Henry G Manson on where LAB stands post confernence and his views on the leadership

September 26th, 2014

“A couple of days ago, after Andy Burnham’s LAB conference speech I emailed Henry to get his views on whether Burnham could replace EdM before GE2015. This is his response” – Mike Smithson

Hi Mike, there’s a few questions to address before we get to whether Andy Burnham will replace Ed Miliband before the election. First of all when would Ed go? It would have to be in the next month or not at all. The new leader really needs 6 months at least to get known, take control and help voters get to know them. I doubt the Labour Party would have a coronation. The threshold for the number of MPs required to be nominated has risen to 15% (currently 39 Labour MPs) which would make it harder for the troublesome hard left to oppose. It would require almost all strands of the party to agree.

Unions now have far less of a say but a number of their changes are yet to be implemented, however as important affiliates and large funders for any general election campaign they would need to be sympathetic. The union leaders would be open to any proposals that would help Labour win the general election right now. They were never in love with Ed Miliband but saw his candidacy as representing a important break with New Labour. Despite Burnham’s popularity with the party membership grassroots there’s no guarantee that if Ed went Burnham would automatically take over.

The process of Gordon Brown’s ‘coronation’ was not viewed as a particularly positive or successful experience and there would be others that fancy their chances. While Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves are top of the pile of the next generation and may already be preparing for what would happen if the election is lost, they may find it difficult to sit it out if there was an earlier vacancy. Yvette Cooper would also be an obvious contender and if she ever had any desire to be leader then now would be the time. And here lies the issue – there’s no shortage of people who think they could do a better job and have sufficient support to form the basis of a future leadership campaign. But would any of them put this aside for the good of their party’s prospects in 2015 as David Davis did when allowing Michael Howard a free run? I’m not so sure it would be the case.

Some potential leadership candidates give the impression of being more interested in being well positioned to pounce in defeat rather than doing whatever it takes to ensure victory next year. One fancied leadership candidate has already taken to donating sizeable cheques to parliamentary candidates in winnable seats rather than donate directly to the party, which could be seen as an unspoken attempt to purchase future political loyalty and support with MPs.

There are also noble reasons for being so cautious – personal loyalty to the man who they owe their position and promotions to, fear of a divided party and general uncertainty about whether the risk is worth it. And many politicians and people loathe uncertainty. The film Withnail and I captured the pain of decision-making when rapid judgments are often required with a slowly deteriorating situation. “If you’re hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision — let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?”

    For as a long as Labour leads the Conservative Party in the polls, it will be hard for anyone to make a move and justify it to colleagues and constituents. However the sense of worry and foreboding is growing.

The way that poll leads shifted so quickly in Scotland has rightly reminded people that public opinion is not set in stone. The weight of sustained attacks on the SNP from business and newspapers in the last weeks of the referendum campaign would be amplified against Labour. The party conference was flat and nervous not bristling with electricity and determination as was the case in the run up to 1997. A lot of Ed Miliband’s supporters are privately disappointed with how the speech has worked out for their man. However activists are always aware of their respective leaders’ shortcomings – they hear all the time what people think. However it would probably take the Conservatives having sustained poll leads and a shock defeat in the Heywood and Middleton by-election for any concerns to turn into panic and create the climate where a leader steps down.

By my reckoning I now think that there is only a 10% chance Ed Miliband will be replaced before the general election. If that happened then there’s about a 60% chance of ‘coronation’ and then a further 60% chance Andy Burnham would be the candidate people unite around. If there’s a leadership contest following Ed’s departure prior to May 2015, I think there’s a 70% chance Andy would win it. But all that leaves with about a 6% chance Andy would be leader at the election and a 90% chance Ed Miliband will be. By historic standards Labour is united.

The plotting isn’t there but planning for what should follow in the event of an election defeat is. This week’s Labour conference was the penny dropping for many in the party, that for all the Tories ‘ problems and the unpopularity of their policies, Labour may still lose a general election some had mistakenly thought would fall in their lap.

Henry G Manson


Local By-Election Preview: September 25th 2014

September 25th, 2014

Epping, Hemnal on Epping Forest (Conservative Defence)

Result of last election to council (2014): Conservatives 37, Residents 12, Liberal Democrats 3, United Kingdom Independence Party 2, Independents 2, Greens 1, Labour 1 (Conservative majority of 16)

Result of last election in ward (2011): Conservative 951 (42%), Liberal Democrats 821 (36%), Labour 231 (10%), UKIP 185 (8%), Green 83 (4%)

Candidates duly nominated: Kim Adams (Lib Dem), Nigel Avey (Con), Andrew Smith (UKIP), Anna Widdup (Green)

By-elections held during the conference season can always been very tricky affairs. Who can forget that classic by-election moment in October 1990 when Lady Thatcher poked fun at the new Liberal Democrat logo comparing it to Monty Python’s “This is an ex parrot” only for said parrot to bite the Conservatives in the proverbials when the Lib Dems gained Eastbourne on a 20% swing and the same is true of local by-elections although whether Labour will have anything to cheer about after Ed Milliband’s speech on Tuesday remains to be seen.

In fact, as the UKIP conference starts in Doncaster tomorrow maybe it will be Nigel Farage who gives his leader’s speech and is able to announce not one but two new UKIP councillors to add to the fold. After all, Epping Forest should be prime UKIP territory. It’s in Essex, the seat being defended is a Con / Lib Dem battleground (and we all know what has happened to the Lib Dems against UKIP since 2013) and perhaps more importantly than that, they won the council area at the Euros by 9%

Lovelace on Guildford (Conservative Defence)

Result of last election to council (2011): Conservatives 34, Liberal Democrats 12, Labour 2 (Conservative majority of 20)

Result of last election in ward (2011): Conservative 648 (71%), Labour 134 (15%), Liberal Democrats 131 (14%)

Candidates duly nominated: Colin Cross (Lib Dem), Den Paton (Con), David Sheppard (UKIP), Robin Woof (Lab)

And Guildford could produce the double as it also fits the prime UKIP requirements with the addition of a virtual one party state council and a one party state ward. However, there could be a slight complication to UKIP in Guildford and that is the fact that UKIP did NOT win the council area in the Euros.

There was a 6% swing to UKIP in Guildford, yes, but that was a full 3% below the South Eastern average (9% to UKIP) so does this mean that Guildford is immune to the charms of UKIP? Not entirely, but it does raise the prospect of UKIP having the potential if not to gain this ward, then certainly make it plausible for the Conservatives to lose the ward.

Frome North on Somerset (Lib Dem Defence)

Result of last election to council (2013): Conservatives 28, Liberal Democrats 19, Labour 3, United Kingdom Independence Party 3, Independents 2 (Conservative majority of 1)

Result of last election in ward (2013): Liberal Democrat 1,047 (37%), Conservative 1,002 (36%), UKIP 445 (16%), Labour 302 (11%)

Candidates duly nominated: Adrian Dobinson (Ind), Damon Hooton (Lib Dem), Linda Oliver (Con), Catherine Richardson (Lab), Les Spalding (Green)

Which makes Frome completely out there. Here is a ward where UKIP polled 16% of the vote in, across a county where in the Euros they topped the poll in four of the five districts (polling 34% of the vote) and yet they could not find a candidate to stand in the by-election? If Nigel Farage wants people to take UKIP as a serious political party, then this is something they need to address very quickly indeed.

With some polls putting UKIP support as high as 20% at Westminster, he needs to remember that you only get UKIP votes when there is a UKIP candidate. No UKIP candidate means no UKIP votes and as a result, this battleground could very easily stay with the Lib Dems or flip to the Conservatives.

Harry Hayfield


UKIP claims two more Tories ready to defect: Party secretary says MPs will unveiled within days

September 25th, 2014

Today reports emerged that

Senior UKIP figures are claiming two more Tory MPs are ‘in the bag’ and will be unveiled as defectors within days.

To the alarm of Conservative HQ, Ukip party secretary Matthew Richardson has boasted privately that two turncoats have agreed to switch parties, according to two separate sources. 

Mr Richardson has told colleagues an announcement could be made as early as Ukip’s conference, which opens today in Doncaster.

I have a personal rule, that defections are usually surprises, and the ones that are announced/expected in advance generally don’t happen, usually when they happen it is unexpected, just like when Douglas Carswell defected.

In my opinion, the honourable and principled precedent that Douglas Carswell has set, by triggering a by-election to obtain a new mandate from the electorate, something that other defectors might not wish to replicate, particularly if they have a small majority.

However, if UKIP wanted to really damage the Tories and David Cameron in particular, what better way that announce defections just prior to the Tory conference, or even during the conference, so I do think something a defection is likely.

The bookies have a few markets up on this, How Many Conservative MPs Will Defect To UKIP Before General Election and Next Tory MP To Defect To UKIP

I’ve had a nibble on two or more MPs to defect and Philip Hollobone to defect, at 2/1 and 7/1 respectively.




Corporeal on constitutional reform

September 25th, 2014

If there’s a consistent tradition in British constitutional reform, it’s a philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (and usually to make the fix a patch up of the specific problem, or what Toby Fenwick dubbed an ‘inelegant fudge’). If you wanted to squeeze it into a metaphor (always fun) then it is a long-standing mansion. Ancient in parts, with extensions and alterations added through the years.

Bits have been built, rebuilt, done up knocked down, expanded, downsized, redecorated and re-purposed as the needs of the inhabitants have changed. But the traces of history are plain to see, and how some things are only makes sense if you realise where they came from. A group of Americans may have gone from a blank sheet of parchment to blueprint of government within months (which has of course been revised since), but perhaps modern politicians might envy them the clarity of their starting point.

Reform has usually been a response to a crisis rather than the result of a peacetime re-evaluation of theoretical principles. One of the problems of the Yes to AV campaign was that it was a solution that didn’t have a problem that was really resonating on any great level. Elections to the House of Lords show generally positive polling but there isn’t exactly a clamour for it to be on the immediate agenda (it’ll be interesting to see if what might well be an even more disproportionate result in GE2015 will change that at all).

I tentatively subtitled this post the obligatory devolution thread (since everyone else has one, and got quite attached to “Devolution – keeping up with the McJoneses”), we might actually have a constitutional crisis in a deeper sense than dramatic headlines. Calls of English votes for English laws are starting to rumble in the shires (in the interest of full disclosure this is a wild bit of figurative language to refer to England rather than a study of regional sub-samples). This is not primarily driven by a principle of whether MPs should vote on things that don’t directly affect their constituency, which falls apart (or rather spreads to the horizon) as soon as you open it up. It’s an inevitable result of the current electoral system of small FPTP constituencies. Inner-city MPs vote on rural policy, MPs that represent constituencies many miles from the sea have their voice heard on coastal matters. Such is the way of things.

The force behind the West Lothian question is not that political principle, but a sense of injustice and inequality. After being subjected to a loud debate on the need for more powers for Scotland (with a much quieter bit of background music about Wales) there is a feeling of a left behind and overlooked England, similar to the feelings that drove devolution in the first place.

The traditional strategy has been to fix each problem as it comes or, if you feel more charitable, to tailor the solution to those it will affect. What is the point, after all, of looking to empower people through devolution if they oppose the form it takes. So the various parts of the UK have had power devolved in different ways and at different paces. This is true in terms of Wales and Scotland, but also London and the areas that voted yes to directly elected mayors. Cornwall has attempted to tunnel upwards to devolution via a unified Cornwall Council. Northern Ireland operates almost in its own context. But with each tailored solution you increase the uneven and untidy nature of the overall picture.

The planned Labour solution to the growing disparity was regional assemblies across England, resulting in some at least vaguely uniform sized set-ups alongside the Celtic Nations. A heavy defeat in the North East referendum stopped that plan in its tracks, alongside plans for two further referendums. One wonders what would’ve happened if a successful referendum in another region had happened first, would things have turned out the same or like elected mayors would we have had some regions claiming devolutionary power while others rejecting it?

What this would have given us is an extension of what Westminster now is which is a sort of government of the gaps, a polyfilla parliament filling in the unevenly shaped places between the powers that have departed to Brussels, Edinburgh, etc (although that image probably understates Westminster’s level of power somewhat).

For that matter was the North East defeat an opposition to devolution altogether, regional devolution itself, or just the particular form that the assembly was proposed to take. Referendum results always come in such a vaguely specific form that they leave a lot of gaps to interpret them.

Is the rejection of one region sufficient to kill the entire scheme for a generation? Will we hold other schemes to the same standard?

That leaves space for the resurrection of regional assemblies which has been floated in some quarters, a solution that prizes tidiness over tailoring, and political preferences over popular will (well, maybe, depending how you interpret those results).

On a grander scale an English parliament to sit alongside the other national bodies has some apparent symmetry to it. But the sheer size and dominance of England within the UK creates the potential for other conflicts. With significant issues devolved an English parliament would rise to be a competitor to the UK parliament, and have a potentially destabilising dominance over what remains of the Union.

Is more politicians something you can sell to the public, the infographics of “this could pay for…” pretty much write themselves. Abolish the Lords, reduce the number of MPs (that’ll be a fun vote), could we be ready for the Great Constitutional Convention (fulfilling the dreams of wonks) called for by Miliband and Clegg (after the election of course) and once and for all (until something else crops up) line up a clear vision of government in Britain from parish hall to palace of Westminster.

Or we could, you know, work through a few options to restrict voting rights at various stages of a bill in the House of Commons, overlook having various different classes of MPs (and depending on how hard or soft you want to make the restrictions this could lead to a lesser version of the conflicts an English parliament would have, alongside the technical decisions of what each could vote on, and who makes those decisions). Tweak your way around problems as they come.

This is because ultimately the importance to people is not the technicalities of comparative devolution, it is once more a matter of identity politics combined with a feeling of unfairness and a sense that something must be done. The force of there being a problem is there, now politicians will try to ride that into their something being its outlet.

So, anyone for fudge?



LAB’s strategy in Heywood and Middleton is blindingly obvious: Talk up UKIP threat to get tactical anti-UKIP votes

September 25th, 2014

And you know what? They’ll probably succeed

Suddenly the Heywood and Middleton by-election two weeks from today is not looking like the foregone conclusion that it appeared when the vacancy was created following the death of the popular MP Jim Dobbin.

In the past couple of days there have been are a wave of stories about the possibility of UKIP taking the hitherto rock solid LAB seat. This is from last night’s Manchester Evening News:-

“Labour figures are now genuinely worried Ukip could win the Heywood and Middleton by-election a fortnight tomorrow, we understand.

The anti-EU party has already promised to give them a shock on October 9 – but Labour insiders now fear Ukip could actually take it….. they were worried at how close their main rivals could come, but several told the M.E.N there is a real possibility they could actually lose to Mr Bickley. One said the pro-Ukip sentiment on the doorstep is palpable and that some colleagues are ‘terrified’ they could lose.

Certainly the high BNP share there in 2010 together with recent good local elections performances for UKIP are very positive indicators for Farage’s party.

For me the interesting thing is that it is LAB that is now raising the expectations about UKIP and an indication how Miliband’s party will deal with the Farage threat at GE2015.

The first audience for this is the party itself. They need to get activists engaged. But there’s a second audience – the 23% who voted LD there at GE2010 and the 27% who voted Tory. The LAB strategy seems to be designed to attract anti-UKIP tactical votes.

For as Ipsos-MORI reported earlier in the week Farage’s party is seen as the one that’s least liked and is most disliked.

    What better way could there be of defending the seat than by galvanising anti-kippers of all colours to impede the “purple peril” than by suggesting that it could win?

Both Bet365 and Ladbrokes make LAB a 2/9 shot.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


The limits of private polling

September 24th, 2014

Both had private polling showing they were going to win.

For we followers and obsessives of opinion polls, there are two words that grab our attention like no others, those two words are “private polling”, there’s some belief that “private polling” is much more sophisticated and accurate, than the normal public polling, but is it?

Mitt Romney’s internal polling in 2012, showed him believing he was on course to win the Presidency, and today The Daily Record reported

Alex Salmond was convinced he was on course for a historic referendum win right until the votes were counted. Private polling by a firm of election experts had the First Minister believing he would pull off a shock victory.

The nationalists had employed Canadian voter contact specialists First Contact to conduct secret opinion polling. And an analysis of their findings by two leading academics in New York said the Yes campaign would win by 54 per cent to 46. The SNP were widely thought to have the most sophisticated data-modelling system in the UK before the vote……And First Contact were so confident of the result they revealed their 54 per cent Yes prediction to the Canadian press before the votes were counted.

So the next time you read or hear that a party or candidate’s private polling has them leading, particularly when public polling has them trailing, remember that Salmond and Romney thought they were on course to win, according their own internal polling.



Marf on Ed Miliband’s speech

September 24th, 2014


First polling on EdM’s policy plans get quite good public support

September 24th, 2014

Survation have conducted an instant reaction poll on Ed Miliband’s speech.

Note, on the tabs, I’ve condensed the questions asked down to a brief outline of the policy for formatting reasons, the actual questions asked by survation are more comprehensive.

As we can see, all of the major policy announcements enjoy either majority or plurality support, so Ed will be delighted, especially if it leads to an increase in Labour’s share of the vote in the voting intention polls. However, like budget polling, conference announcements polling boosts can be short term, for example last year, there was an increase in support for Labour following the popular energy policy announcement, but within a few months, we were back to where we were before the conferences.

I do wonder, however if this will be the story from Ed’s conference, him forgetting about the deficit and immigration, with immigration and the economy being the two topics at the top of the Ipsos-Mori issues index, they are the voters priority.

You can view the survation data tables here.