The British Political Landscape

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1 The British Political Landscape Developed by a team of academics and experts, the Voting Advice Application (VAA) Election Compass United Kingdom positions the major British parties on 30 of the most salient policy issues, based on the official party stances in their manifestos, party websites and media appearances of prominent party figures. This party calibration can help voters to understand where the parties agree and where they differ on the basis of their documented positions. It also allows to, by way of aggregating these party stances over the main political dimensions, graphically portray the British party system. The British political parties were positioned along two main political dimensions: an economic left-right dimension and the cultural progressive-conservative dimension. As Figure 1 illustrates, there is clear rift between parties on the right (the Conservative Party and UKIP), clustered in the conservative right quadrant on the one hand, and the Greens and two regional parties (Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party) positioned in the progressive left quadrant. While the Liberal Democrats are located in the centre, in accordance with their campaign strategy to portray themselves as a party on neither the left, nor the right, the position of Labour merits detailed interpretation. Labour s predominantly left-wing economic policy proposals, coupled with its toughened stances on immigration have contributed to the party s positioning in the conservative left quadrant of the political landscape. With the apparently increasing demand for restrictive immigration policies by the British electorate, the immigration issue has gained crucial importance in the 2015 general election campaign. The three mainstream political parties (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats), have all argued that the implementation of stricter immigration control policies is necessary. This has resulted in an increased convergence between the Conservatives and UKIP on the one hand, and a shift of Labour and the Liberal Democrats towards the conservative side of the socio-cultural axis on the other.

2 Figure 1. The British Political Landscape The most polarising issues in the electoral campaign Traditional economic left-right issues are clearly divisive for British parties, with the topic of taxation being particularly polarising. Especially strong conflict occurs over the issues concerning raising taxes for wealthier Britons. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate two such examples, with reference to the issues of mansion tax and increasing taxation for high earners. While the Liberal Democrats and Labour strongly support introducing a high-value property tax, the parties on the right are vehemently opposed to this economic policy measure. Regional parties and the Green Party obtain a more moderate position, but lean towards the left on this issue (Figure 2). Similarly, there is a divide over increasing the tax for those who earn over annually. Labour has pledged to restore the 50% tax rate for high earners and has the support of Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party. The Green Party wants to implement an additional wealth tax on the top 1% of the society. The Conservatives and UKIP are opposed to such measures.

3 In addition, the Liberal Democrats who side with Labour on the mansion tax issue, are against increasing the income tax for high earners (Figure 3). Figure 2. Positions of British parties on the statement: There should be a mansion tax on properties worth over 2m

4 Figure 3. Positions of British parties on the statement: The government should increase the amount of tax paid by those earning more than 150,000 Another very salient and polarising issue in the 2015 General elections is the European Union membership referendum. Holding the plebiscite as soon as possible is one of the central promises of the Conservatives: a stance strongly supported by UKIP. The Green Party also sides with the right-wing parties on this issue. Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not support the idea of an immediate referendum, although they claim that an in-and-out referendum should take place, if a new EU treaty requires more powers to be transferred from the national parliament to Brussels. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is also opposed to an immediate referendum, while Plaid Cymru takes a neutral stance (see Figure 4).

5 Figure 4. Positions of British parties on the statement: The United Kingdom should hold a referendum on EU membership as soon as possible With a globally volatile security situation, defence expenditure has also become a crucial campaign topic for the British electorate, as well as a bone of contention between political parties. While on the right, the Conservatives and UKIP have pledged to increase spending on defence in order to fulfil the 2% of GDP target set by NATO, Labour is not willing to openly commit to such a measure, especially with regard to on-going austerity in Britain and across Europe. Conversely, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are opposed to making commitments on increasing the defence budget (see Figure 5).

6 Figure 5. Positions of British parties on the statement: Defence spending should be increased to better protect the interests of the United Kingdom

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