Tag Archives: British General Election

Political Coverage

By Alexander Leo Phillips

As I write this I’m watching David  Cameron deliver his first Conference speech as Prime Minister.  This is naturally a big event for him; not only is it the first time a Conservative Prime Minster has addressed the Party Conference since 1996, but it also comes at a difficult time for the party itself and wider Britain.

Over the past few weeks of ‘conference season’ we’ve witnessed the Liberal Democrats confuse themselves as they struggle to reconcile the problems of finally tasting power, along with the poisonous knowledge that power has been achieved through the betrayal of many long-standing principles.  Similarly we have seen the alleged death of New Labour and the general bafflement of MPs as they try to comprehend just how they’ve managed the elect the ‘wrong Miliband’.

The Prime Minister’s problems however, are intensified by the burden of government.  The coalition has upset many in the party’s right-wing and has pushed the party too far to the political ‘centre’ than many would have liked.  As a result it has been alleged that the Conservative Party could be on the march towards a state of civil war, which could see the coalition strained not by blue/yellow splits, but by blue/blue splits (see Rawnsley).

Conferences themselves have numerous functions (most of which hold little interest to non-members).  However, one of the most significant is the opportunity to transmit their policies to the wider public in the hope of securing votes.  It is at this point where the power of the media becomes paramount.  Each conference is almost guaranteed to lead the nightly news headlines along with networks like the BBC and Sky offering live rolling coverage and analysis throughout the day.  Geographers Smeltzer and Lepawsky address this point by investigating the important role “[m]ainstream and alternative media play  … in circulating powerful narratives within and often beyond a country’s borders” (2008:86).  Although they’re work focuses upon the Malaysian elections of the last decade, they’re argument and conclusions can be applied just as interestingly to the UK or elsewhere throughout the political calendar. The rise of political blogging through sites such as this, along with countless others; has provided an ever expanding platform of expression upon which people can spout their political views and read the ramblings of others.  A quick look to America and the success of groups like ‘The Young Turks’ provide and effective example of this, as the views of their videos and blogs rival that of the major news networks.

Such coverage raises important questions about ‘framing’.  In the battle for viewers/readers many media organisations have become increasingly partisan in the way they chose to frame their political coverage.  Smeltzer and Lepawsky address this issue of framing by focusing on the relationship between ICT and the electoral process and question the political implications of this framing activity.

Smeltzer, S. and Lepawsky, J. 2008. ‘Foregrounding technology over politics? Media framings of federal elections in Malaysia’, Area. Vol 42 (1). pp. 86-95.

Andrew Rawnsley’s Political Commentary: The Guardian/Observer

The Young Turks website

Live Aid 25

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Tuesday 13th July marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Live Aid.  The “global jukebox”, devised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium, London and John F. Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia and viewed by an estimated two billion people across the globe. The aim of the concert was simple; to raise money for the millions of Ethiopians struck by the devastating famine of 1984. The result was over £150 million raised for famine relief and a defining television event marking the generosity of millions.

Its easy and indeed reassuring to look back, twenty-five years on, and think of the event as the day the “developed” nations and publics of Great Britain, America and others got together and said NO to starvation, suffering and death amongst some of our poorest neighbours; but did the event really make much of  a difference?

To mark the anniversary, celebrities, activists and charities are once again joining together in a renewed call for aid, since the situation now is as bad as ever.  To quote Colin Firth on East Africa “These people are facing another food crisis. A dangerous storm of factors, drought, conflict, poverty and rocketing food prices, are pushing people over the edge. Oxfam needs public support to avert catastrophe and keep people alive” (Mirror.co.uk).

International aid, poverty and global development remain critical issues in our world today.  Indeed international aid and the NHS were the only two areas protected from the savage cuts of Britain’s new coalition government.  Geographers have also written extensively on the subject.  In recent months Paul Milbourne has provided a critical review of the recent geographical work on poverty and welfare and William Gould has asked us to reconsider our understandings of links between HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa, questioning the nature of our aid policies.

As the decades pass and the preventable deaths multiply, it’s becoming abundantly clear that throwing money at the issue does little to help; furthermore the very act of doing so has become ‘big business’ in itself as Linda Polman‘s new book illustrates so painfully.  So what are the solutions, if they even exist and what can geographers do to help?

Gould, B. 2009. ‘Exploring the Anomalous Positive Relationship between AIDS and Poverty in Africa’, Geography Compass, 3 (4), pp. 1449-1464.

Milbourne, P.  2010. ‘The Geographies of Poverty and Welfare’, Geography Compass, 4 (2), pp. 158-171.

For further information regarding the 25th anniversary of Live Aid see The Daily Mirror.

For further information regarding Linda Polman’s work on the aid industry see The Sunday Times.

Unsustainable extremes? Geographies of wealth

by Jayne Glass

In April 2010 the Sunday Times newspaper reported that the wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK had risen by an average of £77 million each in just one year, to now stand at £335.5 billion.  Earlier in the year, the ‘Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’ report presented a startling analysis of how unequal Britain’s wealth has become: the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society. The report finds that the government failed to ‘plug the gap’ between the poorest and richest in society in the 1980s.

In an ‘early view’ article in The Geographical Journal, Danny Dorling analyses inequality trends and  suggests there were key times when the trends changed direction.  However, he also finds that is hard to identify when a government changed from the trend data.  As a result, Dorling suggests that three main parties offer very similar solutions to the issue of reducing inequality and therefore it seems unlikely that voting will make much of a difference. Instead, political parties need to rethink how they will tackle growing issues of inequality that have led to such unsustainable extremes of wealth in the UK.

Read BBC News: ‘Super-rich become wealthier again’ (24 April 2010)

Read The Guardian: ‘Unequal Britain: richest 10 % are now 100 times better off than the poorest’ (27 January 2010)

Read ‘An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’ (report commissioned by Harriet Harman, published January 2010)

Read Dorling, D. (early view) All connected? Geographies of race, death, wealth, votes and births. The Geographical Journal.

UK financial exclusion and a possible Post Office Bank

Financial exclusion has since the 1990s been recognised as a significant problem in the UK, with local physical access to financial institutions particularly important for those less mobile and less able to access financial services indirectly via the telephone and internet. The number of bank branches in the UK has declined significantly since the 1980s, and the change in the spatial distribution has contributed to financial exclusion. A 2008 paper by Andrew Leyshon, Shaun French and Paola Signoretta looked at the geography of bank and building society branch closure in the UK, concluding that less affluent areas were “shouldering a disproportionate share of net branch closure”.

In 2001 the Government allowed the Post Office to provide access to some financial services under the Universal Bank project, aimed at tackling financial exclusion. Leyshon et al noted that “[p]erhaps the most significant new distribution channel for financial services has been neither the telephone nor the Internet but the partial integration of the Post Office into the British financial services industry.” Ironically, the cost of this integration, along with Post Office branches becoming substitutes for participating banks’ own branches, may have contributed to more bank branch closures. This would be less of a concern if the Post Office network itself had not lost substantial numbers of branches, with 18,400 in 1999 reduced to 14,500 in 2008 and 12,000 in 2010.

In the runup to the May 2010 General Election, the then Labour government announced that if re-elected it would turn the Post Office into the “People’s Bank”, with a full range of financial services. This policy was supported by the Liberal Democrats, and subsequently appeared in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s coalition agreement. It was unclear how the proposals would affect the Post Office’s existing relationship with the Bank of Ireland, which was contracted to run the Post Office’s financial services until 2020. Besides expanding access to financial services, expanding the Post Office’s revenue from financial services might reduce branch closures.

View the Orford et al (2009) article hereLeyshon et al (2008), “Financial exclusion and the geography of bank and building society branch closure in Britain“, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 33, Issue 4, Pages 447-465
Jackie Ashley, The Guardian: Post offices can kickstart Labour's radical agendaJackie Ashley, The Guardian, 21 March 2010, “Post offices can kickstart Labour’s radical agenda
Guardian: Coalition plans for Post Office Bank cause bafflementJill Treanor, The Guardian, 20 May 2010, “Coalition plans for Post Office Bank cause bafflement

Robin de la Motte

Too far to bother? Polling station location and turnout in UK elections

"Polling Station" signAt the May 2010 UK General Election, turnout increased, in some areas more than 10%, as the expected hung parliament brought more voters to the polls. At a few polling stations, numbers were so high that people were turned away, with the stations closing as scheduled at 10pm with some unable to vote.

But does the placement of polling stations affect turnout? In a 2009 article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Scott Orford, Colin Rallings, Michael Thrasher and Galina Borisyuk look at the effect of polling station placement on turnout in one urban UK constituency (Brent, in West London). They found that, by several measures, areas with polling stations on average further away from the voter had lower turnout, particularly in European and local elections, which in the UK have substantially lower turnout than parliamentary elections. They conclude by advocating “a more strategic approach to the siting of polling stations.”

View the BBC News article here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8666338.stm BBC News, 7 May 2010, “Election 2010: Inquiry as voters miss out as polls shut”
View the Orford et al (2009) article here Orford et al (2009), “Electoral salience and the costs of voting at national, sub-national and supra-national elections in the UK: a case study of Brent, UK”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 34, Issue 2, Pages 195-214

Robin de la Motte

Geographies of voting

With a hung parliament the outcome of the May 2010 UK General Election, Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats emerged holding the balance of power – albeit less decisively than expected, with a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition needing to be supplemented with smaller parties to attain a majority. Nonetheless, the Liberal Democrats’ long-held objective of putting a referendum on some form of proportional representation to the British public appeared tantalisingly close. The election results demonstrated again why proportional representation is a core Liberal Democrat demand: having increased their vote from 22.1% in 2005 to 23%, they actually lost seats, declining to 57 MPs – a mere 9% of the 650 in the new parliament. In the 2010 election the Conservatives attained a higher share of the vote than Labour had in 2005 – yet while Labour had turned that vote share into a substantial majority, the Conservatives in 2010 were the largest party, but well short of a majority.

The disproportionality inherent in the first-past-the-post system is a classically geographical problem, involving the interaction of the geography of political parties’ support, and of the constituencies into which voters are organised. In a 2002 article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ron Johnston, David Rossiter, Charles Pattie and Danny Dorling analysed how the various biases in the UK’s post-war first-past-the-post system interact, and showed how the net effect increasingly favoured the Labour Party, having favoured the Conservatives until the 1980s. A combination of anti-Conservative tactical voting and Labour’s focus on marginal seats enabled it to greatly increase the efficiency of its vote distribution.

View the Jonathan Freedland article here Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, 7 May 2010, “Hung parliament: Nick Clegg forced to play fair maiden as suitors bow”
View the Johnston et al (2002) article here Johnston et al (2002), “Labour electoral landslides and the changing efficiency of voting distributions”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 27, Issue 3, Pages 336-361

Robin de la Motte

Hung Up: The British General Election 2010

Sarah Mills

This week’s news has been dominated by the British General Election and the (widely predicted) hung parliament.  As party leaders begin to negotiate with each other and their members, there is still great uncertainty about the next Prime Minister and the composition of the next government.  Whilst there are many talking points, the issue emerging as a key factor in any prospective coalitions is electoral reform.  In The Guardian yesterday, Polly Toynbee stressed the importance of electoral reform and the prospective coalitions on the table.  The protests in London yesterday lobbying the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the issue of electoral reform also demonstrates public concerns over how elections take place and issues of representation.  In the midst of uncertainty and change, a more everyday geography of protest and debate is taking place, for example this sign photographed in Hackney, East London.

In an article for Geography Compass, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie describe elections as a “geographer’s delight”.  Through examining British general elections over the last sixty years, they highlight the “inherent geographical activity” of elections.  Indeed, electoral geography has been a cornerstone of political geography and remains an engaging area of current research, particularly with developments in GIS and mapping.  As the story of this election continues to unfold, geographers should be well placed to contribute to discussions on the emerging events, and particularly on the geographies of electoral reform.

Read Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on the issue of electoral reform.

Read Johnston, R. & Pattie, C. (2009) Geography: The Key to Recent British Elections, Geography Compass 3 (5) pp.1865-1880