Archive for July, 2008

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Has YouGov got some good news for Dave?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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    Is Miliband beating Brown in the Telegraph’s poll?

The big Labour leadership news overnight looks set to be a YouGov poll matching Gordon Brown up against the man who he could be facing in a challenge for his job – David Miliband.

We have not, as yet, got any numbers but my guess is that it will show that the Foreign Secretary is ahead by a big margin. If that is the case then it will add a new dimension to the situation and put more pressure on for Miliband to make a challenge.

The paper has been teasing us in its blog which says the results “…make unmissable reading.”

Mike Smithson



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Will Gordon really fight them on the beaches?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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Screen shot from BBC North East

    Or would he follow his normal practice and stand aside?

One of the strong messages coming from the Brown camp in the past thirty-six hours is that he would not budge and would fight to the end if challenged. By this they mean, I guess, that anybody wanting to take him on would have to go through all of Labour convoluted process which involves, initially, getting one eight of the parliamentary party to support a challenge.

    Clearly such fighting talk is right for the moment and anyone planning a move has got to be persuaded that Gordon is not going to go easily. But is this really the case? For isn’t Brown’s whole political CV full of moments when he has pulled back from the fight.

It will be recalled that in his early days, before he became an MP, Gordon was reluctant to let his name go forward for safe seats in Scotland until a certainty came up and the future Prime Minister was assured that there was no serious contest.

The same has gone with the leadership. After Neil Kinnock’s resignation following the 1992 general election Brown was being strongly urged, by Tony Blair and others, to put his hat into the ring against John Smith. He didn’t. Then in 2004 1994 he pulled out when the polls were showing that Blair would do much better and there was the famous meal at the Granita.

Last year he went to extraordinary lengths to get his coronation and then there was the general election U-turn in early October.

So my guess is that if a challenger, Miliband perhaps, is determined enough then Gordon will buckle.

Mike Smithson



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Will polling match-ups be Gord’s secret weapon?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

    What’s the point of switching leaders if the ratings won’t go up?

I’m still in France with only minimal internet access and have been unable to follow the chain of events that David Miliband’s Guardian article has set off. But one thing is clear – the Foreign Secretary’s action has put what people were talking about privately right onto the public agenda and it’s hard to see any going back.

The PM’s aides have always been ferocious in the defence of their man and Miliband must have known what he was getting into when he decided to publish the article. This can only end, surely, with him or Gord being out of a job?

One thing we can expect in the next few days are polling match-ups – “would you be more or less likely to vote Labour with DM as leader” etc. etc. When these have been asked in recent months there has been no overwhelming evidence that a change at the top is going to help.

    For Miliband’s problem, and those of other possible contenders in a leadership election, is that none of them are very well known and have very low levels of public recognition. The Labour years have been dominated by figures who have left the scene and Gordon.

Brown’s strategy of making all the big announcements himself has prevented other figures from establishing any sort of public profile. This has been exacerbated by the now common practice of Labour not putting up ministers to answer points in TV discussions and the like.

Who apart from political nerds has even heard of let alone recognise the likes of Denham, Johnson and to a lesser extent Harman? Miliband’s personal media coverage in what would normally be the high profile role of foreign secretary has been relatively light.

If Labour is to go through the pain of replacing Gord then there has to be an obvious gain. I don’t think the pollsters will provide the evidence.

Meanwhile every day that goes by brings the general election that much nearer and Cameron, no doubt, is enjoying his holiday in Devon.

Mike Smithson



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So what happens next?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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The Prime Minister’s on his way in Israel – how long has the British one got left?

Please continue your discussions here – click on the picture for the full article.

Double Carpet



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Is Labour really in danger of extinction?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

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“This is less a leadership crisis and more a crisis of existence”

In the midst of all the speculation about the Labour leadership, with “Cameron only” now favourite on the next election leaders market, there’s an interesting piece by Iain Martin in the Telegraph today. He argues that a key mistake Labour made was devolving power to Scotland and Wales and thus giving the nationalists credibility in Labour’s “Celtic redoubt”.

    “Endangered in England’s largest cities, losers in London, out of power in Scotland and sharing it with the nationalists in Wales, wiped out in the south, on the run in the north-west marginals, under fire in the West Midlands, all but bankrupt and with a collapsing membership: what is to become of Labour? This is how, if they are not careful, parties die. Extinction is never the result of a single event, rather it happens more slowly, over several decades. A grouping whose leaders and policies once appeared as a fixed point on the landscape, gradually lose definition until virtually no one thinks it is any longer worth paying attention.”

But haven’t we been here before? Labour survived eighteen years out of power, including almost finishing behind the Alliance in 1983, to emerge in 1997 with a bigger landslide (in seats and percentage margin) than 1945. The “can they ever win again?” after the fourth defeat in 1992 gave way to a massive victory just five years later.

More recently, it was the turn of the Conservatives to be touted as possible candidates for extinction. The 1997/2001/2005 elections were their three lowest vote shares since 1832. The Sun famously had a front page comparing the party to Monty Python’s dead parrot, and there was talk of their replacement by the Lib Dems – for example Mark Oaten saying that Charles Kennedy could be PM by the end of the decade.

    So in terms of the chances of ceasing to be one of the “big two”, is Labour 2008 in a more parlous state than Labour in the early 1980s or the Conservatives at the turn of the century? Yes, the party has been experiencing record lows in the polls, is in severe financial difficulties, and there is now a real chance of it having its third leader in one term. But is it really on the slippery slope to oblivion as a party of government?

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Parties of course never operate in a vacuum and are always strong or weak relative to each other. Consideration of the Lib Dems merits a separate article, but after the numerous revivals since the early 1970s under Jeremy Thorpe, could this finally be the time when the Lib Dems take advantage of the weakness of one of the major parties, and get back into the top two for the first time since the decline of the Liberals in the 1920s? Could Nick Clegg’s plans to target Labour’s 50 most vulnerable red-yellow marginals allow the party to make major inroads into Labour at the next election?

Labour and the Conservatives are arguably too entrenched, in terms of safe seats, media support, their base, and their historic links with the unions and business, for the Lib Dems to be able to supplant either of them, even when at their most vulnerable. The polls now, with the Lib Dems pretty much flatlining alongside the crash in Labour’s popularity, have echoes of 1995-6, when Ashdown’s party did not perform especially strongly in the polls, and went on to score a lower vote share in 1997 than 1992, despite the Major government plummeting in public support. Even as the UK party system becomes increasingly fragmented, my expectation is that the “big two” will continue to alternate in power, notwithstanding the fact that Labour could well be out of government for a decade or more – but of course politics is never set in stone.

Double Carpet

A spreadsheet showing the ICM polls for 1984-2007 is available here.



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At last! Somebody does something on the record

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

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    Is this the start of a bid to oust Brown and become leader??

After days of speculation based on unattributable sources there has been a move in Labour’s leadership crisis by one of the main players and favourite to replace Brown – David Miliband.

For the main story on the BBC website overnight, is a report of a feature he’s written for the Guardian setting out what can be seen as a vision on how Labour can turn itself round with some not so hidden comments about Brown’s advocacy for Labour.

In the highly charged atmosphere that has dominated UK politics since the party’s loss of Glasgow East such an initiative will only be interpreted in only one way – this is the Foreign Secretary getting ready to fight.

The whole language he uses and his approach, in the words of Patrick Wintour in the Guardian, as “can be read as an implicit criticism of the current leadership’s political style” How else could you describe this from Miliband?

To get our message across we must be more humble about our shortcomings, but more compelling about our achievements…When people hear exaggerated claims either about failure or success, then they switch off.”

This goes to the heart, surely, of Gordon Brown’s whole rhetorical style and his apparent inability to make a case for Labour in way that resonates with the public and stops the seepage of party support.

The overnight Ladbrokes price on Miliband for Labour leader was 5/2. That looks like value though the big question is how long your money would be tied up? My guess is that this might be getting closer.

Today on PB I’m off on a 24 hour trip to France and won’t be able to put up a new thread until this evening – assuming my Vodafone modem works. If this discussion gets very long, as I expect, then I’ll either publish a continuation piece from my mobile phone – or else our guest editors Morus and Double Carpet will put something up.

Mike Smithson



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So is it “game on” for a leadership challenge?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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    What do we make of this afternoon’s reports?

On a day of apparently fast moving developments over the Labour leadership the main story on the Times website is of plans by Harriet Harman and David Miliband to challenge for the leadership.

Earlier the Evening Standard was reporting that “up to 10 junior ministers are willing to resign to force Gordon Brown to stand down, Labour MPs claimed today.”

The problem with both reports is their lack of identifiable sources. The Standard is based on quotes from a “former minister” while the Times pins their story on a “senior government source”.

    This is getting to a stage, though, where the media speculation could force something to happen – either a display of unity from large parts of the party or else a real move to force Gordon out. Who knows?

Clearly this will affect the betting across a range of markets. Sadly most of them are with Betfair where there is an appalling lack of liquidity. Thus, as I write, you can get 2.05-1 on Harriet to be next PM but only £2 is available. If a Harman and Miliband challenge is for real then the price will move on both of them.

Mike Smithson



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Is Richards right about the Tory leads being “soft”?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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    Or is he just clutching onto straws?

Reflecting, like just about everybody, on Gordon’s future the Independent’s political writer, Steve Richards, makes an assertion in his column today that “all the polls” suggest that the Tory leads are “soft” and that “..there has been no fundamental sea change” and that “as the last year has shown, fortunes can shift dramatically.”

    I believe that this is a completely wrong interpretation from someone who gives that impression that he is is desperately trying to find something that will portray Labour’s plight in a more positive way.

Firstly all the five pollsters that carry out regular surveys of political opinion in the UK are showing broadly the same picture with Tory leads ranging from ICM’s 15% to the 22% from ComRes.

This has remained fairly consistent since the March budget. From April 23rd onwards every single poll from every single pollster has had Labour with double digit deficits. In that period, too, all the polls have had the Tories in the 40s and almost all of them have had Labour in the 20s.

But this is not just a new phenomenon. In the eighteen months between Cameron’s election as Tory leader and Brown’s coronation every poll, bar one, that measured measured voting intention with the two against each other had Labour doing worse with Brown at the helm. What’s happened can just be seen as a continuation with the short interruption of Brown’s media honeymoon.

Then there is also what I have dubbed here on many occasions – the “golden rule of polling”. Based on every single general election, London Mayoral election and by election where there has been polling for nearly two decades “the most accurate poll has been the one showing Labour in the least favourable position”.

Last week in Glasgow the rule was tested again. There were two polls, remember, one with a 14% Labour lead and another with a 17% lead. We all know what happened.

Finally there is the John Major test. Taking ICM, the only directly comparable pollster with those we have today, the Tories only dropped below 30% twice in the monthly Guardian surveys between July 1995 and election day in May 1997.

“Soft” – I know what’s soft about the Richards’s article and it is not the polling.

Mike Smithson