Archive for October, 2010

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Sean Fear looks to next May’s locals

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

How much potential is there for Labour progress?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I regard local by-election results as being a good lead indicator of the next round of local elections. Despite having gigantic opinion poll leads from 1997-2003, the last Labour government regularly lost ground in successive rounds of local elections, during that period. Local by-elections pointed to these losses, whereas national opinion polls did not.

The point should be obvious. National opinion polls are snapshots of voting intention in national elections, not local elections. For a variety of reasons, governments tend to struggle in mid-term local elections. Their supporters tend to stay at home, while opponents are motivated to go out and vote. It’s also worth noting that by the time a party gets into government, it is usually defending local council seats that it won while its opponent was in government, and which are well outside of its natural territory.

How have the parties been faring since the election in May? The answer is, very variably. Since the beginning of June, there have been 24 seats contested by the three main parties, in seats that were last contested in 2007. In those seats, the Conservative vote share has fallen on average by 4%, the Labour vote share has risen by 3%, on average, and the Liberal Democrat vote share has remained unchanged. The Conservatives led Labour (in terms of projected national vote share) by 13% in 2007, so this would imply a Conservative lead of about 6%, a good position for a party of government to be in.

However, in seats that were last contested in May of this year, a very different picture emerges. There have been 26 of these seats in which the three main parties have stood. In these, the Labour vote share is up 7% on average, compared to May, the Conservative vote share is down by 6% on average, and the Liberal Democrat vote share is down by 5% on average. The Conservatives led by 7% in May, and a swing of this magnitude would imply a Labour lead of about 6%, a far better position for Labour to be in.

What accounts for such a discrepancy? One small factor is that some Conservative councillors who were elected in May have had to resign in controversial circumstances. But of far greater significance is that the seats that were last contested in May are almost all in London Boroughs and large urban centres, exactly the sorts of areas where Labour performed most strongly in the General Election. By contrast, the seats that were last contested in 2007, are mostly in District and Unitary Authorities, rural areas, and small to medium-sized towns, where Labour’s performance in the Election was weak. Given the emphasis that there has been on cuts in public spending, no-one should be surprised that Labour is performing best in big urban centres, where the benefits of public spending are most visible, and worst outside of these areas, where many people consider that they get very little in return for the taxes they pay.

One thing that should be made clear is that the Coalition parties are not performing notably worse in the North of England than elsewhere. Ten of the seats that were last contested in May are located in the North of England. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat votes were each down 6% on average in such seats, and the Labour vote up by 10% on average in such seats. The significant split is urban/non-urban, not North/South.

The problem for Labour is that the large majority of seats that come up in next May’s local elections were last contested in 2007, in the District and Unitary Authorities. Many District Councils have all-out elections, next year, whereas no London Boroughs are being fought, and only one third of the seats in Metropolitan Boroughs outside London. If the by-election pattern persists, Labour will pick up low-hanging fruit in May, but their headline gains will be limited.

Sean Fear



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Half of Labour voters support housing benefit cap

Sunday, October 31st, 2010
“Support or oppose cap on housing benefit” (YouGov) All sampled CON voters % LAB voters% LD voters %
Support 72 94 52 78
Oppose 16 3 35 11
Don’t know 13 3 14 11

Should the red team and Boris re-think their strategies?

After a week when domestic politics has been almost taken over by the row on housing benefit there is some polling on the issue – by YouGov for today’s Sunday Times.

The findings with cross tabs on voting intention are above and suggest that some of the rhetoric about “final solution“, “cleansing” and “Kosovo” has not chimed with voters – in this poll at least.

There seems to be emphatic support for the cap right across the board with even Labour supporters backing it by 52% to 35%.

No doubt Downing Street will be delighted to see that Boris Johnson’s controversial intervention has failed to resonate in London – where most of those who will be affected by the cap are living. The split in the capital is 69% support to just 20% against.

All of this suggests that politicians and commentators, at least, should be careful about using grossly over-blown rhetoric before seeing some polling data.

This, of course, is just one survey and before the question was put there was a long preamble rather going into some detail about the background. This read: “The government have proposed that there should be a cap of £400 a week (around £20,000 a year) on the amount of housing benefit anyone can claim. Some people have said that these changes would be unfair on poorer people living in high rent areas like central London and would lead to tens of thousands of people losing their homes. Other people have said that it is unfair that people on benefit should be given more money to spend on rent than many people in full time work can afford.”

Where Cameron and co have been smart/shifty (depending on your point of view) is that there is a lot more in the changes than just the cap but whenever they’ve talked about it they’ve focused on the element they believed was most popular. That’s politics.

Mike Smithson



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Could terror test the coalition’s libertarian credentials?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

How will Cameron resolve the control orders row?

The latest terror threats could not have come at a worse time for the coalition partners because, as Andrew Rawnsely reports in the Observer this morning, there’s a huge row going on about the future of control orders and extended detention without trial.

There’s a report waiting to be published which says that these should continue in a slightly restricted form – something that would be totally opposed by Nick Clegg’s party. After a recent meeting Cameron ended without agreement Cameron is reported to have said “We are heading for a f**king car crash“.

As Rawnsley writes: “..this question also profoundly splits the cabinet. The Lib Dems around the table pledged to abolish control orders and they have Tory allies. The justice secretary, Ken Clarke, hasn’t budged in his opposition. Mr Clarke has been round the Whitehall block several times in his long career. He has been home secretary. He is not intimidated by the heavy breathing of the head of MI5. He understands that politicians should be attentive to the advice of the security services, but not slaves to them. Nick Clegg knows that he will look terrible and his party will be in uproar if he dishonours the pledges he made in opposition. One colleague describes the Lib Dem leader as “caught in the headlights”. David Cameron, scared of rupturing his coalition, yet fearful of over-ruling the securicrats, is just playing for time. I have learned that the publication date for the review has been put back yet again towards the end of the year.

There is a route out of their dilemma. That is to stick to their promises, scrap control orders, charge those suspected of terrorism in open court and lift the ban on the use of intercept evidence to give prosecutions a better chance of success. To resistant members of the security agencies, the prime minister should say, and will have the support of many professionals in saying it, that they ought to concentrate on the intelligence-led approach to countering terrorism which has proved to be the most effective method of stopping bombers…”

What’s going to happen? This really is in Cameron’s court because it’s is an issue that is far far more problematical for the yellows than student fees.

If the PM rules that control orders are kept even in a restricted form it could seal the fate of Nick Clegg and the whole coalition deal.

But what an awful time for this debate to be taking place for yet again we see that the world gets a whole lot tougher when you move from opposition into government.

Mike Smithson



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Is Labour losing the housing benefit argument?

Saturday, October 30th, 2010
Poll Date CON % LAB% LD %
YouGov/Sunday Times 29/10/10 42 37 13
YouGov/Sunday Times 22/10/10 41 40 10
YouGov/Sunday Times 17/10/10 41 39 11
YouGov/Sunday Times 08/10/10 42 38 12
YouGov/Sunday Times 01/10/10 39 41 11

Tories and LDs up – Labour down

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is the first full voting intention poll since the housing benefit row erupted and the figures are good for the coalition and bad for Labour.

The Lib Dem share, from the pollster that generally marks them right down, is the best from YouGov since the party conference back in September.

My understanding is that there are detailed questions on the housing benefit issue in the poll – we should get some idea of the findings overnight.

This is just one poll and we need to see if other firms find a similar trend – but the coalition will be feeling quite please.

Mike Smithson



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Has Labour’s hate campaigning gone too

Saturday, October 30th, 2010


BBC

Could the red team just lost some of the Ginger vote?

As the father of two children who were bullied at school because of their ginger hair I am beside myself with fury at Harriet Harman’s nasty attack on Danny Alexander as being a “ginger rodent”.

By all means get into an argument on the issues but to use an inherited bodily characteristic to attack someone smacks of racism – which is even more outrageous given Harriet’s record in the equality area.

Would she have done the same over gender, race or sexual orientation? I doubt it – so what makes someone’s hair colour, which is determined by their genetic make-up, a legitimate target?

How are ginger men and women voters going to feel about a party that uses this as a means of attack and ridicule.

Harriet – this is stupid.

Mike Smithson



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Do we need more Borises?

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Is outspokenness an underrated quality?

Boris Johnson is probably not the most popular figure with Conservative high command just at the moment given his comments about the proposed Housing Benefit changes. Not only has he very publicly gone against the party line but he used pretty powerful language in doing so.
It’s not the first time Boris has had to moderate or clarify the colourful language he’s prone to employing. In the past, he’s managed to stir up controversies with – amongst others – Jamie Oliver, Sir Ian Blair, Liverpool, and Papua New Guinea. And yet despite, or perhaps because of, these indiscretions, he remains a popular character and personality.

His Labour opposite number in both the 2008 and 2012 London mayoral election can hardly be considered the sort of typical career politician either, the sort who seeks advancement through keeping in with the whips, saying the right thing and remaining on-message. Again though, while that brought him enemies, it also built him a sufficient following to win the first mayoral election as an independent, against the more traditional candidates of the party machines.

The simple fact is that the public seem to appreciate outspokenness, within reason. I’ve direct experience of it in my own constituency, Shipley. Philip Davies is another MP with an independent mind and achieved a swing of nearly 10% this year, his first re-election campaign, increasing his majority from a few hundred to almost ten thousand. While few people agree with him on everything, one message that came across from voters was that many respected him for saying what he thought, and also for his commitment to his constituents.

That final point’s an interesting one. Not all maverick MPs have a high local reputation but many – probably a disproportionate number – do. They should do as it’s their only real powerbase; their party centrally will offer no great protection. In addition though, with less interest in climbing the political ladder through patronage, there’s never really a dilemma for them if there’s a constituency versus party question. Their independence gives them a greater ability to speak out. Whether it gives them greater influence is a different matter – those more ‘in’ with their party establishments will argue that very fact helps them to achieve things, though they don‘t convince me.

However, even if the public do like politicians who say what they think, outspokenly and with a freedom beyond the norm, their parties don’t. The hierarchies have always, understandably, been suspicious of those working outside the framework but New Labour increased the degree of central control exercised – and self-discipline expected to be exercised – and other parties have since followed suit. To some extent, they have a point. Mavericks don’t often make good ministers, but then parliament should be more than a pool of prospective ministers.

A big question the parties have to ask themselves is where the next Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone is coming from? What are they doing to develop or recruit them? Because politics would not just be a duller place without their like but a worse place too.

David Herdson

 

 



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Harry Hayfield’s October local election report

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The red team continues to make progress

Party Votes Cast % Votes Seats Won Change
Labour 17714 35.69% 14 +5
Conservatives 14594 29.41% 10 -3
Liberal Democrats 10139 20.43% 6 -1
Independents 2181 4.39% 2 -1
Plaid Cymru 1297 2.61% 0 -1
Green Party 1139 2.30% 0 n/c
United Kingdom Independence Party 771 1.55% 0 n/c
Scottish National Party 571 1.15% 0 n/c
British National Party 183 0.37% 0 n/c
Other Parties 1037 2.09% 2 1

GAINS / LOSSES
Conservative GAINS: Newton (Swansea)
Labour GAINS: Tilgate (Crawley), Irwell (Rossendale), Treherbert (Rhondda,
Cynon, Taff), River (Medway), Barton and Sandhill (Oxford)
Liberal Democrat GAINS: Capel, Leigh and Newdigate (Mole Valley)
Other GAINS: St. Nicholas (Herefordshire)

Change on past local elections (overall)

2007 2008 2009 2010 Average
Con -7.00%   4.00% -9.00% -9.00%
Lab n/c   2.00% 14.00% +9
Lib Dems -2.00%   -2.00% -4.00% -5.00%
Others 9.00%   -4.00% -1.00% 5.00%

The trend of Labour recovering it’s past losses continued in October with Labour picking up wards from Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru and managing to poll over 2,000 more votes than the Conservatives recording a 3.5% swing in their favour compared with the 2007 local elections.

This continues to suggest that next year’s local elections will be a triumph for Labour in Conservative / Labour battleground councils and a disaster for the Liberal Democrats in the urban councils. One bright spot for the yellowsa is a 2.5% swing from Conservative to Liberal Democrat, suggesting that councils with little or no Labour representation (such as Solihull in the West Midlands, Poole in Dorset, Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and Mole Valley in Sussex) could be Lib Dem beacons of triumph on an otherwise gloomy night.



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Has the EU simply ceased to be an issue?

Friday, October 29th, 2010


Ipsos-MORI

Or will the Tories of yesteryear emerge again?

Every month for more than thirty years Ipsos-MORI has asked the same two part-question question in the same standard way which, almost uniquely, is totally unprompted. The pollster asks “What do you see as the most important/other important issues face Britain today”.

As you’d expect the economy, race relations and immigration, unemployment and crime figure high as you can see here.

But there’s one issue that’s been sharply on the decline – Europe/the EU/the Euro – and on the last occasion this was asked those rating this as the “most important” simply didn’t register. The total was not even enough to make one percent. It did get a score of 4% when respondents were asked to name “other issues”.

This polling is something I refer to from time to time whenever the EU is in the news and there’s hugely a heap of abuse poured on me for daring to raise it.

But the hard fact is that the vast majority of the public don’t give a monkey’s – they simply couldn’t care less. The EU has been totally part of our lives since a Conservative government courageously took us in 37 years ago and we’ve got used to it

The idea of Britain joining the Euro has been side-lined and even when the Lisbon treaty was making all the headlines a couple of years ago the MORI figures were very low as can be seen from the chart.

So I always get amused when I see the Westminster village getting into such a state of excitement over it.

Of course Cameron like Brown/Blair and Major before him make compromises. That’s the nature of the beast but it’s not something that most voters really get worked up about.

Mike Smithson