Voting intention polls – the fools’ gold of predicting elections. Leader ratings do it better

August 20th, 2018

A week before GE17 and TMay’s best PM dominance is crumbling

4 days before GE17: few pay attention to Ipsos’s satisfaction numbers

PB regulars will know that every so often I have a little rant about how leader ratings are a far better guide to election outcomes than voting intention polls.

At the top I highlight Tweets by myself and TSE posted in the final week before the last election when almost all the polls were still showing the Tories with a pretty good lead and heading for a comfortable majority while the leader ratings were signalling that the Tories might be in trouble. In its final poll YouGov had Corbyn level-pegging with May for best PM.

It wasn’t as though this was a new phenomena. Two years earlier at the 2015 General Election the same thing happened. The voting polls had it neck and neck yet the leader ratings had Cameron maintaining a clear margin over Ed Miliband.

Four years earlier in 2011 the big news was the collapse of Labour in the Scottish Parliament elections and a majority for the SNP. Less that 10 weeks beforehand the voting polls were suggesting a LAB majority. The eventual outcome was all highly predictable, as I noted here at the time, because Alex Salmond was getting so much better ratings than his Labour opponent.

I could go back with example after example where the voting intention polls really were not a good guide to the general election. The most striking one was GE1992 when John Major had double digit lead over Neil Kinnock in the ratings but was level pegging in the voting polls. Major, of course, had his surprise victory and went on to win an overall majority.

    The reason I would suggest is that opinion polls are far better when they are doing just that – asking people their opinions. With voting intention questions respondees are expected to predict whether they will take part in an event which may be five years hence and also to indicate how they might make a choice. That I would suggest is a very difficult thing to get right.

I should say that the voting polls do often come good but if they are showing a different picture from the leader ratings go with the latter.

At the moment with the voting polls pretty much tied I would say the worry for Labour is that Corbyn is still quite some way down on the best prime minister ratings.

Mike Smithson


Labour – A Party of Government?

August 20th, 2018

Assume that in the next 4 years Britain elects Labour led by Corbyn. What governing challenges might it face? We do not know what the world will be like in 2022. But conditions are unlikely to be propitious. With such caveats in mind, here goes.

Brexit  Surely we will have exited by then and agreed our trading relationship with the EU? Dream on. The former maybe. The latter unlikely. Even if the broad outlines are visible, there will remain a mass of important detail to be agreed, arguments to be sorted, legal issues to be clarified and implementation to be enacted. A new immigration policy will still be in the throes of implementation. And then there are the relationships with non-EU countries. The consequences of Brexit, the UK’s relationship with the EU, its relationship with Ireland, its changed status in the world will be the key issues for any British government for the foreseeable future.

What this means in practice will consume a very great deal of governmental/administrative oxygen for years to come. Corbyn may not be that interested in Brexit but he will find any administration he leads to be rather more consumed by it than he may like. If he remains as uninterested as now, there is a danger of drift or rivals seeking to take control or simply being overwhelmed. Studied ambiguity and indifference are not policies which will long survive contact with the real world.

A no deal / disorderly Brexit  Sorting out the consequences of a disorderly Brexit will be its all-consuming task, if that is when Labour takes power. A no-deal Brexit will take years to resolve. Many of Labour’s economic proposals are based on the assumption that Britain’s economy will be broadly similar to now – a finance sector to be taxed, car workers still gainfully employed. That may not, especially if there is a recession or something worse in the wake of a disorderly / no deal Brexit, be a safe assumption to make. If tax revenues are significantly down, Labour face making some very hard choices indeed.

The left behind  No – not the poor and disadvantaged. But all those matters which need action, some of it urgent, and which have been pushed to the back of the queue because of Brexit. Social care, housing, education for an AI world, poor productivity, energy etc will still be there, more pressing now, and liable to take up the government’s time.

Labour could find itself simply trying to sort out the problems left by others. All governments face this. But none have had to take power in the wake of one transformative event (Brexit) while seeking to transform society itself in a radical new direction with so little prior governmental experience. Which brings us to –

Its own priorities (“The religion of socialism”)  Labour’s last manifesto had many policies; Corbyn added, or implied, a few more in off the cuff campaigning. But any government has to choose its priorities, then be relentless in advancing those and implementing effective change: through Parliament, via the civil service, local government, quangos and NGOs, in compliance with national and international law, while maintaining sufficient public support and avoiding unforeseen consequences, pratfalls and general inertia to change. No easy task.

It requires a PM and Cabinet, united, focused, competent, understanding the difference between strategy and tactics, knowing when to be flexible, when not, able to give direction, to project manage or, rather, manage the project managers, able to make Britain’s bureaucracy work to achieve their aims.

Running the country when there are other centres of power, when you cannot expect to change the rules to suit you and pack all relevant bodies with your supporters, is not the same as taking control of a political party. Corbyn and allies have been very good at the latter. They have little experience of the former, even at a local level. Understanding how to use and using effectively the levers of government takes time and skill, even for genuinely transformative governments.

Managing expectations  Once Corbyn chooses his priorities he risks disappointing, even being unpopular, with those who will have voted for him. Some will be disappointed but patient; others furious. As a former Labour PM once said: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” Easy to attack the broken promises of others. Much harder to explain why your own cannot be fulfilled. Does the Labour leadership have the political and personal toughness to cope with unpopularity with their own voters? Shrugging off attacks from political enemies is easy; from your own side very much harder.

Events  The known unknowns. But they will be there: national, international, violent, unexpected, relentless and demanding immediate attention and difficult judgment calls, which may go against the leadership’s natural instincts.

Corbyn’s character  He is a good campaigner, inspirational and passionate. But recent events have highlighted less flattering aspects. An aversion to criticism, even to questioning (eye-rolling is not a good look in a PM), a tendency to view any criticism of a Corbyn policy as a personal attack. That is a very l’etat c’est moi approach which does not bode well and could make PMQs a weekly torment. Governments are constantly and rightly under scrutiny and have to answer to Parliament, to Select Committees, to courts.

It is scrutiny of a kind Corbyn has rarely had to face. In government, ignoring questions, making up responses, changing stories, complaining, lying or being inaccurate or incomplete are no longer options. PMs need to have a thick skin, a willingness to explain and convince and reach out, not simply to preach to those who agree with you.

Easy to make speeches, to criticise and campaign against. Much harder to develop answers, implement and see through to tangible results. How to manage a Cabinet of politicians with their own budgets, empires and ambitions, or some form of coalition or other power sharing arrangement, let alone MPs, Parliamentary requirements and the rest? Something more emotionally intelligent and thoughtful than having your allies harangue them on social media will be needed. Voters will need to be listened to not attacked. All governments tend to end up with a bunker mentality. Starting out viewing voters and your own MPs through an “us and them” lens is risky. Just ask Mrs May.

This assumes that a Corbyn government will play by and within the current rules. Will it? Corbyn could not think of one positive aspect of capitalism when recently asked, not even the right to property. We cannot assume that his government will simply seek to ameliorate or share more equally what we currently have.

He seeks to change, possibly very significantly, the whole basis of how our economy and society is structured. If serious, that could also mean significant change to our governance, to existing checks and balances, to how government is scrutinised. If so, then all bets are off on what the next Labour government could mean in practice.



It might not be his objective but the Arron Banks plan makes TMay’s survival more likely

August 20th, 2018

For it to work there has to be a vacancy and there isn’t one

While LAB has continued its self destructive row on antisemitism the focus has been off the Tories in the past couple of weeks even though the blues are as split as ever over Brexit. Even so TMay might be pleased that all the latest ratings her net figures have her moving up while Corbyn has slipped sharply. Opinium, Deltapoll and YouGov now have her ahead of the Labour leader.

A big development in the CON leadership this month has been the public backing of Johnson by the controversial Leave EU backer, Arron Banks, and his plan to get lots of his supporters to become CON members so they can vote for Johnson for leader.

That he’s doing this so publicly will, I’d argue, make it more difficult to boot TMay out under the party’s leader ousting rules. For if there was a confidence ballot then the prospect of the ex-mayor being leader backed by Banks will cause some TMay-sceptic CON MPs to think twice about supporting a move that would lead to her removal.

    The prerequisite for Boris to become leader is there has to be a contest and one thing’s for sure the incumbent is not going to step down of her own accord. She has to be ousted.

We’ve been though the numbers many times before. 48 CON MPs have to send letters to the 1922 chair asking for a confidence vote which is then put to a ballot of the parliamentary party. But to actually remove a leader would require a majority of CON MPs and Johnson isn’t thought to have that level a support amongst his colleagues at Westminster.

The threat by Banks to encourage Momentum-style entryism into local Tory parties in advance of a leadership election won’t have endeared him to many CON MPs. I thought Guido got this right about Banks before the weekend.

Continually announcing plans which you don’t follow through undermines your credibility and for a right wing figure to alienate Guido isn’t smart. Banks should have bought him that lunch.

Mike Smithson


Campaign-funded YouGov poll points to the LDs getting to within 2 points of LAB if the red team backs Brexit

August 19th, 2018

But how much can we read into such hypothetical polling?

This is from the Guardian report:

“A YouGov poll of more than 4,900 people, released to the Guardian on Sunday, put the Conservatives ahead of Labour by four points in a snap election should the latter adopt an anti-Brexit position, and ahead by nine points if Labour were to pledge to follow through with leaving the EU.

The Lib Dems would gain 10 points from Labour backing Brexit, lifting them to two points behind Labour.

“If Labour becomes an accomplice to Brexit, it is finished,” Lord Adonis said. “If people want Brexit, they will vote for the party that really believes in it, not the one that is being led to support it against its most profound convictions and misgivings.”

The poll was conducted for the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain and the anti-racism group Hope not Hate..”

I’m very sceptical about such hypothetical polling and it really is difficult to comment on the survey without seeing the actual polling details particularly the wording of the questions.

Campaign-funded polls are carried out for a purpose.

Mike Smithson


Good Queen Tess

August 19th, 2018

Picture credit: Pulpstar

The country is divided into two fiercely-opposed camps. One group wants to free the country completely from European control, completing a process begun under a previous leader, whereas the other group wants to reverse the break from Europe altogether. In parliament the latter group has the majority, but the real levers of power are held – somewhat precariously – by a woman who, nominally at least, favours the break.

But does she? There is suspicion amongst the ultras that her commitment to the cause of breaking ties with Europe is less than complete. It is said that in private she shows signs of sympathy with those who want to Remain in the mainstream European tradition. She makes moves which seem to be somewhat at odds with her stated aim of completing the break from Europe.

For a while she maintains a constructive ambiguity, but eventually a plan is published. It is a settlement “painstakingly hammered out… a middle path in some ways reminiscent of her father’s idiosyncratic modified-Catholicism-without-the-pope than it was of her brother’s fiercely reformed faith.”, says Helen Castor in her new book Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity:

”All in all, the resulting Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were a careful attempt to construct a … framework of religious practice within which as many of her subjects as possible could offer her their devotional obedience. However, that was not to say that it was easy to achieve. The proposals met obdurate opposition from Mary’s Catholic bishops in the House of Lords…. Elizabeth’s middle ground remained treacherous rather than easy terrain. Leading Protestant theologians.. expected the settlement of 1559 not in fact to be a settlement at all, but an opening salvo in an ongoing campaign…”.

A fudge, in other words, which satisfied no-one.

Meanwhile, what pretty much everyone agreed on was that Elizabeth’s own position was precarious. There were enemies and dangers on all sides. Her advisers wanted her to deal firmly with her main rival, but for a long time she refused. No-one thought she could continue to rule alone; she’d have to take a husband, but that too was intensely problematic. Her answer was to do nothing: “Procrastination was etched into her very being: waiting to see what delay, rather than action, might bring”.

In the end the naysayers were proved wrong on all fronts. By virtue of her procrastination she remained Queen and undisputed ruler of the nation until her death in 1603, presiding over a great period in English history. More remarkably still, her fudged settlement, which satisfied no-one at the time, endures even today, half a millennium later.

Richard Nabavi


A bet that seems like a guaranteed 14% return in just over 4 months

August 19th, 2018

Video: Footage of Jeremy Corbyn, in yellow, taking on his critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party. NSFW

As long as Labour members see Corbyn as the Messiah & not a very naughty boy there won’t be a Labour leadership contest.

Paddy Power’s market on whether there’ll be a Labour leadership contest in 2018 seems like an absolute slam dunk for backers of the 1/7 for the following reasons.

Whilst Corbyn appears to have better relationships with terrorists and anti Semites than most of his own Parliamentary party colleagues Corbyn continues to enjoy near messianic levels of support with Labour members.

If Labour MPs were going to force another leadership contest Corbyn is going to win again for the foreseeable future. Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn must feel like Darth Vader striking down Obi-Wan Kenobi, ‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine’ might well be Corbyn’s taunt to his Labour opponents.

With Corbyn absolutely pummelling his opponents in the last two Labour leadership contests, under the alternative vote system, a system designed to stop X candidates is still seared on the minds of opponents of Corbyn.

For an overwhelming majority of Labour members Corbyn’s still the one and only, he’s not the same as all the rest, just look at the support Corbyn’s received over the anti Semitism issue.

Even if we see mass defections from Labour to an SDP2 I suspect Corbyn will be safe. It will reinforce the view amongst members that a lot of Labour MPs aren’t really loyal to Labour. As we saw with the defection of Mark Reckless it only seems solidify support for the leadership as opprobrium is heaped on the defectors in language that would shock most people.

There’s a chance Corbyn may voluntarily stand down but I can’t see that happening this side of March 29th 2019, he has the potential to shape Brexit and thus the UK for decades to come, he won’t turn down that opportunity. He’s also still working on making Labour perpetually Corbynite policy friendly, that still needs work.

Another factor is that the Corbyn’s critics were proven spectacularly wrong in June 2017 when at the general election Corbyn’s Labour polled 41% in Great Britain, they may have learned some humility after their humiliation.

With Corbyn being a healthy teetotal vegetarian I expect he will be in this for the long haul, so that’s why I’m confident on backing the No option in this bet.



Last rights? Are UKIP set to revive?

August 18th, 2018

It is a regular feature of horror films that, just when you think it has been destroyed, the monster lurches back into life one last time to terrorise the valiant hero.  Right now the corpse of UKIP is lying slouched in the corner but with its poll ratings a quantum level higher than they were two months ago its body is twitching as if an electrical stimulus is being pumped through it.  Can it return from the dead?

Following the Brexit vote, UKIP became a bit of a joke.  It had a succession of increasingly-unsuitable leaders chosen through farcical leadership contests.  For a surprisingly long time it held up well in the polls until seeing its rating disintegrate in the run-up to the 2017 election.  In the end, it tallied just 1.8% of the UK vote, as the Conservatives absorbed all but the most hardcore supporters.

On the surface, things have not improved.  The current UKIP leader, Gerald Batten, could not be picked out of an identity parade by most voters.  Its general secretary compared UKIP to the Black Death.  It nearly went bust following a court order that it had to underwrite legal costs following a libel case before a donor intervened.  Former luminaries such as Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are currently engaged on other projects.  At least three previous leading figures of the kipperati have set up their own parties. 

Membership has seemingly collapsed.  Precise numbers are not available but we got a good indication earlier this month when the UKIP Welsh leadership election was announced.  The winner, Gareth Bennett, won with 269 votes and the whole electorate, in other words all of UKIP Wales’s members, was 876.  A small village has just chosen its new idiot.

Yet the UKIP brand evidently remains strong.  Despite everything, it is now tallying 5% or more in the polls.  This has coincided, probably not by chance, with an apparent dip in Conservative poll ratings.  This cohort of voters could prove significant for the chances of the two main parties next time.

There are good reasons to suspect that UKIP’s current polling would not be replicated at a general election in the short term.  For a start, it would have difficulty even putting up a full slate of candidates.  It is open to question whether they could afford to fund the deposits.  Many voters would have no UKIP option to protest with.

If UKIP did field a full slate, many of them could be expected to add to the gaiety of the nation.  Remember, one past UKIP leadership candidate claimed that a gay donkey tried to rape his horse and another advocated the mining of asteroids.  Just imagine the quality of the next tier down.  The candidates are likely to ensure that the UKIP vote is a very principles-driven vote.

So even if the UKIP vote were not squeezed by the major parties in the election campaign, as happened last time, there is every chance that their vote share would be no higher than last time if the election were held any time soon.  The corpse may be twitching but these look, for now at least, like cadaveric spasms.

That isn’t as good news for the Conservatives as it sounds.  For a start, just because disgruntled voters can’t vote for UKIP doesn’t mean they will vote for the Conservatives.  Even if they don’t want to vote Labour (and some will), they can stay at home and not vote at all.  Many might.

So the Conservatives will need to keep an eye on their right flank.  The support of some of those 2017 voters is highly contingent. 

Moreover, the obvious fragility of the Conservatives’ hard Brexit support means that the prospect of a new hard right party emerging cannot be ruled out.  Arron Banks seems to be enjoying his self-image as a bad boy of Brexit and as controller of Leave.EU, with 181,000 twitter followers, has the numbers to set up a new vehicle.

The hard right still have one star player, Nigel Farage, and if he could be persuaded to rejoin the fray (whether under UKIP’s banner or elsewhere) he would immediately draw a large number of committed followers to his side. Perhaps the film that we are watching is not Terminator, but Terminator 2.

Or perhaps the film is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead of starting a new party to take on the Conservatives, the hard right can try to take it over instead. Leave.EU have tweeted to encourage like-minded Leavers to join the Conservative party in order to be able to vote in the next leadership election.

Entryism would be a shortcut to political contention.Conservative Leavers already seem pretty focused on the topic of Brexit reliability and the more intense ones aren’t paying much regard to party boundaries. 

Some at least of Leave.EU’s twitter followers have answered the call, and within three months these entryists will have a vote in the final round of any future Conservative leadership election campaign.

If they succeed, we might rapidly see both main parties as the territory of hardline activists with the MPs who are not true believers struggling to maintain their heads above the waves. If you think that politics has become too partisan in recent years, it might well get far worse. That really should give you the shivers and keep you awake at night.

Alastair Meeks


Labour’s antisemitism problem will always bedevil Corbyn as long as Palestine remains a cause célèbre

August 18th, 2018

At the heart of modern anti-Zionism is the traditional envy of Jewish success

If Jeremy Corbyn had been politically active seventy years ago, there’s no doubt that he would have been a vocal champion of Zionism. Few things animate him like support for a people he regards as oppressed, who are fighting against a state like Britain or the US. If that struggle involves terrorism, no big deal for him. The creation of a Jewish Israel out of Britain’s League of Nations mandate in Palestine, aided by the Irgun and Stern Gang ticks every box, in red ink and at least twice over.

So what’s changed in those seventy years? What’s changed is the perception of Israel. No longer are the Jews there an oppressed minority but the majority community in an expansionist, wealthy and nuclear weapon-equipped country. It’s Israel which is oppressing Palestinians in the West Bank and particularly Gaza – ‘the world’s largest open prison’ – and Israel which has raided and occupied neighbouring countries.

Or so the Corbynite left would have it. Indeed, other, more sober, commentators would no doubt flag up Israel’s tendency to resort rapidly to force and to use it disproportionately and perhaps excessively. This doesn’t help Israel’s PR and does enable the far left to get a hearing on the issue because their critique is not superficially implausible. But it’s wrong, all the same.

It’s wrong because it fails to understand both what Israel is and also the world within which it sits.

    Forgive me for going a bit Godwin but it’s necessary. Israel is a Jewish state. It was explicitly designed as such in the late 1940s out of a belief that only a Jewish state could protect Jews, and out of the experience of the earlier 1940s.

The history of Jews is one of two thousand years of oppression since the First Roman-Jewish War destroyed the Jewish state, resulting in the population being scattered. Again and again, the cycle repeated: immigration as an alien presence within a guest country, marginalisation, restricted rights, success despite these oppressions, envy, violence, and finally expulsion or exile through intimidation. Such was the consequence of being a nation-religion without a nation-state. Until it got worse. We should never forget that the greatest catastrophe to visit the Jews – a people with a history of three thousand years – occurred within living memory. When critics of Israel cite international law, the retort might well be “what has international law ever done for us?”.

Because here we have to look at Israel’s geographic context. Having decided on creating a new state, yes, it could in theory have been created in somewhere less religiously complex – Kenya or Madagascar or wherever – but the Balfour Declaration and the pull of history meant that Palestine was the only realistic option. What that meant however was firstly overwhelming or forcing out the existing population, and then living among a host of Arab neighbours. As of course it still does.

Both legacies remain with us today. Highly unusually, Palestinian refugee status can be handed down the generations, with the result that the original population of 720,000 refugees from 1948 now numbers around 5 million. Inevitably, those ‘refugees’ cannot return to Israel without rendering the state as constructed unviable and throwing it into civil war – so it won’t ever happen. (As an aside, the fact that refugee status can be inherited is a measure of the extent to which Israel is still not seen as an equal state within the region).

Likewise, while most of its neighbours accept, to some extent or another, Israel’s legal right to exist, this is not universal: in the last ten years alone, Iran refuses to recognise Israel’s legitimacy, Egypt went through a brief period of Muslim Brotherhood government, Hamas won elections in Gaza, and large areas of Syria and Iraq fell to the Islamic State. Each of these is, or could be fatally hostile to a country of 9m people surrounded by 400m others across the Middle East. If Israel seems quick to resort to violence, it is because it exists in a hostile environment where the costs of overreacting are disapproving looks at international conferences, while the costs of underreacting could be the annihilation of the state and its inhabitants. Not difficult to see why Israel tends to err the way it does.

Which is the point at which we need to swing to British politics because that analysis isn’t how Corbyn or his acolytes see it. They don’t accept the relevance of the 1948 war, or the 1967 one, or the 1973 one, or of Iran’s nuclear program, or that detail of history: the Holocaust. They see instead, a rich, American-backed bully.

    The fact of that wealth should not be underestimated in the hostility the left have towards Israel, which ties in with historical antisemitism towards Jewish bankers and businessmen. How dare they succeed and grow a country out of the barren rocks of Palestine?

Sure, Israel benefits from US aid and benefitted early on from German reparations but its indigenous economy is highly advanced; much more so than their Arab neighbours, oil notwithstanding. That wasn’t the case in 1948.

Their obsession with this one country – a democracy in a region of dictatorship and far from the worst in terms of human rights abuses – is of itself telling. After all, Gaza’s border is closed at the Egyptian end too: why no criticism of the role of Cairo (which administered Gaza until 1967) in the ‘open prison’? It is as if Israel’s very existence is an affront to them.

And intentionally or otherwise, their policy prescriptions would ensure that Israel didn’t exist. Demanding Israel respect all international law while not holding Syria, Iran or the Palestinians to the same measure would seriously limit its capacity to defend itself. Given the number of enemies Israel has, that attack would come. And of course, even if the anti-Israeli activists did demand Iran did follow international law, it would make no difference anyway: Tehran would still do what Tehran wanted to do. Demanding an end to the security measures and a return to the 1967 borders and a return of the refugees would destabilise Israel to the point where it would be unviable as a Jewish state.

Indeed, even the two-state solution is unworkable because two states means two armies, two sets of security forces and a full international border. For diplomatic reasons, this fact isn’t currently be acknowledged but it’s true all the same, and is the reason why Israel does not treat the Palestinian Authority as a foreign power. Ultimately, the only permanent option for Palestine-Israel is a one-state solution: the question mark is over the extent of devolved powers to Arab autonomous regions.

That, of course, will never be acceptable to the Corbynite left. Israel’s power and, against all odds – though not against the grain of Jewish history – its success in turning adversity into wealth and power through hard work and good judgement mean it will always be seen as something to be opposed, in its actions if not in its concept (though sadly, sometimes in that too). Instead, Corbyn has proven repeatedly that he would rather associate with those who would, if possible, bring about Israel’s destruction than those who govern it.

Fortunately, it’s almost certain that his opinions – even as prime minister – wouldn’t matter. Still, if they did, they’d likely give him another opportunity to stand silently, head bowed and then quietly intone “never again”. And he’d no doubt feel better for the gesture.

David Herdson