Nudge nudge

Nudging and charity.

Reading, yesterday morning, about the success of the "Nudge Unit" (the government’s Behavioural Insight Team) in a pilot study which showed that three times more money goes to charity in people's wills when the lawyer writing the will prompts them, I relived the moment on Monday when my daughter and I thundered passed Mo Farah at the 2K mark in the BUPA 10K run through central London.

Admittedly, Mr Farah was heading in the other direction and on the point of finishing, but that didn't detract from my recollection of the atmosphere and the enormous range of charities and good causes for whom 11,000 or so other runners  were raising funds.

I wondered how many of us amateur athletes had been "nudged" into fundraising on this occasion, by whom, and indeed to which other issues the unit could be directed.

After all, it's not only the charities and their causes which benefit ultimately - the government is also a winner. As we were reminded at the launch of the Big Society, the government is relieved of funding the services provided by the charities, albeit at the relative cost of the fiscal incentives for those who give and receive. 

In addition to charities as a group, HMRC itself has already benefited from intervention by the Nudge Unit. Apparently, warning letters to those who had thus far failed to file tax returns were substituted with the missives observing that others in their area had already paid their tax – with a resultant 15 per cent increase in repayment rates. 

But what about professional advisers themselves, the solicitors or tax advisers through whom the Nudge Unit worked its philanthropic magic?

If the intoduction of the General Anti Abuse Rule wasn't a form of nudge (not to promote schemes which exploit loopholes in the tax legislation), I'm not sure what is - although a nudge possibly more akin to that which the playground bully might give to encourage the small child clutching a bag of sweets to hand them over.

I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to nudge the groups of runners whose fancy dress costumes acted more as a barrier than a promotion for their causes, but who will be the conscience for the Nudge Unit in future?

It is the first governmental policy team to be part-privatised and apparently the government is looking for a business partner to take it into the private sector. Less Big Brother and more the hired muscle?

Nevertheless, in the spirit of nudging, this was the cause I was running for: www.justgiving.com/sophie-and-midge

Sophie Mazzier is counsel at private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

This story first appeared on Spears Magazine

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This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.