Sunday, 25 April 2010

An incumbency effect?

The conventional wisdom is that personal votes don't count for much in British elections, although they might matter more in Northern Ireland or for incumbent Lib Dem and Nationalist MPs.

However, in the latest Economist Bagehot suggests that it may matter more in the wake of the expenses scandal. 'More than in previous campaigns, it seems, Britons want to know who, precisely, is asking for their vote ... this campaign is uniquely presidential and intensely local.'

James Plaskitt was elected as MP for Warwick and Leamington in 1997. He was educated at Oxford and was a politics lecturer there and at Brunel. He subsequently worked for consultants Oxford Analytica for whom many academics (including myself) undertake work.

He became leader of the Labour group on Oxfordshire County Council and contested the safe Conservative seat of Witney in 1992.

James Plaskitt has been an assiduous constituency caseworker and this is reflected in his campaign literature where he claims to be 'the stronger voice'. A strong Labour loyalist, he was eventually rewarded with a post on the lowest rank of the ministerial ladder as a 'pussy' in Work and Pensions. He was given something of a bed of nails with responsibility for the Child Support Agency and he was eventually let go in a reshuffle. There was some vague talk in one of his columns in the local press about some other post which would require legislation but nothing ever came of it. Some constituents have expressed disappointment to me that a Warwick and Leamington MP has not made a greater impact.

The literature I have seen emphasises the need to 'Secure the Recovery'. On the cover are a picture of the MP with what are presumably two apprentices, emphasising the skills building element of the Labour approach. Most of the internal matter is about the economy and public services, but a constituent also gives a testimony to Plaskitt's hard work. Voters are urged not to let Dave Cameron endanger a fragile recovery.

James Plaskitt has not been tarnished by the expenses scandal. He has issued a series of regular letters to constituents on policy areas in which they are interested, but I found these rather uninspiring. They were essentially long lists of legislative measures undertaken by the Government. Passing a piece of legislation does not solve a problem, indeed one could argue that there is too much legislation and we need to move away from the legislative factory approach (which the EU has tried to do, admittedly with limited success).

I think that voters expect constituency casework as a given these days. Plaskitt has not been high profile enough to generate a big personal vote, but he may pick up some votes from grateful constituents whose problems have been solved. But not many.

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