This past year was not short of big political events and unexpected outcomes. To reflect the issues that attracted the most attention, and to mark the end of 2015, we have compiled our blog’s top read articles. But first, John Van Reenen gives his prediction on what will be the most important issue in 2016 – a year which will see more elections across the UK, and a possible EU referendum: an era-defining event.
The biggest issue for 2016…is the same as it was for 2015: the possibility of Brexit
Last year, my prediction was that the most important issue for 2015 would be the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU. After the Conservative election victory in May, the referendum is a betting certainty before the end of 2017. “Brexit” remains the most important issue facing the UK.
Many polls now show a majority in favour of leaving. Record immigration levels, the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks and continued Eurozone economic problems have buoyed the leave campaign. There is no reason this should be the case. For example, responding to security concerns requires more European co-operation, not less. But politicians of all political stripes have failed to make a strong positive case. Immigration benefits growth and helps reduce the deficit as they pay more in taxes than they use public services. But you’d hardly guess this from the bidding war between the parties in the last election to restrict benefits to EU migrants.
Being part of the world’s largest economic trading block benefits the UK through more trade and foreign investment (and yes, by attracting talented people too). All serious analysis shows that the average Britain can expect cuts in real incomes after Brexit. To get the same level of access to the Single market we would, like Norway, have to continue paying a large “entry fee”, adopt the same regulations and cease to have a say in Europe’s development. So unless we wake up soon, Britain will slope towards exit.
The debate is only going to intensify in the upcoming months, and so LSE has launched a dedicated blog, BrexitVote, which will provide multi-disciplinary, evidence-based analysis of all the new developments.
And here are our most popular articles in 2015:
It is a mistake, committed by many, to equate a substantial SNP vote with an alleged rise in nationalism or nationalist sentiment in Scotland, argues Jan Eichhorn (@eichhorn_jan). The evidence indicates the contrary: data from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey suggests that fewer people emphasise their Scottish national identity distinctively.
Voting for Jeremy Corbyn as leader is a gut reaction to Labour’s electoral defeat. Corbyn does point to some real economic problems facing Britain but his policies are based largely on the kind of wishful thinking that is endemic in UK politics and both blights Labour’s past. His popularity lies in Labour’s failure to defend its own record in government. The party needs to learn from its successes as well as its evident recent failures if it wants to re-build, writes John Van Reenen.
The realities of living on welfare are significantly different from government and media characterisations
Ruth Patrick considers the extent to which there is a (mis)match between government and media rhetoric and the lived experiences of those directly affected by welfare reform. Her research demonstrates the very hard ‘work’ which ‘getting by’ on benefits entails, ‘work’ which serves to counter characterisations of claimants as passive and inactive. She argues that attending to the lived experiences of welfare reform is critical in helping us to understand the day-to-day realities of ‘getting by’ in contemporary Britain.
Populist personalities? The Big Five Personality Traits and party choice in the 2015 UK general election
To what extent are decisions at the ballot box driven by a voter’s personality? In this article, James Dennison examines the association between personality traits and party choice in the UK’s 2015 general election. He finds, among other things, that UKIP and Green voters are the most closed and open-minded respectively.
The hidden barriers, or ‘glass ceiling’, preventing women from getting to the top are well documented. But as Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurisonexplain, the upwardly mobile also face a powerful and previously unrecognised ‘class ceiling’ within Britain’s elite occupations.
Against the background of a general breakdown of public confidence in the political elite, politicians on both left and right have seen themselves not as part of a broader governing elite but as outsiders, empowered by their democratic mandate to shake up government and make it more responsive to the wishes of the people. Nat le Roux argues that taken to its logical extreme, the end point of this doctrine is an impoverished political ecology in which the only actor is an omni-competent centralised executive, constrained only by periodic popular election.
(Featured image credit: Giggling gigi CC BY SA 2.0)