General Election 2015: key challenges facing the parties

The British general election of 2015 takes place against a remarkable backdrop of political and economic uncertainty. The country’s major parties are far less dominant than they once were. Insurgency can be seen in Scotland and parts of rural England, reducing the predictability of the outcome in many constituencies. The Scottish Nationalists, UKIP and the Greens are all building support. Constitutional reform will be offered, competitively, in party manifestos. The economy is growing strongly but problems remain, notably the weakness of tax receipts. Deficit reduction means public spending will be constrained throughout the next Parliament, raising major questions about Britain’s on-going defence and foreign policy capacity. In domestic policy, the quality of public services and growing inequality have to be tackled. It is also possible the election result will trigger an ‘in-out’ referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union.

British Government @ LSE, working with departments and institutes across the School, is running a series of panels about the election, taking place between January and April. In each of these events, LSE academics will outline the key challenges facing the country and consider a range of possible responses. The panels and speakers are summarised below.

At each panel, there will be opening contributions from the speakers, followed by an open discussion involving members of the audience. In common with other LSE events, these election debates will be open to the public.

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Defence & Foreign policy

Date: Thursday 12 February 2015
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM 2.02 Map
Speakers: Chris Brown, Michael Cox, Toby Dodge, Margot Light
Chair: Professor Tony Travers

The UK has been involved in a number of international conflicts and peace-keeping efforts in recent years. But pressure on the defence and Foreign Office budgets is likely to change the shape of the armed forces and to affect Britain’s position in the world. Negotiations about a possible coalition government might have implications for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. A Strategic Defence Review is expected in 2015 and this document will outline the longer-term options facing the country. This panel will look at the immense problems facing the next government as it seeks to adjust the scale and shape of defence and foreign policy

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Higher education and student funding

Date: Wednesday 18 February
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM.4.02 Map
Speakers: Nick Barr, Tim Leunig, Nona Buckley-Irvine

The political consequences of the Coalition’s student fees policy have affected the government in a number of ways. Potential change to the funding of universities and students remains highly contentious and subject to reform. Fee levels will be an issue in the 2015 election. Differences in policy between England and Scotland remain contentious. In the longer-term, pressure on ‘unprotected’ public expenditure is likely to reduce HE funding still further, creating greater need for a wider range of university income. The way in which students fund their education, and over what period, has profound impacts. This panel will look at the options facing the parties and those in higher education.

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The Future Of London

Date: Thursday 19th February
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue CLM.3.02
Speakers: Nancy Holman, Christine Whitehead, Tony Travers, Stephen Glaister

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Social Policy And Inequality

Date: Wednesday 25 February
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM.2.02 Map
Speakers: John Hills, Julian Le Grand, Tim Newburn
Chair: Tony Travers

The NHS, education, children’s services and social security are among the most politically-salient issues affecting the outcome of the 2015 election. Polling shows the public strongly supports additional funding for health, though it is less enthusiastic about aspects of welfare. Children’s services are now very high-profile and require continuing political and official action to deliver effective care. In parallel, measures of inequality suggest Britain has become a less equal society and that there is political pressure to do something to reduce both income and wealth differentials. Despite protection for the NHS and pensions, budgets for most Welfare State services are under immense pressure. This panel will consider the limited choices for the major parties as the approach the election.

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Housing

Date: Wednesday 4 March
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM.4.02 Map
Speakers: Charles Goodhart, Nancy Holman, Anne Power
Chair: Christine Whitehead

Housing, particularly in southern England, has rapidly increased in political importance. There is a shortage of homes for rent or to buy and prices/rents are high by historic standards. The population of London, the South East and the East are increasing rapidly though the number of new homes is not rising at anything like the same rate. Experts have listed a number of challenges, including the planning process, the lack of available land, a shortage of finance, Green Belt restrictions, overseas buyers and the ‘right-to-buy’ policy. This event will examine the key challenges facing the parties as they struggle to create more homes.

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Europe

Date: Wednesday 11 March
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM.2.02 Map
Speakers: Damian Chalmers, Maurice Fraser, Simon Hix, Sara Hobolt, Michiel Van Hulten
Chair: Professor Tony Travers

The 2015 election could lead to an ‘In-Out’ referendum by 2017. The UK might, therefore leave the EU before the following election, with profound effects on the country and its trading partners. There would also be knock-on consequences for the future of Scotland within the UK. UKIP’s performance in the general election will also tell us something about the strength of sentiment about immigration policy in the UK. Whether or not there is a referendum, Britain’s troubled relationship with Europe looks likely to remain difficult for some years to come. This panel will look at the many and varied challenges facing Britain and its relationship with Europe between 2015 and 2020.

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Michael Barber on ‘How to Run A Government: so that citizens benefit and taxpayers don’t go crazy’

Date: Monday 16 March
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: Old Theatre Map
Speaker: Michael Barber
Chair: Sir Jeremy Heywood

Billions of citizens around the world are frustrated with their governments. Political leaders struggle to honour their promises and officials find it near impossible to translate ideas into action. The result? High taxes, but poor outcomes. Cynicism not just with government but with the political process.

Why is this? How could this vicious spiral be reversed?

In this groundbreaking book Michael Barber draws on his wealth of experience of working for and with government leaders the world over to present a blueprint for how to run a government. Using contemporary cases from every continent and classic examples from history, he makes a compelling case for a new approach. From Downing Street to Punjab, Charles I to Churchill, this books hows that the solution is less about ideology and more about sustained priorities, solving problems as they arise and not giving up when the going gets tough.

By applying the lessons set out in the eight chapters of this entertaining and insightful book, governments of all political persuasions can dramatically enhance their capacity to deliver results and control costs, thus delighting citizens rather than driving them crazy.

Sir Michael Barber is the co-founder of Delivery Associates and Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. Over the last two decades he has worked on government and public service reform in more than 50 countries. From 2001 to 2005 he was the first Head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit in the UK. His previous books include Instruction to Deliver: Fighting to Transform Britain’s Public Services.

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The Economy

Date: Wednesday 18 March
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue: CLM.4.02 Map
Speakers: John Van Reenen, Jonathan Wadsworth, Alan Manning
Chair: Oriana Bandiara

The Conservatives and Labour have marked out apparently different positions for themselves in relation to the economy and deficit reduction. The Conservatives want to eradicate the deficit and then run a budget surplus, while Labour want to deliver a slower reduction to the deficit, but with less pressure on public expenditure. The longer-term strength of the UK economy is still unknown, particularly in the light of continuing uncertainty affecting the Eurozone, financial institutions and oil prices. The options facing the new government are limited by the continuing weakness of the public finances. This event will examine the future of the UK economy and possible policy change.

 

You can listen to past British Government @ LSE event podcasts online.