Archive for the ' General Election' Category


A guest slot by Lucian on the Northern Ireland dimension – the re-emergence of the UUP

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

BBC News Northern Ireland summary

Now the focus is on next year’s Assembly elections

There is little doubt that the UUP will regard the general election as a success. They had no seats, they now have two. Fermanagh and South Tyrone was won by Tom Elliott after a deal was struck with the DUP and other unionist parties. South Antrim was taken from the DUP’s William McCrea by Danny Kinahan.

So the party has removed the horror of not having anyone on the green benches, a year after making a small step forward in the council elections.

Attention now turns to next year’s Assembly elections. The UUP has 13 seats to the 38 held by the DUP. The UUP will want more, a lot more. They will be emboldened by the breakthrough in South Antrim and will probably be aiming to at least get back up to the 18 seats won in 2007. The DUP will be raising the spectre of a Sinn Fein First Minister to try and entrench their position as the dominant

There is no love lost between the DUP and the UUP. While it is the dream of some to unite Unionism, it seems unlikely at present given the public spat between David Simpson and Mike Nesbitt following the hard-fought campaign in Upper Bann. David Simpson has accused UUP supporters of ‘totally unacceptable’ behaviour, while Nesbitt has queried the validity of an opinion poll which suggested that voting for Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP risked letting Sinn Fein take the seat.

Despite the party having a spring in its step, it is highly unlikely that the UUP can make huge ground on the DUP in a year. The DUP has most of the well-known politicians, the media profile and incumbency factors in their favour. The UUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone has to find a new MLA to replace Tom Elliott in the shoo-in spot before even remotely tilting at a second. It is hard to see whether having a local MP will mean more than having well-known MLA candidates when the Assembly election comes around. The decision is an important one for the local Unionist Association to take amidst the celebration.

Assuming they remain the second Unionist party, after the election, they will have a big decision to make as to whether it takes its executive seat(s). There is no official opposition in Stormont. That’s obviously a weird situation. It’s also one that I suggest should change.

Mike Nesbitt has said before that it is a step to normalising politics in Northern Ireland. It would be a brave step to pull out of the executive, but it could be a huge step forward for the UUP in the long term. Formal Opposition offers voters an alternative. Nesbitt has stopped the rot. Can Opposition be a way to regain primacy in the province?

Lucian is a long standing contributor to PB discussions


As the post GE15 polling debate continues SPIN’s Aidan Nutbrown asks “Are Elections Random?”

Monday, May 18th, 2015

The outcome showed why punters should expect the unexpected

Albert Einstein famously said: “God doesn’t play dice”. He was wrong. Everything has a random element to it. I aim to board the 8.08 train each morning but sometimes for unforeseen reasons I miss it. And sometimes for unforeseen reasons it doesn’t appear. This uncertainty is precisely why betting is fun, and why bookies exist.

It is a given that sports events have large degrees of uncertainty to them. A horse can clip a fence and fall, a batsman can misjudge an awkward delivery or an underdog, with a dollop of good fortune can fell a goliath (note Leicester City’s 5-3 victory over Man Utd, September 2014 as just one example).

However there appears to be a widely held belief that Elections don’t follow this pattern – that they are entirely predictable. That with correct methodology expert pollsters should be able to tell us precisely how many seats each party will win. This is a false assumption. Even if their methodology is correct it supposes that nothing happens between the poll and the election itself. That people don’t change their minds, or decide not to vote. Polls are a great guide to the state of play at that moment in time – a snapshot – but as forecasts they are limited.

    One reason is that the media demand dumbed-down answers – headline numbers about exactly how many seats will be won, by whom. In fact forecasters should be providing probability distributions. If we understand that there’s a 10% chance of rain today why can’t we understand that there’s a 6% chance of a Tory majority?

At Sporting Index we like to use a football analogy to explain how the polls are our best guide as to how to calculate and align our forecasts. Polls are like having a dataset of matches that tell us to expect, on average, 2.7 goals in a Premier League match. But any forecast model needs to allow for the uncertainty that may follow. This uncertainty may take many forms – the weather affecting turnout, shy Tories, lazy left-wingers as recently uncovered by Prof LVW, Jungian crowd behaviour or a myriad of other factors we may not have even thought of yet. The levels of this uncertainty may reduce as the date of the election nears, or they may not – news might break that swings the public one way or the other. In short the probability distribution of our forecast has to account for a considerable degree of unpredictability. It has to be wider and flatter – in other words more disperse.

In football we frequently see 0-0 results, or as above (but more rarely) eight-goal bonanzas. Describing how to model football scores or seats distributions is beyond the scope of this post, but it is worth showing Sporting Index’s distribution models for Con & Lab seats that were created in March 2015 and that are aligned to the polls of the time, giving expected seats of Con 284 and Lab 262. By varying the degrees of uncertainty, the chances of Con getting most seats and a majority can be seen to change. In the first graph the chance of a majority is 0%, in the second it is about 10% and clearly describes a far more complex situation than the former, which is much more akin to the straightforward “forecasts” we were provided with in the media in the run up to May 7th.


By allowing elections randomness, and crucially by describing the possible outcomes as a range of chances, it is perfectly feasible that the pollsters in the final days were in fact not necessarily wrong. Rather that they provided an expectation and the actual outcome based on this expectation was improbable but not impossible – much like Leicester City beating Man Utd in an eight-goal thriller.

One thing that the 2015 Election forecasters did get wrong though was to tell us that there was 0% chance of a majority. This bold statement was due to insufficient modelling and a failure to respect the market view, in which a Tory majority was trading at around the 5-10% mark for much of April and May.

Another pointer to this underlying randomness is the relative success of the Exit Poll. Yes it has a much bigger basis, but the clue really is in the name. The Exit Poll is after the fact. The turnout ratios are perfect. There is no time left for uncertainty. The only variation from the result emanates from the limitations in the numbers and locations sampled and having to extrapolate nationwide.

There is another big live televised event that many view as predictable and not subject to uncertainty, and the 2015 running is only days away. It is Eurovision. Like an Election it follows a basic predictable framework – that the Balkan states will vote for their friends and that the UK will do atrociously as we don’t ‘get’ Eurovision. But that view is limited and doesn’t allow any room for chance to play its part. The UK can win it – note Katrina & The Waves in 1997 – and for three years in a row from 2001 to 2003 the winners were 20-1 underdogs!

We should learn to embrace the chaos and expect the unexpected. After all this is why it is fun to bet.

Aidan Nutbrown is Sporting Index’s political trading supremo


Labour should not be too pessimistic about their chances of taking power in 2020

Sunday, May 17th, 2015


The Conservative Party will be fighting the next general election without their strongest asset, David Cameron.

There’s some pessimism from Labour supporters about their chances at the next election.

For example, Jon Cruddas in today’s Observer says “this could be the greatest crisis the Labour party has ever faced” whilst some are suggesting, that Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and someone who has been an MP for a little over week, is the man to save Labour, though it was Tears for Keir’s fans as he ruled out running this morning.

Stephen Bush at the New Statesman pointed out Labour need a  near 13% lead in the popular vote to obtain a majority.

As the run up to the last election showed, Labour doesn’t need to win neither the popular vote nor the most seats (or anywhere near the most seats) to form the next Government, so long as the Lab/SNP/PC/SDLP/Green/Lib Dem bloc is greater than the Con/DUP/UUP bloc then Labour forms the government in May 2020, as I expect a Farron led Lib Dem party will not be keen to prop a Tory led government.

It is widely accepted that the Tories won in large part, though not exclusivity due to their advantages over Labour on the leadership and economic front, it is entirely possible those advantages will be negated in 2020.

On the first point, David Cameron will not be contesting the 2020 election, so that advantage might be gone, the next Tory leader, needs to have the potential to have a similar performance in the leader ratings, so someone who has authority, and is seen as credible, so this is probably bad news for Boris Johnson and good news for George Osborne.

All those Lib Dems seated the Tories gained on May the 7th, could be at risk, apart from Ken Clarke, I can’t see any Tory politician appealing to those Lib Dem defectors the way Cameron does.

It may well be that the Tory economic advantage will also have evaporated then, especially if the economy is performing sub optimally, and Labour have repudiated their economic past as some leadership contenders have begun to do so.

The excellent spreadsheet by AndyJS shows that Labour only needs a 0.44% swing from the Tories at the next election to deprive the Tories of their majority and a 4% swing to get around 30 gains from the Tories, a position that makes a Con/UUP/DUP alliance infeasible against a Rainbow Coalition.

They say a week is a long time in politics, heavens knows what 258 weeks or so until the next election is.



GE2015: The Inquest. A special podcast in collaboration with Polling Matters

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

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One of the great developments of the campaign has been the appearance of many new online resources for analysis and discussion. One of these has been the excellent Polling Matters created by Keiran Pedley of pollster GFK.

This afternoon, in collaboration with Polling Matters, we have a special podcast featuring some of the key players.

Keiran spent the last week speaking to several leading experts in the polling industry including Professor John Curtice, Lord Foulkes, Damian Lyons Lowe of Survation, Anthony Wells of YouGov, Matt Singh and Rob Vance. This podcast is a compilation of these interviews and is well worth a listen for those interested in what happened and where the polling industry goes from here in future.

Keiran tweets about politics and public opinion polling at @keiranpedley

Mike Smithson


David Herdson looks at the LDs following the GE15 outcome

Saturday, May 16th, 2015


This was the biggest disaster in nearly a century?

The Lib Dems and their predecessors have been through some bad times over the years but what faces them now is their worst crisis in nearly a century. It is worse than the splits over Ireland under Gladstone that ended their pre-eminent position in the country; it is worse than the division between Asquith and Lloyd George, which ended them as a party of government; it is worse than the post-merger slump which saw them finish fourth in the 1989 European elections and reduce them to just a few points in the polls. Only the splintering of their party on the formation of the National government in 1931 was a disaster of similar scale and that took forty years to recover from, during which time they came close to extinction.

A quick recap of the Lib Dems’ current position reveals just how big a task the new leader faces:
– They have lost council seats at each of the last seven rounds of May elections, haemorrhaging more than two thousand councillors in that period.
– For every one Lib Dem MP, there are seven from the SNP.
– For every one Lib Dem MSP, there are three Conservatives.
– They have only one MEP; the Greens have three.
– They lost their deposit in more than half the seats in the 2015 General Election and finished outside the top three in the popular vote for the first time ever.
– They lie only fifth when ranked by membership, behind the SNP and Greens, though ahead of UKIP.

It is a brutally weak base, not just because of the small number of elected members but because there are now so many other established challengers seeking to take their place (something that was not the case the last time they had so few MPs).

One significant problem will be getting airtime. When he was Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg could rely on being seen and read about, as could his senior lieutenants in the cabinet. Not now. I would be very surprised if Ofcom is not reviewing the Lib Dems’ major party status in the light of their performance in the ballot box. Panel discussions will likely either be Con/Lab or will include the other second-rank parties. Either way, their voice is diminished.

And therein lies the biggest part of the problem: the voice itself. What exactly do the Lib Dems stand for? It is simply not enough to be ‘not the Tories’ or ‘not Labour’. Appealing for tactical votes is fine when you’re a comfortable second and seemingly inoffensive but nigh-on impossible when you’re fourth or fifth, which the Lib Dems are in a lot of seats (and not only non-target ones either: the Lib Dem finished fourth in Camborne & Redruth, which they held in its previous form from 2005-10 and lost by only 66 votes in 2010). Being a ‘moderating influence’ is all very well but it’s not the sort of battle-cry to inspire the troops or recruit new ones. In any case, voters unhappy with the Tories and Labour seem far happier looking for the opposite of a moderating influence: to the left of Labour with the SNP and Greens, or the right of the Tories with UKIP (yes, it’s more complex than that but not greatly so).

So if being the reasonable voice of the centre won’t cut it for the Lib Dems, what will? There is of course always the well-trodden path of local activism and that no doubt has its part to play but only where the party already has an established base and that has its limits, particularly with the boundary review likely to shake up the map. To my mind, the Lib Dems have, or could have, two genuinely distinctive messages that no other party is selling. One is being unashamedly pro-EU. That will matter in the next three years and could be the ticket back into the heart of the action. It’s true that they did play that card in 2014 and it flopped badly but a referendum may be a different matter. The second, however, is the stronger, and is to return to a more classical liberalism: for individual freedom and against state encroachment, whether economic, social or in excessive policing powers. Some would argue that no other party is selling either message because neither is popular and there’s something in that – but unpopular doesn’t mean there’s no support and the alternative is to contest other policy ground where other stronger parties are already encamped.

What is clear is that Tim Farron, Norman Lamb or whoever cannot simply resurrect the old model for success: the world has changed too much, as has the party. What is also clear – or at least likely – is that they’ll only get one shot at recovery. One disaster can be written off as exceptional; two could well be terminal.

David Herdson

p.s. A quick word about the Tories. One thing we do know about this parliament is that there’ll be a Tory leadership election. It will come at one of three points: either a revolt against Cameron if the parliamentary party believes he has failed in the EU negotiations but where the PM still intends to back ‘in’, following a defeat in the EU referendum, or in the final six months of the parliament as Cameron voluntarily hands over power. My expectation is for the final scenario. I believe the EU is ready to do a deal sufficient to keep Britain in: this is not about renegotiating fish prices but the very future of the entire Union and that will concentrate minds.

If so, the next Tory leader is probably not even in the cabinet yet, nor will it be Boris. Boris was the candidate for 2015, up against a Miliband premiership. 2020 will be a different election from that scenario, not least because the Tories will be going into it in power. The Conservatives also have a habit of picking leaders not obviously identifiable from four years out (often not so 18 months out). At this stage – and probably for the next two years – the best option is probably to lay all the leading runners.


The GE2020 challenge for LAB: Unless its Scottish losses can be reversed it needs a 12% lead for a majority

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Within a few weeks of each general election Professor John Curtice and other leading psephologists start producing the numbers that will shape the next general election.

The first one is in the Mail piece – what LAB would need to do to secure a majority next time.

Before last week’s election Curtice had said that the Tories would require a 7% lead for a majority depending on how well they performed against the Lib Dems. As it was they did far better on that last measure than just about anybody predicted and the Cameron was able to secure a majority with a GB lead on votes of 6.7%.

    It is a combination of the near wipe-out of the Lib Dems in blue facing seats in England and Wales and the developments in Scotland that make Labour’s challenge look so daunting.

This is the context in which Labour’s search for a new leader is taking place. Essentially Miliband’s successor needs the electoral magic that only Tony Blair has ever had in the entire history of the party.

Mike Smithson


The real answer to the “shy Tories” phenomenon is Boris

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

In 2012 many more said they’d vote for him than actually did

A lot has been written in the past week about so-called “shy Tories” who are reluctant to tell pollsters on the phone or when they complete online questionnaires that they’ll support the blues.

Yet look at what happened in 2012 when Boris was re-elected as mayor of London – the opposite happened. Every single pollsters had Boris lead at a level bigger than it was.

Of the firms featuring in the chart only one used the phone at that election – Populus- and it came out worst of all.

Mike Smithson


Marf on six days after

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

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