The Representative Audit of Britain

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

The Representative Audit of Britain brings research on parliamentary candidates together under one umbrella, providing a unique dataset that will help us answer some of the most pressing questions about the state of contemporary British parliamentary democracy. Public discourse frequently returns to the perceived growing political class in Britain, which is seemingly removed from the mainstream of society, self-perpetuating and elitist (typified by the row about VAT on Cornish Pasties, Daily Mail 27/03/2012). However, there is little in the way of data to systematically test these claims. The Representative Audit of Britain will include comprehensive information about the backgrounds of candidates standing in the 2015 British general election, including previous occupation, political experience, biological sex, parental status, ethnicity, religion, age, local connections, education, length of party membership and where possible previous selections/elections. The information about candidates will be combined with constituency data, such as marginality, percentage vote for each party in the current and previous general elections, turnout and economic and social indicators generated from census data. This combined dataset will be a powerful tool for analysing who gets selected and who gets elected, permitting us to examine whether certain groups--e.g. working-class people, BME individuals or women--are more likely to be selected in unwinnable seats or places with large working-class or Black and Minority Ethnic communities. However, these top-line findings may mask more subtle processes that can be examined using this data. For example: Do candidates with local political or national political experience get selected for the best seats? Do these trends vary by party? Does experience as a local councillor facilitate or hinder a political career? To what extent has the rise of the MP's researcher and the special advisor taken over the processes of political recruitment and are candidates in winnable seats more likely to have this experience than others? Do the factors interact together to create a 'typical' successful candidate? Or is this stereotype over-played by the news media?

We will combine socio-demographic and electoral data with attitudinal data from a survey of 2015 candidates. In recent years there has been a sharp decline in response rates to surveys of MPs and candidates, likely due to the proliferation of surveys and advent of online survey methods. We aim to maximize response rates via a two-prong strategy. First, to gather as much information as possible from party and media websites, party informants and interviews with candidates keeping the surveys for attitudinal measures. Second, by joining forces with the Comparative Candidate Study and British Representation Study, we will reduce the number of times candidates are surveyed. Combining forces with these and the British Election Study will also allow us to consider UK candidates cross-nationally, analyse change over time and make elite-mass comparisons. The data will allow us to answer questions about the representation of ideas in politics; assessing to what extent candidates and MPs share the ideological perspectives of the electorate and whether this varies by sub-groups of the population and by political party.

Planned Impact

The British general public will indirectly benefit from the availability of coherent, systematic information about who their representatives are. Public discourse frequently returns to the perceived growing political class in Britain, which is seemingly removed from the mainstream of society, self-perpetuating and elitist. The Representative Audit of Britain will identify who gets selected and who gets elected, permitting us to examine whether certain groups--perhaps working-class people, BME individuals or women--are more likely to be selected in unwinnable seats or places with large working-class or BME communities. The contemporary stereotype of a successful politician is perhaps a middle-class man, who attended an independent school, with an Oxbridge education, with minimal local connections, but a great deal of Westminster experience. But this portrayal may be over played by the news media and other less readily apparent factors may be equally important in explaining who gets elected. These questions are all hugely important for understanding the state of the representation of different life experiences in contemporary British Parliamentary democracy.
In order to have an impact on the British public the research findings will be disseminated and data made directly available to third sector organisations, policy makers, political parties and the media.

The direct beneficiaries of the Representative Audit of Britain include: The BBC Political Research Unit and other news media; The Campaign for Gender Balance; The Centre for Women and Democracy; The Conservative Party; The Conservative Women's Organisation; Count Women In; The Electoral Commission;The Fabian Women's Network; The Fawcett Society; The Green Party; The Hansard Society; The Labour Party; The Labour Women's Network; The Liberal Democrats; Operation Black Vote; Plaid Cymru; The SNP; Stonewall; UKIP; Women2Win.

Interested practitioners have been involved with the formation of the research proposal and will continue to be involved should our application be successful. In March 2012 we ran a workshop on the future of studies of parliamentary candidates in Britain. The event was attended by representatives from the Hansard Society, the Electoral Commission and The Study of Parliament Group. Through this scoping work we identified other potential beneficiaries and set up meetings to identify common research questions. David Cowling from the BBC Political Research Unit supports the project and believes that it will be of real interest to the BBC and other media organisations. The Hansard Society is particularly interested in the research and we will work with them to ensure that the data meets their needs. Equality groups such as the Fawcett Society, Operation Black Vote and Stonewall will also benefit from the research as it will provide them with information about when and where women, BME and LGBT candidates are selected and elected. The information will be nuanced and permit an analysis of any variations in the resources (educational, political and occupational) that these candidates have access to and whether there are variations in the career trajectories of individuals drawn from these groups. Political parties may find the information useful as they redesign selection procedures and engage with equality issues. We will invite representatives of the organisations listed above to join a limited access blog forum where we will post draft questionnaires and preliminary findings on a regular basis. Beneficiaries will be invited to comment and to provide suggestions for alternative survey instruments. Our media and public engagement strategy will include phase reports and interim findings to help us foster relationships with beneficiaries and to enhance the utility of the research. Full details in the pathways to impact document.
 
Description The costs of selection. There are regulations governing candidates' spending during the campaign but the costs of seeking selection as a parliamentary candidate are an overlooked area and one that has significant implications for equality of access to political participation. The average spend across all candidates who had selection expenses was £1,966. By party, the average costs for candidates who had selection expenses range from £970 for Plaid Cymru candidates, to £3,903 for Conservative candidates, but there is significant variation in selection expenses for candidates in the same parties. The interviews with candidates proved invaluable for providing more depth to our understanding of the experience of standing for election. A number of respondents to the 2015 survey reported over £50,000 in selection expenses which seemed high, but in our interviews with candidates it became clear that this was an entirely reasonable figure once forgone earnings, travel costs and rentals were included. This is a relatively under-explored area of research and one that we continue to develop.
Harassment of candidates. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more relevant and worrisome since the death of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, on 16 June 2016. A wealth of anecdotal evidence indicated that the 2017 campaign was particularly nasty. For example, Conservative MP Simon Hart, said that he considered elections to be a few weeks of "robust banter followed by a shake of the hand and a pint in the pub" when first elected in 2010, but the most recent election was characterised by "swastikas on election boards, offensive slogans and language on posters" (The Guardian, 12 July 2017). Drawing on RAB data from the 2017 general election, we asked: how widespread are harassment and intimidation during electoral campaigns; how does harassment affect candidates emotionally; and what are the most frequent forms of harassment and intimidation? We found that during the 2017 general election campaign:
• 32% of candidates who participated in the survey said they experienced some form of inappropriate behaviour
• Women candidates were more likely to have experienced abusive behaviour (38%) compared to men candidates (30%)
• Conservative candidates were more likely to suffer harassment and intimidation
Representative Audit research on the intimidation of candidates was heavily cited in the Committee for Standards in Public Life Review of Intimidation in Public Life and this area of research is one we consider to be critical for auditing the quality of representative democracy in the UK.
The impact of the snap election on candidate selection. The 2015 election fell as was expected per the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 but the 2017 general election was announced by the Prime Minister Theresa May on the 18 April, leaving just over seven weeks until polling day. Hence parties had little time to select candidates and campaign. Significantly fewer Labour and Conservative candidates experienced contested selection in 2017 compared to 2015 owing to the snap election. The same is true for Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Plaid Cymru; only the Greens had more contested selections in 2017 than 2015. This has potential implications for local party democracy as local party members' role was diminished or non-existent. We are continuing to analyse the impact of selection procedures on political recruitment. This is a truncated summary of some of the key findings. We are still analysing the data and drafting publications. More details about the findings so far are available in the report that we launched in Parliament. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/representation_in_britain
Exploitation Route We launched a report based on our findings so far in association with the Hansard Society in Parliament in June 2018 and presented the findings to an audience including politicians, party officials and representatives from NGOs. In terms of impact the findings of our research have been included in a report published by the Fawcett Society on the potential for MPs to jobshare and cited heavily in the Committee for Standards in Public Life Review of Intimidation in Public Life https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/intimidation-in-public-life-a-review-by-the-committee-on-standards-in-public-life. We provided written and Oral Evidence to the committee. The research undertaken by the BME module of the research was cited in a Radio Four Analysis documentary on the representation of ethnic minority communities https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0000nn3. We have provided private briefings to party officials. We have made our data available to academics outside of the research team including Nick Allen (Royal Holloway), Rachel Green (Manchester) and Nick Vivyan (Durham). As described in the bid the data includes questions from the comparative candidate survey and the data will be anonymised and added to the dataset of 35 countries.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/representation_in_britain
 
Description During the election my research on parliamentary candidates. Jennifer Hudson and I were interviewed by Jeremy Paxman live on the Channel Four's Alternative Election Show. I appeared on ITV's Good Morning Britain show frequently during the election including the morning after the election to dissect the results. Jennifer Hudson and I have met with the candidates' offices of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties (UKIP refused to participate). Wolfgang Rudig met with representatives of the SNP and the Green party. We are producing reports for the parties based on the data from this project. We envisage this interaction shaping the way the parties reform their candidate selection procedures. The parties are keen to use the data. Media appearances o 28th October 2015. ITV's Good Morning Britain (Discussing the House of Lords and tax credits) o BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour 7th October 2015 o New Statesman 16th July 2015 o BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour 16th June 2015 (on the gender gap in the 2015 British General Election from minute 37) o 10th May BBC Radio Five Live o 8th May 2015. ITV's Good Morning Britain (Discussing the election results) o 7th May 2015 Channel Four Alternative Election Show o BBC online news magazine 14th April 2015 o The Financial Times 27th March 2015 o Channel Four News 23rd March 2015 o The Observer 22nd March 2015 o The Telegraph 19th March 2015 o BBC Radio Four's Today Programme 16th March 2015 o ITV Good Morning Britain 11th March 2015 o The Petticoat Vote BBC Radio Four 28th February 2015 o BBC Newsnight Wednesday 11th Feb 2015 o Daily Politics 28th January 2015 (Discussing All Women Shortlists)
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Evidence cited in the House of Commons Women and Equalities committee report 'Women in the House of Commons' published on the 10th of January 2017.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Project researcher (Sofia Collignon) meeting with Philip Grindell from the Met Police to discuss our date on the harassment and intimidation of MPs
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description Providing evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life's Inquiry into the harassment of parliamentary candidates- our evidence was heavily cited in their report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/intimidation-in-public-life-a-review-by-the-committee-on-...
 
Description Danish Council for Independent Research grant
Amount kr 5,444,380 (DKK)
Funding ID Personalization of Politicians: A New Style of Representation? 
Organisation Danish Council for Independent Research, Humanities 
Sector Public
Country Denmark
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2019