Extreme cleavage (politics that isn’t politics)

Panic. That is the reaction in some quarters, panic. It is a place of refuge for those who think they see things slipping away and are disinclined to do much about it. It may be a brief refuge, a temporary indulgence, sand for the political ostriches sensing danger, yet panic is what it is ; and it can be contagious.

Stories. The hunt for headlines ignores the commonplace, despite the commonplace being common. Stories, written about the out-of-place, the unusual, the extreme. Stories in newspapers, stories on the airwaves, stories on the internet, stories about the unusual dominating – so that the unusual supplants the commonplace in the collective conscious.

Thoughts going north, to Scotland, where a leader steps aside. If there is ever a good time to pass the baton on then this is as good as any. Between a successful referendum campaign and the big heave to come as we all pass will soon passed judgement on Cameron and Clegg. Going before being pushed perhaps defeats the adage that all political careers end in failure. Going, and making a few judgements about the state of the Labour Party in Scotland, interpreted by the biased as only they can. Going, and sounding off, but also pledging support. You can still be a team player and offer a critique.

Opinion polls that suggest a rout in Scotland; if only that General Election was tomorrow. It isn’t; the General election is not tomorrow. Whilst the polls do not make for great reading for those of a Labour disposition, consternation in itself will achieve nothing. It seems that nationalism is on the rise in a number of quarters across the United Kingdom – a worry for those who know their history.

A deputy in Scotland also steps down – ensuring a completely fresh leadership team. There is now an opportunity to re-shape Labour up north. The referendum showed why referendums are often an obstacle rather than an aide to democracy as the debate about Scotland’s role within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dominated all. It is no surprise that following on from month after month of nationalistic debate that the nationalist party is riding high.

It is same nearer to home: allow the news to be dominated by Farage and his band of the angry and confused and there can be no surprise that their polling improves. Cue Natalie Bennett and her Greens, whose cardigan adorned outraged also ensured column inches – and a spike in polling.

Distraction and cleavage. It is a truth that the way to make oneself ill is to read a medical dictionary. There is a disconnect between the finding of symptoms and the identification of cause. Do I have a headache, is that a swelling, is my pulse racing? Cue a whole host of potentially terminal illnesses, when all you have to fear is fear itself. The same with society’s problems. Not enough housing, prices going up faster than salaries, longer waits at the doctor’s, congested roads, good school places at a premium, zero hours contracts, dead-end jobs with dead-beat bosses. The solutions are rarely found in sound-bites.

Cleaving man from man, the oldest weapon in the political armoury. Divide and rule. Haves and have-nots then, now indigenous and non-indigenous. Serious investigation may uncover a plethora of faults with the system, but those on a soap-box do not want serious investigation. It is far easier to blame other victims.

To pick one’s way through this requires thoughtful and thoroughly researched argument. That argument has to be taken to the streets. Engage, argue, persuade. The rise of apathy is less to do with political engagement and more to do with showing the relevance of politics. Politics is relevant because politics is all. Politics is also nothing if debate is subsumed fear or succumbs to laziness.

Poll musing

psephology The study of trends in voting.

I am an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to analysing opinion polls. Nonetheless I am a fan of UKPollingReport (for whom I have borrowed the data herein on recent opinion polls).

A week and a half on from the Clacton by-election it is worth a peek at what the opinion polls are showing.

Lab Con LD UKIP Grn
19 October 2014 YouGov 35 32 7 16 5
18 October 2014 ComRes 34 31 7 19 4
17 October 2014 Populus 35 33 10 14 4
17 October 2014 YouGov 32 31 8 18 7
15 October 2014 Ipsos MORI 33 30 8 16
15 October 2014 YouGov 34 30 8 18
13 October 2014 Populus 36 35 9 13 3
13 October 2014 Ashcroft 32 28 8 19 5
13 October 2014 ICM 35 31 11 14 4
12 October 2014 Opinium 35 28 9 17
12 October 2014 YouGov 34 32 9 16
12 October 2014 Survation 31 31 7 25
12 October 2014 Ashcroft 34 31 8 18

I feel obliged to say that I still think that the Clacton by-election does not tell us much about how well UKIP will do next May, except that their best chances of representation in Parliament appear to rest with Conservative ship-jumpers. The imminent Rochester and Strood contest will not tell us much either, other than at an average of £239,000 per by-election these new UKIP converts do like to waste tax-payers money on what is effectively a publicity campaign for their new party.

Heywood and Middleton did provide a surprise. Whilst Labour’s vote held up (and actually registered a modest increase), the opposition coalesced around UKIP to give them a very respectable second-place. Of course, Labour had no incumbency to fall back on, unlike the new/old MP for Clacton.

I think that some Tories will be wondering about their decision to oppose AV, particularly as even their safe seats are beginning to look marginal and the prospect of transferred second preferences would likely calm some nerves. There is speculation that another Tory MP is about the succumb to a loss of nerve (possibly someone else in Essex), and the thought of chunks of their vote going towards the EU-opposing anti-immigration party clearly focuses their minds on the potential for a foreshortened political career.

The averages for the opinion polls over the last week indicate the following levels of support:

33.8% Labour
31.0% Conservative
17.2% UKIP
8.4% Liberal Democrat
4.6% Green

Whilst being in the lead is obviously good news for Labour, the narrowness of the lead (and narrowing from 6% leads regularly seen not that many months ago) will give pause for thought. Comfort will be derived from an electoral system that would still deliver a Labour majority, although there will be noises made about mandate if that victory is gained from barely over a third of the votes cast.

Although many commentators believe Labour has a Miliband problem, I think our failure to defend our record in dealing with the crisis at the end of the Brown Government has led to continuing problems as regards to Labour’s economic credibility. The economy, in the view of this blogger, is still the primary driver for voter intentions.

There may be trouble ahead

I am a keen follower of opinion polls. These are remarkably accurate nowadays and are a good indicator of how the government and opposition are performing. I am not the only one. Apart from like-minded political anoraks, without doubt all the major parties read, store, and dissect the messages in these polls.

Even just after an election polling continues. During the short campaign, that period between the election being called and polling day, opinion polls often make the front page. Now the dust is settled these polls may attract a paragraph on page seventeen.

Sometimes polls drive policy, and this is not an altogether healthy thing. For, despite what many think is the way our democracy should be run, governments at times have to ignore popular opinion.

So, what have the opinion polls been telling us? You will recall that on May 6th the only poll that really mattered produced these figures:

Conservative 36.1%
Labour 29.0%
Liberal Democrat 23.0%

The latest opinion poll I have seen now shows the parties as follows:

Conservative 43% – up 6.9%
Labour 34% – up 5%
Liberal Democrat 15% – down 8%

Individual polls are only a snapshot, and it is trends that sephologists look for. The latest poll is not an outrider, but rather confirms a steady trend.

The Tories are enjoying a honeymoon. This is not unusual, and despite a disastrous budget the cuts and tax rises have not yet bitten enough to shake their supporters’ confidence.

Labour is doing pretty well too, in part because the economy is defying the doom merchants and demonstrating that Gordon Brown’s government did call it right, and in part because a number of Liberal Democrat supporters are appalled by their party and its choice of coalition partner.

It is beginning to look like a return to two-party politics, and the next big test in May 2011 will, in my view, show many losses for the Orange Tories in the local elections.

The next significant movement in the polls will come with the conference season in September. The summer is always quiet. I think two events will move the polls. Firstly Labour will have resolved its leadership election. Secondly, the Liberal Democrat conference will be intriguing because it will give its grassroots a chance to pass judgement on Nick Clegg’s decision to join the government (and it is speculated that David Cameron, or another high profile Tory, may address their conference (and this may be reciprocated)).

I expect warfare in the Liberal Democrat camp before too long. Unease at their declining numbers and the volte face in so many policy areas is bound to be causing unease. I have not seen their membership numbers recently, but I would imagine there is some decline. One could easily see this party splitting – there are precedents when they have formed coalitions before.

The stiffing of Sheffield Forgemasters by Nick Clegg may mean that some time he will have to face the music and dance.

“A foxtrot, Mr Cameron?”

A pleasant surprise in the latest poll

With the dust barely settling since the general election, the first opinion poll of the new government has some surprising numbers. Ousted governments normally suffer as a honeymoon brings more on board for the incoming administration – yet the latest poll defies this trend.

Snowflake5 has written a interest take on this here – The Post Election Polls

Into the mad world where less votes means more seats

An average of the polls from the last three days gives these figures:

Conservative 33%
Labour 29%
Liberal Democrat 28%

(Figures from http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/)

Put these numbers into an election predictor (http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/) and the outcome is

Labour 280 seats
Conservative 249
Liberal Democrats 89

Even my Conservative friends cannot argue against this being unfair. Luke Akehurst makes a similar argument here – The madness of FPTP

A March 2011 General Election?

As the General Election draws nearer we will see a greater number of polls being conducted. Nowadays opinion polls are considered more accurate than ever before, although there is only one poll that really matters.

Individual polls do not tell us much beyond the fact that they are a snapshot. However, a series of polls gives us trends to analyse, and allows psephologists to draw all sorts of conclusions (and ignore the odd poll that is not sticking to the story).
The story at the moment is that the Conservatives still have a lead, and that that lead is shrinking. This does not mean it is to go on shrinking, but trend analysis allows some prediction, and predictions based on recent polls show that the gap is going to narrow to almost nothing by the time the election is called.

This must be disconcerting for CCHQ; they have gone from predictions of a comfortable majority to serious doubts as to whether they will even be the largest party. If the trend continues Labour will have an overall majority, although current thinking is that Labour will be the biggest party in terms of seats, but without an outright majority.

Should this be realised then I suspect some serious horse-trading to happen. If Labour is the biggest party in a hung Parliament then they will certainly attempt to carry on as the Government. They may be tempted to do even if the Tories have more seats, providing the gap is not too large. Gordon Brown will look to the minor parties and try to work out who he can do a deal with.

However, doing a deal is not the same as coalition. I doubt whether a coalition is at all likely, although until the precise outcome is known this cannot be predicted with certainty.

What if the Conservatives recover? This is possible, there are bound to be many banana skins all round before polling day and many twists and turns in the plot. The Conservative could have a good run-in, but a thumping majority seems beyond reach to me, not least because they have an enormous hurdle to overcome just to pass the finishing line.

We are left with either a small majority or the biggest party in a hung Parliament for either Labour or the Conservatives, and this leads me to my prediction – that there will be a 2011 General Election.

Minority Governments do not last very long, and small majorities are eaten away as by-elections and the occasional desertion take their toll. I do not think the general public will stomach an election within six months, and once November is here no-one will relish a winter campaign. If I was a gambler I would be tempted to put a punt on a March 2011 date with the Queen for either Gordon Brown or David Cameron, as a decisive and workable majority is becoming less and less likely.

The spotlight on Tory policies is eroding their poll lead

Recent polls are showing a definite trend, a narrowing of the gap between Labour and the Conservatives. I claim no special insight, but I have been saying for some time that we are in hung Parliament territory, and now the polls agree with me.

UKPolling has the details for the latest poll here: ComRes show Tory lead down to 7 points.

Their latest prediction is for a hung Parliament with the Tories 12 short of an overall majority. A fair result bearing in mind where they are starting from, some might say. However, given that the trend is for narrowing the gap, and that there is still some way to go, I would be nervous if I was in Conservative HQ.

This reason for the narrowing is two-fold; first the magnifying glass is now on the Conservative policy announcements, which are clearly giving them problems. The second is the proof that Labour’s policies as regards the economy are bearing fruit.

Electoral calculus, cautious at the best of times, are also predicting a hung Parliament.

A good November

We may be struggling a bit in the opinion polls, but in the polls that really matter we seem to be holding our own.

LabourMatters is reporting that for the month of November the Conservatives lost five seats in their worst month for years.

This is no swallow signalling a socialist spring, but it does show that despite what some commentators are saying, the General Election is anything but a foregone conclusion. I believe it will be a very close-run thing, with echoes of the two 1974 campaigns.

Whilst David Cameron may take some comfort from consistent poll leads he cannot be overjoyed that with less than six months to go he has still to achieve the big leads that Tony Blair was getting in the run-up to the 1997 election.