Archive for the ' General Election' Category


David Herdson writes: Ed Miliband: my part in his downfall

Saturday, October 31st, 2015


Did I win the Conservatives the election?

A year ago today I received an unsolicited e-mail from an extremely senior Conservative election strategist, asking if I ever came to London as he’d be interested in picking my brains. Unsurprisingly, I said ‘Yes’.

The approach wasn’t completely out of the blue. A few months earlier, he was a speaker at the 2014 Yorkshire Regional conference and at the end of the session, I door-stepped him in order to hand him a short paper I’d put together on and idea I’d had for taking the fight to Labour, namely calculating the cost of all Labour’s additional spending commitments, dividing the result by the number of households in the country and labelling the result their Family Tax. Although the name wasn’t adopted (I still think it’s a good one), the idea did briefly see the light of day but a twenty-first century version of 1992’s tax bomb it wasn’t.

But that wasn’t why I’d been invited to London. Instead, we had a long, wide-ranging discussion that covered a lot of the political scene and ended with a plan for me to be more involved as the election approached. Unfortunately, I had to pull back on this when my wife was seriously injured in a car crash in December.

In the interim, however, he asked me about my thoughts on how I saw seat numbers going in Scotland. This was about two months after the referendum but only shortly after the SNP’s surge in the polls had become apparent (the SNP and Labour were still neck-and-neck in early October: only at the end of the month did they pull far clear). In retrospect it’s clear that what became the centrepiece of the 2015 Conservative strategic case was taking shape in the minds of those responsible for delivering it.

But polling is, as is frequently noted here, a snapshot not a projection. To get a projection you need to analysts which, I assume, is where I came in. I suggested that current polling figures suggested a seat split of SNP 43 MPs, Lab 11, Con 3 and LD 2, and while I (inaccurately) predicted a small swing back to Labour before the election, I reckoned on the SNP keeping a comfortable lead in both votes and seats. In the end, of course, it was much more than ‘comfortable’ but at the time, many commentators were still struggling with the idea that Labour could be shifted from their ‘natural fortress’ in any meaningful sense. After all, the SNP had been predicting Westminster breakthroughs for decades without making good.

What I believed – and said – was that this time was different. This time the SNP would not only break through but finish on top and consequently, Labour would be hit by big losses.

Probably Ed Miliband would still have finished up in the pockets of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon in street-side posters up and down the country whatever I’d written; a campaign and a strategy that almost certainly made the difference between an outright majority and another hung parliament. But who knows? Certainly not me. It would of course absurd vanity to believe I won the Conservatives their majority but just to play a small part in an election where CCHQ pitched their message and strategy close to perfectly was a privilege.

David Herdson


Corbyn’s LAB closes the gap once again in the October ComRes/Mail phone poll

Friday, October 30th, 2015

This may ease some jitters within the red team

After the GE2015 polling disaster ComRes was the first firm to announce radical changes in its weightings to deal with the apparent problem of the Conservatives being understated. The result is that its polls have broadly shown bigger CON leads than those from other firms. So today’s numbers will give the red team even more comfort.

Con 38% (-1)
Lab 33% (+3)
LD 8% (-1
UKIP 10% (-2)
Green 3% (-1)

The tax credits’ findings from the firm are not good for Mr. Osborne and show, I’d suggest, how he failed to make a substantive case when announcing them. The Tory position has not been helped by analysts suggesting that the impact on many families will not be alleviated that much by his new National Living Wage.

Mike Smithson


Farage and UKIP the big gainers in the October Ipsos phone poll

Monday, October 26th, 2015


How readers of the different national papers voted at GE2015

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

I love this chart which has just been produced by YouGov. It shows the splits of the readerships of the main national newspapers at the general election in May.

Overall there’s nothing that’s really surprising though, perhaps, the fact that the Guardian has far fewer Lib Dem than the the FT,Times or the Telegraph comes as something as a surprise. Back in May 2010 the Guardian controversially endorsed Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems and then spent the next five years bitching about the party.

When I tweeted this earlier someone responded saying that they would love to meet a Guardian reader who actually voted UKIP. I certainly have not met one.

The Daily Express has been such an enthusiastic supporter for Nigel Farage and his party that I wonder if the purple team are a tad disappointed that they didn’t get a greater proportion of support.

Given the numbers of UKIP supporters who post on the Telegraph’s I’d have expected to see a much bigger segment for the purples.

Mike Smithson


Antifrank: How the Conservatives will lose their hegemony

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Con Majority

In 1897, the British Empire was at its zenith.  “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was a literal truth.  It was the world’s dominant military power and gloried in its success as leader of the industrial revolution.  Its puissance seemed unchallengeable.  It was against that background that Rudyard Kipling composed a poem for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.  This is its penultimate verse:

“If, drunk with sight of power, we loose,

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!”

The Conservatives would do well to reflect on Kipling’s warning.  Never has a political hegemony been founded on such a small majority and such a small share of the votes at a general election.  The Conservatives secured that small majority and vote share by drawing reluctant Lib Dem and UKIP supporters in England and Wales to their ranks to prevent an unpopular Labour leader taking office with the doubtful support of an alien SNP.  As mandates go, it looks highly contingent.

To their credit the two most considerable politicians in Westminster today, David Cameron and George Osborne, seem to understand this.  Far from taking advantage of Labour’s introspection to push through a hard right agenda, both have sought to cement their relationship with this loaned support by talking the language of the centre ground, even to the point of leaning over the fence to steal centre-left policies going begging since the Lib Dems were obliterated and Labour vacated the field.

This will not be enough by itself.  The Conservatives are confronted by two unavoidable challenges in this Parliament that would test any government and are haunted by the spectre of two more that could yet drag this government down.  By the end of this Parliament, the Conservatives can expect to be suffering the intimations of mortality that afflict every decade-old government.

First, the two unavoidable challenges.

EU referendum

Right now the EU referendum is getting a lot of airtime.  It would be lovely if this would subside until we actually had a proposition to vote on but that’s not going to happen.  The Leavers (all fifteen separate camps) are already reeling through their killer facts and the Remnants have launched their campaign with all the aplomb of a newborn fawn on ice but with none of the cuteness.  They are going to be shouting progressively louder at each other for the 18 months or so.  It is unlikely by the end of the process that the two sides are going to be on speaking terms and not just because they will be hoarse.  As is widely understood, the faultline runs straight through the middle of the Conservative party.  Following the referendum they are going to have to try to put themselves together again.

David Cameron is usually very capable at handling problems that he has spotted and this problem has been obvious to anyone with a political pulse for a couple of years.  I anticipate that he will secure a modest (but not embarrassingly modest) set of concessions for Britain from the rest of the EU and that he will then advocate a Remain vote with measured enthusiasm.  In the event that the public votes to Remain with equal measured enthusiasm, he will then seek to pour balm on the disappointed.  It’s hard to see the dedicated Leavers finding any consolation in this or any enthusiasm for the government afterwards.

Curiously, the Conservative party may be more easily able to come together if there is a vote to Leave.  They would do so without their current leader, however, who could not credibly negotiate exit terms and would not wish to.  The political landscape would change irrevocably.  The contours of the new terrain are too distant to work out but an enduring Conservative hegemony in such circumstances seems most unlikely.


Much less public attention has been given to the impact of impending cuts.  This is a major mistake: the impact of the cuts may well prove as least as important to the politics of this Parliament as the EU referendum.

The government is looking to eliminate the rest of the deficit over the course of this Parliament predominantly by means of cuts (although it is using some imaginative techniques to persuade the public to give it money upfront, such as offering attractive terms for converting lump sums into state pension).  It is calculating that the pain from these new cuts will be borne as stoically by its supporters as those in the last Parliament – or that the cuts will not be borne by its supporters at all.

This is a very dangerous gambit.  The public do not always support cuts over tax rises.  They do so for exactly as long as they are less affected by cuts than they fear that they would be by tax rises.  To date the cuts have fallen predominantly on the uncomplaining poor or on niche groups without an effective voice.  These were hardly easy cuts and now the hard work begins.  There will be blood.

As a result, cuts are quite likely to be considerably less popular in this Parliament than they were in the last Parliament.  That unpopularity will knock the Conservatives and give succour to Labour’s intensifying anti-austerity message.  The battle of ideas over the appropriate level of public spending is far from won.

These two challenges are tough enough, but there is a distinct likelihood of two more.

Scottish independence referendum

Marx noted that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  Despite the Scottish independence referendum being billed as a once in a generation event, the chances of an early opportunity to reprise all the arguments for and against during the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament look promising.  I am sure that you can hardly wait.  Those discussions on the price of oil, Scotland’s accession to the EU and the sterling zone will not conduct themselves.

Nicola Sturgeon may yet pull her troops back from the brink or the SNP may yet fail to secure an absolute majority in Holyrood.  But the SNP may find the lure of a fresh referendum campaign irresistible.  If so, the government is again likely to get bogged down for months or years.  The chances of a Yes vote this time must be appreciably higher, and a Yes vote would lead to incomparably greater seismic waves through the political system.  Again, the contours of  politics in the rest of the UK after Scotland had voted for independence are impossible to work out at this distance, but again an enduring Conservative hegemony, at least as the Conservatives are currently constituted, seems most unlikely.


The least talked-about threat to the Conservative hegemony is one that is certain to come sooner or later: an economic downturn.  Maybe we will get one as soon as next year if the Chinese slowdown causes the rest of the world to catch a cold.  Maybe a recession will be created from a slow puncture of the property bubble we’re currently living in.  Maybe the economy will tank for a reason that is at present unforeseeable.  Sooner or later, it will happen: boom and bust has not been abolished.

When it comes, as one day it will, the government’s popularity will inevitably wane.  Economists and commentators will pore over past government decisions and conclude that some at least of them were ill-judged (as of course some of them will have been – no government can hope to be anything close to perfect).  The opposition will pounce on these and the government will be on the back foot.  The financial services institutions, never popular, will become public whipping boys.  The Conservatives, being closely associated with those institutions, will be dragged down by that association.  The public may decide to stick with the party of experience or they may decide that it is time to take a risk on an untried alternative.  Either way, the Conservatives will be in a struggle, not sailing effortlessly above the heads of the parties of opposition.


The Conservatives’ current hegemony is not produced from their own innate strength but from the extraordinary weakness of their opponents, who are scattered, quarrelling and divided.  The Conservatives are facing multiple trials of strength.  Each of these would be a struggle for a party with a much larger majority and with much stronger latent popular support.  They are led capably and could hope to survive one or two challenges.  The sheer number of ferocious challenges that they are facing, however, makes it almost inevitable that their current dominance is a strictly temporary phase.  The challenge may come from Labour, from UKIP or from some new grouping, but a challenge will come from somewhere.  The lustre will start coming off sooner than almost anyone is predicting.
Antifrank has been contributing to PB for many years and is one of the regular guest columnists


Corbyn’s LAB gets to within 4% with ICM equalling the party’s best since the general election

Monday, October 12th, 2015

This could calm the nerves of those worried about the new leader

As the above panel shows there have been precious few voting polls since the general election. Many of the pollsters and those who commissioned them have cut back on their efforts pending the review a what went wrong on May 7th.

But some have carried on notably the major phone poles of ICM, Ipsos, and ComRes. There is, of course, no YouGov daily poll which was the focus of so much attention in the 4½ years leading to the last general election.

The worst fears of many within LAB was that the election of Corbyn could have caused it problems. Maybe that will happen but so far there is nothing to suggest that the party is being perceived much differently from what it was before he became leader.

The October surveys are generally regarded as being important indicators because they are the tests of opinion following the end of the conference season.

Mike Smithson


Almost all of LAB’s current problems stem from eight years ago today when Gordon Brown recorded this interview

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

The day an autumn 2007 vote was bottled

Eight years today an event took place from which, I’d argue, all Labour’s trouble stem – the decision by the then PM to call off what were very advanced plans to have an early general election.

Everything had been geared up for this to be called in the days after the Tory conference. Even a fleet of limousines to carry ministers about on had been booked and paid for.

Three months earlier Gordon had taken over as leader in an uncontested election and the polls turned from regular CON leads to regular LAB ones. By the end of September Ipsos-MORI recorded a 13% LAB margin and the talk was not whether Gordon would go to the country but of the red team securing a landslide.

Throughout September the new Brown government had been making a policy announcement a day, committing billions of pounds, in the build up to what was widely expected to be an early election. Even the manifesto was at an advanced stage.

    The big question was not whether there would be an early election but when it would be called.

As Labour’s poll ratings remained buoyant all the pressure was on Cameron who’d been almost totally blanked out of the news for months. Was this going to be the moment when his then short-lived leadership would come to an end? Everything rested on maximising the opportunity presented by the guaranteed coverage they’d get for their conference.

Cameron made what until today was his best conference speech and Osborne announced a big easing of IHT which went down very well with the media. Labour’s poll lead began to slip and by the Saturday Gordon had decided to end the speculation.

The above is the famous interview he recorded with Andrew Marr on October 7th 2007. His claims that there had been no change of mind because of the polls seemed totally implausible. Labour, and Brown personally, never recovered.

Mike Smithson


Extraordinary. The union boss who thinks that losing the election was a price worth paying to get Corbyn

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn

Trying to understand what’s happened to the Labour movement

I was completely knocked out by the above Tweet posted last night about comments made by a union boss at the big meeting in Manchester at which Mr Corbyn was speaking at.

The message is that to members of the Corbyn cult politics is not about striving to gain power but about controlling the party and the Labour movement in general.

So the fact that the Conservatives are in government with a majority and are likely to enact things that will impact negatively on the movement is irelevant. The likelihood that the blue team, given the polling response to Mr Corbyn, is heading for another majority victory in 2020 is seen as a price worth paying.

This is about the party and the wider movement not who runs the country.

For someone like myself who looks at politics as being about winning power this seems totally and utterly incomprehensible.

Apparently it doesn’t matter to them what the Tories will do in perhaps 10 years of office. What really concerns them is that they will be running the party and will be able to change it in a manner which suits them.

The insularity is staggering.

Mike Smithson