STAY likely to win the EU In/Out referendum for the same reason that CON won GE15 – the fear of the unknown

May 23rd, 2015

On the face of it the numbers look good for STAY but are they?

One of the things that the Tory victory on May 7th ensures is that during this parliament there will be an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The question is which way will it go?

A big campaigning lesson from the general election was how successfully the Tories were able to deploy the fear of the unknown factor in the closing few days. Labour and the Lib Dems in seats they were defending were simply not prepared and had no answer.

The same, I’d suggest, could happen in the coming EU referendum. When faced with a choice between the status quo and the unknown British voters have a long record of opting for the former. Fears about what tomorrow could bring are a very powerful campaign message and will be used extensively by those wanting us to stay.

The polls above, only one of which was carried out after GE15, presents a fairly consistent picture although in today’s context people will rightly question the validity of all political polling.

A factor that could change everything, of course, will be how Cameron’s negotiations with other European leaders on the where Britain has specific concerns are seen to have gone. My guess is that he’ll seek to present the the outcome as showing that sufficient progress has been made to enable him to report things in a positive light. If Cameron recommends LEAVE then in the current context that could happen.

One problem with referenda is that the actual issue being voted upon is sidelined and it becomes a vote on something else.

The bookies make STAY the 4/7 favourite.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson: Elect in haste; repent at leisure

May 23rd, 2015


Straight after defeat is not the best time to elect a new leader

Michael Howard did the Conservatives two great favours as leader: the manner of his arrival and the manner of his departure. After the hapless two years under Duncan Smith, he (and David Davis, by standing aside), created a much-needed sense of unity and with it, the first signs of the determination and hunger necessary to regain office. Perhaps even more importantly, after he led his party to a relatively honourable defeat in 2005, he didn’t resign straight away but allowed the Tories time to relax, think and reassess the previous four years before starting the election to succeed him. Had he not done so, it is far less likely that David Cameron would have become leader.

    Not that having thinking space guarantees it will be used wisely – Labour waited until 1980 before picking Michael Foot, for example – but to pitch battle-tired MPs and activists alike into an internal contest within weeks or even days of a general election is asking a lot of their judgement.

It’s also asking a lot of the candidates and such a short timescale inevitably favours front-runners: politicians already at the top or with powerful connections. This matters particularly for Labour where there’s a very high threshold for nominations but applies to all parties simply because name recognition matters even for MPs (how many of those new to Labour’s benches hadn’t even met Burnham or Cooper before this week?). As such, there’s a stronger chance of a continuity candidate, particularly following a defeat. Hague and IDS’s pro-Thatcherite credentials were crucial in winning, as, in a not dissimilar way, was Ed Miliband’s union backing. It is a hard task for any candidate to immediately and credibly disassociate him- or herself from the policies they’ve just fought under. By contrast, some of the clearest turns to the centre, such as the elections of Major, Blair or Clegg, happened mid-term.

It’s even less necessary to pick quickly now with the FTPA in place. Labour could be forgiven for wanting a new leader installed by September 2010 when there was no guarantee the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s would last the winter never mind five years. There is no such pressure this time. Cameron has a working majority will almost certainly see him through until the EU referendum: there’ll be no general election before October 2017 at the very earliest, and then only if there’s a massive Tory revolt.

So why do it? In some ways, that’s the wrong question. Clearly much depends on whether the sitting leader being willing to stay on or whether it’s possible for a deputy to lead an extended interregnum. Both scenarios depend on the mood of the party in question, both in the House and in the country.

The problem lies in the dual nature of the job, particularly for parties in opposition, which is where most changes occur. It’s all very well picking someone to lead through the next parliament and hold the government to account; that has to be done now. On the other hand, to select someone to fight the next election nearly five years before it happens might be considered a bit previous. If all goes according to the three parties’ respective plans, the Conservatives will select their next PM-candidate more than four years after Labour and the Lib Dems. That carries its own risks but will allow people to make their way through during the parliament. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Tory leader isn’t currently in the cabinet.

The real question is more about goings than comings. If parties have to have leaders all the way through, which they do, then it’s essential that there’s an effective ejection method. That doesn’t have to be a formal mechanism – the Lib Dems replaced Kennedy and Campbell without any such need – but it’s certainly better if it is, not least because such a means stands as a credible threat to an underperforming leader, to be utilized if they refuse to jump. Getting it right, however, is a tricky balance; you want something usable that’s not destabilizing.

But that’s about more than just systems. The Conservatives didn’t materially change their leadership election process between 1975 and 1999 and yet the two halves of that period could not have been more dissimilar: until 1987, not only was Margaret Thatcher not challenged but there was practically no talk of it; by contrast, from thereon, whoever was Tory leader was almost always under threat. What changed was not the process but the mentality of the party (and, it has to be said, its electoral success – or not – at the polls). And getting the right cultural attitude towards leader replacement is as fine a balance as the powers in the rules: too passive and you drift to a foreseeable and perhaps preventable defeat; too aggressive and you become a discredited unruly mob.

Of course, it’s best not to need to change leader at all but if events do plunge a party into an early leadership contest before candidates or electorate are ready, the last thing you want is to be stuck with the wrong person for five years with no effective way out.

David Herdson


LabourList “poll” shows Burnham well ahead with Kendall in strong 2nd place

May 22nd, 2015

    Keiran Pedley assesses the importance of a recent poll of LabourList readers that shows Andy Burnham the clear front-runner for the Labour leadership but with Liz Kendall in a stronger position than you might think.

As the Labour Party leadership campaign gathers pace, we are gradually building a picture of what the contest will look like. Right now, it seems that there are three serious candidates that can win, with a maximum of four likely to take part. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper seem certain to make the contest, Liz Kendall looks likely too but there are some question marks over whether or not Mary Creagh will make the ballot.

Given that the polling industry has collectively gone to sit in a corner and think about what it has done there is not much polling out there on the candidates so far (yet). However, LabourList has released the results from a survey of 2,274 of its readers today. The findings are interesting.

As LabourList sensibly acknowledge in their write-up, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious about this poll. It is an online, self-selecting sample of LabourList readers and therefore almost certainly not representative of those that will vote in the eventual leadership contest. We should always be very cautious with such polls. Who can forget, for example, the survey of Sun Readers that showed UKIP in second place nationally that was presented by some as a proper nationally representative voting intention poll? Put simply therefore, these are not poll results you can ‘take to the bank’ (of course the unkind among you may ask what are these days!).

In fact, I suspect that we are going to have to be cautious about any poll produced on the subject of the Labour leadership race. The ballot itself will be conducted among Labour Party members and affiliates. It is highly doubtful that nationally representative surveys conducted by pollsters are going to be able to adequately sample this audience. A simple Labour voter cross-break in a standard voting intention poll is not going to cut it. This does not mean that surveys produced tell us nothing but it does mean we should be careful in how much significance that we place on them. Perhaps then, polls such as this one produced by LabourList are as good as any we can use to understand what is happening.

With such caveats in mind, what does this survey tell us? Well, it confirms what we already knew, which is that Andy Burnham is most definitely the front runner. This will no doubt help the Burnham campaign reinforce such a perception among MPs as they consider who to support. Of course, the front-runner position is not always a comfortable place to be (just ask David Miliband) but Burnham supporters will be heartened at such a convincing lead in this survey nonetheless.

However, this survey should also give significant heart to the Kendall campaign too. To be second, at this early stage, ahead of Yvette Cooper, is a great place to be for a relative newcomer to frontline Labour politics. Other than just being second place with a long way to go there are other aspects of the survey results that should boost the Kendall campaign too. Importantly, this survey does not ask respondents to rank their preferred candidates in order, a likely crucial factor in the result of the leadership contest. We do not know where Yvette Cooper’s support in the above example would go. Also, a large number of respondents chose ‘other’ (22%) when asked which candidate they prefer. In some respects, this does not reflect well on any of the current crop of candidates. However, one of them has to win and this group selecting ‘other’ represent a large group of potential untapped support for each candidate to win over. Of course, there is no evidence that Liz Kendall should disproportionally benefit from 2nd preferences or ‘others’ being reallocated but the point is merely that there are votes out there to be won. Andy Burnham’s position is not unassailable.

Of course, Liz Kendall’s candidature has its own limitations too. For a start, she will have to make sure she gets on the ballot in the first place and Labour members are entitled to wonder whether backing a candidate that cannot command large amounts of support in the PLP is wise. Furthermore, she will need to be careful that she does not run too far to the right of the party. A common refrain from some of the Labour Left on twitter is ‘what difference is there between her and the Tories?’ There is a delicate balancing act to be struck here between (rightly) taking Labour out of its comfort zone but also in ensuring that the party is willing to come with you. With this in mind, I expect her to start attacking the Conservatives with gusto in the coming weeks.

So overall, at this early stage, the contest is up for grabs. Given sample considerations and the fact that this poll recorded so many preferences for ‘other’ whilst not asking respondents to rank their choices, there are enough unknowns to suggest that each of the leading candidates has a chance. Burnham is of course favourite. He is clearly ahead among MPs and party members and if he takes enough second preferences and ‘others’ he will be the next Labour Leader. Also, it is likely that the above poll skews London so his current position could be stronger than even this 11 point lead suggests. Nevertheless, he is not inevitable. If Liz Kendall can make the ballot, this poll gives enough encouragement to her supporters that she can compete and win. The idea of a ‘fresh start’ is likely to be a potent message to Labour members. Finally, let’s not forget, it could also be that Yvette Cooper, relatively quiet until now, emerges as something of a ‘consensus candidate’ between the Labour ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. The fascinating aspect of this race we cannot call yet is who makes the final two and where do second preferences go. The final outcome is not yet clear, there is a long way to go yet.

Keiran Pedley is an Associate Director at GfK NOP and presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’. He tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley.


How Britain voted on May 7th – the Ipsos MORI guide

May 22nd, 2015

pic (1)

And the BPC announces details of its GE15 inquiry

After every general election Ipsos produces a table like the one above which become a key source of reference.

Meanwhile the British Polling Council has announced details of its inquiry into what went wrong with the polls.

Under the chairmanship of Prof. Patrick Sturgis, Director of the National Centre for Research Methods at the University of Southampton, the Inquiry is charged with the task of establishing the degree of inaccuracy in the polls, the reasons for the inaccuracies it identifies, and whether the findings and conduct of the polls were adequately communicated to the general public. Due to report by 1 March next year, the Inquiry will seek and welcomes submissions from all interested parties, and is empowered both to make recommendations about the future practice of polling and, where appropriate, for changes in the rules of the BPC. The BPC and MRS are committed to publishing the Inquiry’s report in full.
Eight people with professional expertise and experience in conducting and analyzing survey and polling data, have agreed to serve (unpaid) as members of the Inquiry. None of them were directly involved in conducting published polls during the election campaign. They are as follows:
o Dr. Nick Baker, Group CEO, Quadrangle Research Group Ltd

o Dr. Mario Callegaro, Senior Survey Research Scientist, Google UK

o Dr. Stephen Fisher, Associate Professor of Political Sociology, University of Oxford, who runs the Electionsetc website

o Dr. Jouni Kuha, Associate Professor of Statistics, London School of Economics and lead statistician for the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll

o Prof. Jane Green, Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester and Co-Director of the 2015 British Election Study

o Prof. Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Southampton, and a member of the Polling Observatory team.

o Dr Ben Lauderdale, Associate Professor in Research Methodology, London School of Economics and one of the team behind the electionforecast.co.uk website.

o Dr. Patten Smith, Research Director, Research Methods Centre, Ipsos MORI and Chair of the Social Research Association.

Mike Smithson


New PB columnist Don Brind looks back two weeks

May 22nd, 2015

ITV News 2200 May 7th the moment the exit poll was announced

The Tories won the ground war

There was a persistent refrain from Tories as they looked at polls pointing to David Cameron being ejected from No 10 – “Rememeber 1992”.

It was tempting to reply – “Beware of what you wish for”

The Tory annus mirabilis saw John Major confounding the pollsters and trouncing Neil Kinnock with a record 14 million votes. But it swiftly turned into annus horribilis when four months later Black Wednesday saw the pound crash out of the European Exchange rate mechanism in a welter of interest rate hikes.

The Tories plunged to 32% in the polls where they flatlined, making Major easy meat for Tony Blair in 1997,

On May 7th David Cameron delivered the first Tory majority for 23 years. The comparison with 1992 tells us something interesting about GE 2015.

Cameron’s tally of 11.5 million votes and 37 % share look miserable alongside John Major’s 14m votes and 42% share.

Cameron got his overall Commons majority despite increasing his vote tally by fewer than 100,000 – an increased vote share of 0.8%. Labour’s vote was up 1.5% — an extra 150,000 despite dropping 125,000 in Scotland.

    But if the Cameron comes out badly – the comparison is grim for Labour. What made the results so bad for Labour was they lost where they thought they were strong – in the ground war.

That is the big contrast with 1992. Then John Major’s record record vote was rewarded with a Common’s majority of 20 a handful more than Cameron’s. Labour had mastered the art of key seat campaigning and denied Major around 20 seats that he would have expected to win.

Two landslide defeats later the Tories set about catching up. In 2010 with the then deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft was in charge. He has described how “target seats received nearly 74 million centrally produced fliers, leaflets, postcards, surveys, newspapers and magazines.” The keys seats showed bigger swings to the Tories than the national average and that, he claims produced an extra 23 gains from Labour and another 9 from the Lib Dems.

This time round the Tories employed micro-targeting techniques from the US, which were “so sophisticated that in the final week the party was having multiple contacts via Facebook, phone and on the doorstep with individual voters who had been identified as likely to switch from the Liberal Democrats or choose the Tories over Labour,” according to Jim Messina, recruited by the Tories from among top Obama campaigners.

“Facebook was the crucial weapon; using data which the social media site sells to advertisers, he was able to target key constituencies and get to niche groups of voters,” he told the Times.

“We went in and took very deep dives in the seats and to see what was do-able, what was winnable . . . who were the voters, who were potential waverers, thinking about leaving the Lib Dems; who were the voters trying to decide between us and Labour; and who were the voters considering leaving us for Ukip — and we were able to have very focused messages to all of those people.”

Labour had their own hired gunes from the US but it looks as though the Tories’ was the best buy. But that may have had something to do with the fact he had more money to spend. Messina said of his operation “It’s expensive, it’s difficult, but you’re gonna miss a bunch of close races if you don’t.”

It enabled the Tories to match Labour in the key marginals where Labour’s meagre haul of Tory seats was matched by Tory by gains from Labour.

But it was the Lib Dems – traditionally very good at fighting local ground wars — who felt the full force of this Tory onslaught. As campaign chief Paddy Ashdown told the New Statesman’s Tim Wigmore “ they had £50 million to throw at their election campaign, I had less than £3 million.”

“Those organising the Lib Dem campaign on the ground report being outspent by the Conservatives like never before,” says Wigmore. And it was the slaughter of his erstwhile partners that was the key to the David Cameron’s outright victory. His 25 gains from the Lib Dem was about twice what most pollsters and pundits expected.

Labour have been developing techniques similar to Messina’s with the help of “data guru” Ian Warren. Ahead of the election a party source was describing it as the “This is the most sophisticated election tool we’ve developed.” The “Ribena test” (coloured Ukip purple) uses demographic information to carry out risk assessments for the 50 MPs deemed most at risk from Ukip A party source told the paper.

The big challenge facing the new Labour leader and his or her deputy is to work out how they can can scale up this initiative and to match Tory operation – and even more important how they can raise the cash to do it.

Don Brind


Marf on Osborne’s plan for the civil service

May 21st, 2015


PB Update – welcome to Don Brind

Tomorrow the political journalist, Don Brind, is joining our small team of regular guest slot contributors. He is somebody I’ve known a very long time since we both worked at the BBC in the 1970s. In recent times Don has been a regular contributor on The Week

Back in 2007 Don gave me a well argued steer on the then LAB deputy leadership contest to the effect that Harriet Harman, then 10/1, was going to get it. She won.

He’s got very close contacts with LAB and will act as a balance to David Herdson and TSE who are both active Tories. His first column will be tomorrow.

Mike Smithson


Post election “how did you vote” poll finds it was the oldies and men what won it for Dave

May 21st, 2015

GQR, Labour’s pollster, has just published a post May 7th survey it carried out for the TUC asking people how they voted.

The main findings are above and show a big lead for CON amongst men and a huge one amongst the over 55s.

There’s a huge amount of data presented in an easy access interactive way on the GQR site.

Mike Smithson


It will be of little comfort to the yellows but GE15 proved to be a great example of the power of first time incumbency

May 21st, 2015

LD incumbency
Tim Smith Univ of Nottingham

The vote shares of first time incumbents held up the most

A short paper headed “Lib Dem incumbency advantage persists but fails to prevent disaster” by Tim Smith of the University of Nottingham has just been published and provides valuable evidence of the power of first time incumbency.

This happens when someone who won for the first time at the previous elections seeks to defend the seat. The table above shows the very different performances in what were Lib Dem seats depending on whether the incumbent MP was re-standing and whether this was a defence for the first time. The figures are striking.

Overall in England the LDs saw an average drop of 16%. In LD-held seats from 2010 that increased marginally to 16.9% but look at the gap between where a new candidate was defending and where the person who had won it for the first time in 2010 was making his/her first defence. A drop on the LD share of 24.5% compared with 10.7%.

Tim Smith notes that:

“..After the 1970 election, at which the Liberals were reduced to six seats, the party made five by election gains in the subsequent Parliament, three of which they held on to at the February 1974 election, and one, Berwick, which survived until this election.”

Hopefully in the coming weeks we shall see comparable figures for Labour and the Conservatives.

Mike Smithson