a summary of their comment and analysis.

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