UKIP ‘Most Trusted’ to Argue England’s case says new report

The UK Independence Party has emerged as the clear favourite to act as an advocate for reform of the governance of England according to the most recent report of the Future of England Survey (FoES). The report’s findings will make mixed reading for David Cameron before he addresses the Commons Liaison Committee this afternoon to discuss the governance of the UK1. The academics behind the study found a clear and growing dissatisfaction among English voters at the way the UK’s most populous nation is governed and a preference for an England-wide political institution to represent English interests. Although the Prime Minister’s preferred option of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) has the most widespread support that is short of a majority and, when asked who best represents the interests of England, both Mr Cameron and his party are well behind Nigel Farage and UKIP.

On the issue of finding an answer to the English Question, voters continue to place concerns over the governance of England well behind worries about the influence of the EU. However, there is a clear dissatisfaction with the current arrangements for governing England – with no more than a quarter preferring the status quo. It is possible to say, slightly more tentatively, that the support for EVEL (40%/31%/36%1) appears to be the preferred choice of voters – if short of a majority – and has gained popularity compared to the earlier FoES studies in 2011 and 20122. Support for an English Parliament is of the same order of magnitude as support for the status quo whereas support for localism – either in the form of regional assemblies or enhanced local government – is very low.

Mr Cameron’s proposed answer to the English question may be ahead but there is compelling evidence that neither he nor his party is trusted to deliver it. When asked “Which party best stands up for the interests of England?”, the Tories placed fourth (16%), behind UKIP (23%), ‘None of the Above’ (19%) and Labour (17%), although well ahead of the Lib Dems (4%). Much the same pattern is seen in terms of the party leaders. When asked which leader best stands up for English interests, Nigel Farage was voters’ first choice (22%) but his closest rival isn’t even another party leader – ‘None of the Above’ is in second place, with 21% of the survey’s 3,705 respondents in England dismissing all of the available political leaders. Mr Cameron is third on 15%, just ahead of Ed Miliband on 13%. The Deputy Prime Minister’s rating matches that of his party and, at 4%, is behind Boris Johnson on 9%.

Commenting on the findings, one of the report’s co-authors, Professor Charlie Jeffery of the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change (CCC) at Edinburgh University, where he is Professor of Political Science, and a former member of the McKay Commission on the governance of England said:

“There is a clear and growing sense of English political identity. We found that this is driven in part by three factors: A feeling that the devolved nations, especially Scotland, have an unfair advantage over England and two, related, concerns about the influence of the EU and the impact of immigration. The politicisation of England appears to have found its focus, in the shape of demands for an England-wide institution to represent its views, and, may be finding its voice in the shape of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party.”

His comments were echoed by another of the report’s co-authors, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University:

“Unlike Scotland and Wales, it is not clear that any of the main political parties in England has yet fully recognised the potential opportunities that that could arise from positioning themselves as advocates of an English territorial interest; or, indeed, the potential pitfalls that could arise from surrendering ‘England’ to their rivals. We have found, however, that UKIP and the Conservatives are currently best placed to capitalise. Indeed, there are now signs that the rivalry between both parties in England is encouraging them to emphasise their English credentials. All of which leaves Labour and the Liberal Democrats in what appears to be an increasingly uncomfortable position.”

A third co-author, Guy Lodge, Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research said:

“The English are no longer satisfied with the constitutional status quo. This is reflected in the strong public support for some form of English votes on English laws. However, there is no agreement on what form of English votes on English laws should be implemented among the many different proposals on offer. This suggests that while David Cameron was right to raise the English Question on the back of the Scottish referendum result, he was wrong to try and impose an answer without first opening up a conversation with the English. For Labour, the evidence from the Future of England Survey is starker still. If they’re to avoid being on the wrong side of English public opinion they are going to need to take the English Question seriously.”

A full copy of the report can be found here- Taking England Seriously_The New English Politics

  • The research was conducted by Professors Charlie Jeffery, Ailsa Henderson, Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully and Mr Guy Lodge. Jeffery and Henderson are members of the Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh, Wyn Jones and Scully of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, and Lodge is Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London.
  • The Future of England Survey (FoES) was funded under the Future of the UK and Scotland programme of the Economic and Social Research Council. Fieldwork was conducted by YouGov between 11-22 April 2014. The online survey included a sample of 3705 adults (age 18+) in England. For the first time we added samples of 1014 Scottish and 1027 Welsh respondents to allow us to identity whether views in England were similar to those held by Scottish and Welsh residents.