From our last blog, it became clear the judgment drop seen in the first month of January 2020 was probably due to several subtle changes felt across different parts of the country and, in combination, drove the fall in judgments in January 2020. One of the potential subtle contributors could be political change.
This next hypothesis considers this. It looks back on work we did after the General Election at the end of 2019. We looked in detail at the 57 parliamentary constituencies that swung Conservative. The research was led by a consideration of the narrative of the ‘left-behind’ which seemed to immediately follow the results.
We found that across these constituencies there was an increase in the number of judgments from 2017 to 2019. The rate of increase in these areas was higher than the national average, at +7% as opposed to +3.5%. Further, these constituencies showed an average number of records per year of 1,937 compared to the national average of 1,627. Therefore, we concluded that these areas were experiencing higher than average levels of economic hardship, in line with the narrative of the ‘left-behind’ that followed the 2019 election.
However, there were 10 constituencies who did not see the same results. These ‘rule breakers’ were Blyth Valley, North West Durham, Sedgefield, Keighley, Delyn, Wrexham, Vale of Clwyd, Clwyd South, Wolverhampton North East and Bridgend all saw declines in the number of judgments from 2017 to 2019, challenging the narrative of the ‘left-behind’. The average percentage difference from 2017 to 2019 seen in these areas was 5%. The value of judgments also bucked a national trend, decreasing by 4% as opposed to the 3.5% national increase.
So based on this previous work, with the dramatic change in judgment levels in January 2020, we thought it would be interesting to see if recent political change might influence judgment levels. We hypothesise that constituencies that have experienced political change are more likely to have experienced greater changes in the number of judgments due to a period of political flux. As we know judgment levels are sensitive to the behaviours of consumers, as well as societal and economic fluctuations, political change may cause increases or decreases in judgment levels due to a sense of stability or uncertainty that may occur from the change.
So a quick overview of the month broken down by parliamentary constituencies is necessary to see how the swing constituencies compare.
Nationally judgments rose 13% between January 2018 and January 2019. Breaking this down across parliamentary constituencies, the greatest increases were seen in Hastings and Rye, Southampton, and Itchen both rising 150% and 138% respectively. Conversely, 164 constituencies saw a fall in the number of judgments, with the greatest decreases seen in Keighley (-40%) and Halifax (-35%).
Judgments fell 32% between January 2019 and January 2020. The greatest decrease, of over 72%, was Ipswich followed by Mid Norfolk which fell 59%. Only 12 constituencies saw a rise in this period, the greatest increase being in Castle Point (43%).
So how do these trends pan out amongst the 57 swing constituencies?
Overall, the swing constituencies saw a greater fall in the number of judgments in the first month of 2020 compared to 2019, falling on average 39%.
For the 10 rule breakers, there was less of a fall than for the swing constituencies as a whole. The rule breaker constituencies judgment levels fell by 34% between 2019 and 2020, continuing the downward trend seen between 2018 and 2019 (-13%).
There is one exception to this. Sedgefield saw an increase in the number of judgments between 2019 and 2020 (+2.6%).
Overall, the 57 Conservative swing constituencies experienced greater on average decreases in the number of judgments in the first month of 2019 than the national average. These areas, on average, saw a fall of 39% in the number of judgments compared to a 33% fall nationally – a 6 percentage points difference. More specifically, the 10 rule breakers, where judgments had bucked the trend by decreasing in 2019, saw judgment numbers fall on average by 34%. This is more or less in line with the national figure of 33%. So, the average fall in judgments in the rule breaker constituencies was noticeably less than in the wider group of 57 swing constituencies.
This, therefore, suggests that, in the 57 constituencies where judgments were higher than the national average, the political change was followed by a large decrease in the number of judgments. However, in the 10 rule breakers, where judgment levels were already improving, the political change did not come with as great a change on the levels of judgments, and they remained more closely aligned with national averages.
We can conclude that political change may be associated with a greater decrease in the number of judgments, but as it is not limited only to areas that saw political change from the 2019 General Election, changes to judgment levels cannot be wholly attributed to political change. Instead political change can be considered a factors that partly contributed to decrease as the constituencies which the saw a swing to Conservative representation in the General Election in 2019 also saw greater, on average, decreases in the number of judgments in the number. It cannot be wholly contributed as the decrease was seen across most constituencies and therefore it cannot be simply political change which explains it.
It should be noted that these constituencies do not represent all the areas that will have seen local political change from the election, as some areas saw a swing to Labour, or a change in MP, but not the party. So, these constituencies only represent one form of political change, namely, a move to Conservative representation from another party for at least 2 years. Therefore, further research into this area would be well supported by looking at areas that saw moves away from Conservative party or where individual MPs changed or stepped down.
Next we will look at the behaviour of judgments post the Global Financial Crash in 2008 to see if the turn we witnessed at the beginning of 2020 bore any resemblance to judgment behaviour 12 years ago. From this we will consider whether the fall in judgments levels were indicating the start of an economic downturn.
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