The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. You know that. But it sets an interesting context for the country’s political parties. It’s only been 6 months since the vote, but we’ve had a change in leadership in the Government, a challenge to the leadership in the Labour Party, utter chaos in UKIP, and a change in leadership in the Green Party too. On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission released the Q3 figures for political party donations for 2016. This shows where parties are getting their money from in the period straight after Brexit.

As ever, it still shows the stark differences that exist between the “big three” (or two) and all the others. But there are other interesting things in here too – that, aside from public funds, the Labour Party received nearly 90% of its funding from trade unions in Q3, and since the referendum, UKIP’s funding has dropped by around 97%.donations-chart-1Unsurprisingly (perhaps) Labour are the top recipients of donations with nearly £4m in income in Q3 2016. Remember, this is during just three months. The Tories received just under £3m. The Labour figure is unsurprising because they receive the most money from public funds (around £1.7m), which is mostly made up of short money from the House of Commons, as the official Opposition. Stripping out the public funds tells the real story – this is paid largely for parties to do their jobs, after all.donations-chart-2

If we do this, the even less surprising outcome is that the Tories are the highest recipients during Q3 2016. The Tories raked in nearly £3m again, with Labour on just over £2m, the Lib Dems on just over £1m, and everyone else trailing miles behind.

The scale of the financial might of the Tories, Labour and to some extent the Lib Dems is clearly on view here (though at a reduced level compared to Q2 2016, it must be said). The Lib Dems alone, perhaps continuing to benefit from a post-Brexit surge of warm-feeling towards them, received almost as much as every other party, bar the Tories and Labour, combined.

The Green Party existed on donations of just over £10,000 during this period, around 20% of that coming from the Greens’ London MEP Jean Lambert alone. Total donations are only ahead of UKIP as UKIP made the strange decision to not accept short money. Bizarrely, the BNP received more money than both the Greens and UKIP combined during Q3 – through a single donation.

UKIP are a really interesting story here. Endowed with vast wads of cash for the first 6 months of the year, they received a (comparatively) paltry £43,000 in Q3 2016. So following the referendum, it looks as though donors have fled UKIP in droves – they received £1.2m in Q2 2016. It will be a big challenge for Paul Nuttall to run the kind of operation Farage has been able to run if he doesn’t get the ridiculous amount of money UKIP were previously receiving for a tiny political party.

Another interesting insight is looking at where these donations came from, particularly the Labour Party. For the Tories and Lib Dems, the biggest two groups donating were individuals, then companies (including here both limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and ‘Friendly Societies’ – largely cooperatives, the greatest chunk being the Co-Operative Ltd). It may be unsurprising to learn that trade union funding took up the greatest proportion of Labour Party funding (after public funds). But what may be surprising is that it accounts for 88% of the party’s (non-public) funding during this period. Individuals donated just £78.000 to Labour, against £1.9m to the Tories and £765,000 to the Liberal Democrats. Companies donated just £36,000 to Labour (including, interestingly, the Canary Wharf Group) but £628,000 the Tories and £103,000 to the Lib Dems.

Labour could be raking in lots of small donations, like the Sanders and wider Democrat campaigns did in the US in recent times, but with competition from a number of sources, not least the party-within-a-party Momentum, it might not. But it looks quite worrying for them that they have all but shed big donors during this period – companies or individuals. This may be a good thing for politics, but perhaps less so when the Lib Dems and Tories are rather raking it in from these sources. Corbyn is lucky he has the trade unions on side more than ever, but they’re pretty much bankrolling the party at this point. As ever, the real question is – when will the argument for public funding of parties win over the public?

As for the smaller parties, it just shows how important individual members and small donations can be. The Green Party apparently turned down a £250,000 donation around the time of the Richmond by-election for ethical reasons. It just goes to show how much difference this kind of money could make.

N.B. This data does not include donations below a certain value (depending who it was made to), nor other income such as membership fees – so there’s more money coming in there for example from Labour’s new members – and it doesn’t include the Northern Irish parties.

It is also worth remembering that figures here are inevitably going to be comparatively lower than for earlier periods in the year, given Q1 and Q2 were in the run up to a series of elections across the UK, and the EU referendum, which will have seen companies and individuals donating big.




Cabinet Office logo

This week appears to be the time for another mid-term Cabinet reshuffle, as the Government promotes and demotes, switches and, er, ditches, Ministers for a variety of reasons. But, as with many staples of the strange political system we have in Britain (the government getting to call the date of the election and half the weirdness that goes on in the Commons spring to mind), it seems to go on without any wider questioning.

There are, of course, many legitimate reasons to move or replace Cabinet Ministers. Chief among them are of course resignations or deaths of ministers, MPs losing elections, or even under-performing ministers. But the mid-term Cabinet reshuffle is almost expected (it hasn’t even been a year since the last one) – it’s like a football team being expected to be active at every transfer window. But unlike playing football, I’d like to think running the country is more complex and requires a greater skill-set.

In the last Labour Government, for example, John Reid had, in the space of 9 years, been Transport Secretary, Leader of the Commons, Secretary of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland, Defence Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. There were six different Home Secretary’s during the 13 years of Labour. Moving ministers around to different portfolios seems to suggest one of two things – either ministers are supremely talented people, able to turn their hand at anything from healthcare to defence – or that they are supremely untalented people who can be shifted anywhere with no real consequence as its the civil servants, political advisers and so forth who do the real work.

The truth is probably somewhere in between, but what it really indicates is that mid-term Cabinet reshuffles are almost always superficial and cynical exercises held by governments (and the opposition, it must be added) to boost their ratings and give a false sign that new and exciting things are happening. Much of the time, ministers in the most “important” positions remain unchanged – Chancellors and Deputy Prime Ministers are usually particularly safe in their role, Foreign Secretaries slightly less so. The fact that it is usually less “important” ministers that are moved gives more weight to the accusation that nothing of any real consequence is happening.

David Cameron’s latest ploy appears to be to increase the number of women in the Cabinet (current Dave to women ratio following Chloe Smith’s resignation is 4:4) in an effort to trick women into thinking he cares with less than two years left before the election. But why now? Why weren’t there more women in Cabinet from the start? It’s all about polls.

And so one wonders – why do you find so little questioning of the validity of this pointless and superficial exercise? Why should the government (and again, the opposition) be able to get away with generating plenty of news coverage without any real scrutiny of just what they are doing (or rather, that they are barely doing anything)? Once again, there are good reasons to move Cabinet Ministers around into new positions. Certainly, new ministers may indicate a change of policy. Ultimately though, they are rarely more than a figurehead for something that was happening for other reasons anyway. It is hard to think of times when there could be a non-cynical reason that requires four, five, six or seven ministers to trade jobs. So instead of talking about what different appointments say about the current government , how about we talk about what going about this whole process says about this government, or any other in the same position?

Earlier in the year, to earn some money whilst I wrote my thesis, I was looking for a part-time job. Having recently graduated, I’m lucky to be in the same business once again, though obviously slightly more invested this time around. Consequently, I’m having less success.

This isn’t a post about the process of job applications per se; finding jobs, writing them out, and so forth. No, this is a post about the applications themselves. More specifically: the kind of crappy application forms and processes certain employers think are appropriate and somehow haven’t had the decency to change.

Give that we’re still in a dire economic situation, with mass unemployment, especially mass youth unemployment, employers can be forgiven for trying to make it easier to sift through hundreds of applications. No problem there.

But what is the problem then? Well, my guess is the average job seeker is looking for a job. It’s a hunch I have. But most job seekers aren’t idiots, so they’ll be applying for more than one job. Two jobs. Perhaps three. Maybe even many jobs. Job applications take time (unless of course you just want a CV and cover letter – in which case we love you). Making the process convoluted, confusing, frustrating, unnecessarily time-consuming and so forth – there’s no justification. I’ve seen some pretty crummy things in the last 8 months in the 75+ applications I’ve made. Most you won’t think are that bad, and they aren’t. But it all adds up, and it needn’t be this way.

I’m not going to name names, mind you. I’m a job seeker, not an idiot.

There are a number of types of annoying job application, so I’ll start with the one most people will have had experience with.

CV Breakers

You have a CV. You think it’s a good CV. It has all the relevant information; jobs, skills, education, maybe some other exciting things such as hobbies to get employers to go “wow”. But no, CVs aren’t good enough here – application forms only.

Well, that’s fine. Application forms can be a good thing. They make you think a bit more and you may gain some insight into what the organisation is like by the kind of things they ask.

But why do so many of them essentially just ask you for a CV and cover letter in their own pro-forma? Yes, I know it helps them with their bureaucracy, but it makes applications a massive pain.

Some forms, despite this, are still easy. One just required details from my most recent job, then just the job title, organisation and dates from my others. And only information from my degrees.

But others ask you to list every job. And every duty. And achievement. And the address. And dates. And salaries. And more. Some may ask for bits and pieces of this. And more. The same goes for education.

For many applications, people will just copy and paste from their CV. But this is still a needlessly time-consuming task. But other applications require far more effort to say, essentially, the same thing.

Crap online applications

The worst experience I’ve had of this was an HTML only form on a single page. No ability to save any entry, yet asking for as many details as the average application form. Of course, as I pressed submit, it crashed. I gave up on that job.

A recent application gave no details about how to apply after clicking the “Apply” button. It gave space to upload a CV and a “further information” box, then “Save” or “Cancel” buttons. I assumed this was, as with many applications, the first page to register some details, assuming I’d have room for a supporting statement later on. After clicking “Save” and finding I’d applied for the job, I realised that was what the “Further information” box was probably for.

Another application had a “Back” button on every page. So, after spending over 40 minutes on the application, I skipped forward a bit to see how long the rest of the application was likely to take me. Incidentally, this is another bugbear – applications that don’t tell you how long they are until you, well, get to the end. But anyway. I got to the last page (it would have taken at least another hour). The “Back” button disappeared. I could cancel the whole thing or submit it. Half-complete or not at all? I tried half-complete and emailed them to see if I was able to fix it. I didn’t hear from them again.

Patronising, novel and pointless

Mostly in the part-time job field, I found a number of applications that insulted my intelligence, and I would hope most people’s. The first took me on a tour of a cartoon town, responding to certain questions from the townsfolk about, if I remember, dealing with customers and so forth. This was to get to the application form, as I discovered when they decided I wasn’t right for the post. Stupid cartoon people.

Others ask stupid questions such as “what kind of pizza topping would you be?” as if you can accurately gauge someone’s personality by their preference for being things on pizza.

There are also those that employ personality quizzes, usually run by third parties, which repeat similar questions over and over again to assess you. Eventually you aren’t sure if you’re answering honestly or how you think they want you to answer. It’s pointless.

There are more, but there are also some good examples…

Speaking as a job-seeker, a good job application should not be over-burdensome (it can certainly, and should certainly, be challenging), will be engaging, thoughtful and tell you something about who you are applying to.

One recent example did just that – it asked for a CV, as CVs tell you a lot about somebody anyway, regardless of content – and then asked a few, word-limited, qualitative questions that specifically applied to certain aspects of the job and job specification. Rather than just asking for the same information as your CV and then asking you to respond to everything from a job spec, it picked apart the role and asked for specific instances, experience and knowledge in key areas.

I’ve seen this done to the extreme in other applications, but these applications ask in the scheme of 10 questions or so, with no indication of intended brevity. They take a long time.

Another thing I’ve found useful is setting (short) tasks, as these are a good test of a prospective employee and give a lot of insight about the job – though usually this comes after an offer of an interview

Ultimately, it’s always nice to be able to just send the appropriate CV and a well-written and relevant cover letter, but we can’t always have it that way. This has been a bit of a rant, and it’s certainly not the end of the world. But given it’s an everyday experience for most people, the least employers could do is make it as hassle-free as they can.

I’d be interested to hear what experiences anyone else has had with crap job application processes? And what can we do about them? Have you ever complained about a particular application?


Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last week

I usually refrain from blogging about UK party politics on here, but my allegiances are well known, so I’ll drop my own rule. And there’s a lot to talk about, especially this week.

The UK media are hyping up the UK Independence Party beyond belief ahead of the local elections this Thursday. Even if the polls turn out not to be an exact prediction of what we will wake up to on Friday morning, it’s fair to say that UKIP’s share of the vote is going to increase somewhat dramatically in this election. This is not to say they will gain many seats, I would be surprised if their total ended up near that of the Green Party by the end of this week. However the biggest indication of the effect of their vote will be the losses made by the Conservative Party, i.e. to what extent they split the right-wing vote.

This is unknown territory. Whatever we think about Labour and know to be true, the Conservative Party have been largely unopposed on the official right-wing of UK politics for decades. However faux-left wing the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have been in recent years, anyone with mild left-wing sympathies has gone to them and not the Conservatives when it came down to it inan election, especially those under First Past the Post (FPTP). More so, on the left , the Green Party has made gains in certain places and at certain times, and of course in Scotland and Wales the SNP and Plaid Cymru make things even more complicated. On the right, the BNP have only ever made fleeting inroads, and have all but imploded. A series of ramshackle right-wing parties, such as Veritas, have come and gone in quick succession but have generally failed to make an impact on the Tories’ claims to the right wing vote. UKIP’s false air of respectability, and slew of ex-Tory members and candidates has changed that. And this is significant for the left.

For too long, Labour and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats have been able to claim most of the vote of the generally left-leaning voter to a large extent as a way to keep out the Tories. Under FPTP they have at times been able to argue that, in particular with the Green Party, a vote for the Greens is a vote for the Tories. The weakness of the system so eloquently explained by Reform Cat. If you have one party that 40% identify with, and 2 parties that 60% identify with, that one party will almost always get in under FPTP. A similar allegation, however spurious, was made with relation to the Green Party in the USA in 2000, when the Democrats’ Al Gore lost votes to Ralph Nader.

But however queasy the rise of UKIP and their divisive and discriminatory policies and candidates makes you feel, it could have a silver lining. Now there are Conservatives saying “Vote UKIP, Get Labour” (something they have, admittedly, said at times since 2004). Of course, Labour and the Lib Dems are also likely to see some of their voters drift to UKIP, but a majority of UKIP supporters are Tory supporters, as this Yougov composite poll suggests, so the gains they are likely to make will surely outweigh the losses. There are only so many real conservative voters. They are not a majority, they just benefit from people having more choice on the left, and a faulty electoral system. With the rise of another conservative party, the Tories may finally be having some real competition for once, rather than fighting over the centre ground with Labour.

So, if the UKIP rise is sustained, there can be stronger arguments for sustained support for other left wing parties, such as the Green Party. No longer can the mantra be that a Green vote splits the already split “left-wing” vote. If the Conservative Party is having to fight someone other than the centre-hugging Liberal Democrats and Labour Party for their votes, it means the Green Party can consistently challenge Labour and the Lib Dems for their voters. And it may also precipitate a lean to the left for Labour and the Lib Dems, if there are more voters to be found on the left than on the right, with the Conservatives and UKIP fighting it out. The centre ground will get muddied. There will be little benefit in hanging around there.

Whether any of this has any truth in it will depend both on what happens on Thursday, what happens in 2014 at the European elections, and then the General Election. In the mean time, it will certainly be enjoyable if we can take delight in both UKIP failing to gain many seats, and the Conservatives losing many. Anything more than that will be worrying, but it may have some knock-on benefits.