Archive for March, 2005


Labour up 14% in Scotland

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

    Big boost for Blair north of border

Huge changes in public opinion in Scotland in just 17 days are recorded in a Scottish Opinion Poll in today’s Daily Record. The figures are with changes on the last SOP reported here just over two weeks ago are:- LAB 52 (+14): CON 16 (+1): LD 12 (-11): SNP 17 (+1).

In that last poll in mid-March SOP had the Lib Dems up a massive 12% and Labour down 10% so today’s figures are a bit of a reversal.

    These new figures have Labour at 9% higher than the party achieved north of the border in 2001 and would indicate even more gains for Tony Blair’s party on May 5th.

We are a little sceptical of polls showing such massive swings in opinion.

IG Index – have reduced the Tory spread by one to 198-203 seats.

Mike Smithson


Working for Lynton Crosby

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Earlier this morning a former colleague of Lynton Crosby in Australia, Simon Bush, posted a comment on an article about the Tory campaign chief that we had published two months ago. This referred to a complaint he had made to the Times. Because it was posted on such an old file we thought it a good idea to give the comment greater prominence here.

I have read with interest your piece on Crosby and his legal notice to the Times and the subsequent comments. I worked with Lynton on campaigns in Oz and he often (I mean weekly) fired off complaints during the campaign to the ABC on biased coverage and to the Broadcasting Commission on Labour advertising etc. These are not new tactics in this country, perhaps such tactics are new in the more gentrified world of UK politics? In politics you play to win and thats Lynton’s motto and who can fault him for that? Not I. Also, putting resources in the marginal seats is politics 101 surely (why do I see this being discussed at length like its controversial). It pisses off sitting members and candidates from other seats who think they are deserving of support and funds but so what……

I have written to Simon asking if he could tell us more about working for Crosby and perhaps give us some insight into what else we can expect in the coming campaign.

HAS ANYBODY SEEN THIS POLL? According to the Sun this morning that Michael Howard’s leadership rating has gone up by 3% since the Howard Flight affair. Does anybody know what poll Trevor Kavanagh is referring to?

IG IndexLAB 351-356: CON 199-204: LD 66-69 – no change.

SpreadfairLAB 350.2 -354.5: CON 198-202: LD 66 -68 – a slight softening of the Tory and Lib Dem prices.

Round-up of prices from conventional bookmakers.

Mike Smithson


New reports say we are getting poorer

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

    Does “Tax and Spend” have public support?

The economy and taxation are set to take centre stage in the election campaign with three national papers leading this morning that for the first time in more than a decade average household incomes are on the decline – the direct result of tax increases.

This will bring to a head the central philosophical difference between the two main parties which was the main reason behind the Howard Flight sacking.

The Telegraph, Times and the Mail splash the reports that average incomes fell last year for the first time in more than a decade as a result of tax rises imposed by Gordon Brown after the 2001 election, according to a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

The IFS said Mr Brown’s big tax-raising 2002 Budget – the first after the 2001 election – which put up national insurance and froze personal allowances saw average take-home incomes fall in real terms in 2003-04, the first annual drop since the recession of the early 1990s. These tax increases were brought in with the specific intention of providing extra money for the NHS.

In another study the Telegraph reports that private pensions have dropped by upto three-quarters as a result of the tax changes brought in by Gordon Brown in 1997 and declining investment returns.

    All this will bring to centre stage the question of whether we are prepared to pay higher taxes for better public services.

Last September ICM asked: Thinking about the present levels of tax on the one hand and the state of the public services (like health or education) on the other, do you think the party you support should pledge to increase taxes, hold taxes at their present level or to reduce taxes?. A total of 18% said raise taxes to 36% who said they should be cut.

YouGov last week reported a 44% to 12% split in favour of tax cuts to the question“Should whichever party wins the general election pledge to increase OR reduce taxes and spending, or are the present levels about right?

There is little doubt that tax increases are more acceptable when real income are rising because they are not noticed as much. With incomes falling – if only by a touch – the debate could change.

Mike Smithson


The Guardian gives the green light to multi-voting

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

    Should Politcalbetting be part of this voting farce?

For five days now we’ve been discouraging individual Politicalbetting supporters from multi-voting in the Guardian Political Blog of the Year contest because we thought that this was wrong and that the paper would take action to stop it.

Since then short-listed sites with a fraction of the user base of Politicalbetting and which attract maybe 1% of the comments that come here have seen dramatic increases in their votes and our relative position has gone down and down from first to fourth place.

Last night the Guardian’s “Backbencher” email bulletin urged readers in a headline to “vote early and vote often” – which suggests that as far as the paper is concerned that multi-voting is acceptable.

    The question is do we join this or not?

For to cast as many votes as you want is very simple. All you do is disable cookies on your browser and you can vote to your heart’s content. With the Mozilla Firefox browser you can disable cookies just for voting by going into “tools”, then “options” then “privacy” and click on the “exception” tab.

With Internet Explorer you go into “tools then “options” then “privacy” and finally “advanced” to get to the cookie setting.

But should we go down this road? What do you think?

    Be thankful that the Guardian is not running the General Election!

Mike Smithson


How’s Blair going to deal with his dissenters?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

    Will there be Flight-style sackings of the 17 who’ve signed the anti- Iraq ticket?

With the Tory leader, Michael Howard, under pressure for being too tough over Howard Flight’s comments on tax how is Tony Blair going to deal with dissent within his own party by a group MPs who have signed up to making the Iraq war a key “issue of trust” at the general election.

According to the Independent this morning 17 of them have signed a declaration saying: “I was and remain totally opposed to the war on Iraq. If elected as your parliamentary representative in the forthcoming general election, I will do everything in my power to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end.”. They plan to include this statement in their election leaflets.

The chairman of Labour Against the War and MP for Nottingham South, Alan Simpson, is quoted as saying: “The war and the leader are the biggest factors on the doorstep. Those MPs who opposed the war would be daft not to make that clear to their constituents. It’s the biggest single issue driving Labour supporters into another camp – either the war itself or the question of trust. ..At parliamentary by-elections, the party has pursued the Basil Fawlty line. The basic instruction is, whatever you do, ‘don’t mention the war’. But it’s the issue that gets thrown back at Labour candidates on the doorstep.”

This could give Tony Blair the chance to contrast his approach to dissent within his party with what many are saying was Michael Howard’s “over the top” move to de-select Howard Flight. The problem is that this would just keep Iraq on the agenda and this is not an area that Labour strategists want to dwell upon.

Some new polling research that’s just been put on the MORI website shows that the war might be a bigger issue with the “grey vote” compared with the electorate as a whole.

To the question Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is handling the current situation with Iraq? the overall split was to disapprove by 63% to 28%. Amongst the 65-74 age group the split was 70% to 23%.

Just before the start of the Iraq War in March 2003 MORI showed that 30% of the public approved of Blair’s handling of Iraq, and 54% disapproved so opinion is hardening.

Meanwhile on the betting markets the Labour spreads have remained pretty stable on 351-356 seats with IG Index. But it’s moved down to 350 – 351 with Spreadfair so there has been some Labour selling.

Mike Smithson


Can money buy you more votes?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

    Has your Tory candidate passed the Ashcroft test?

Is your Tory PPC one of the lucky ones who are on the “Bearwood List” – a special group of candidates who are said to have been hand-picked by the former Conservative party treasurer and Belize-based multimillionaire, Lord Ashcroft, to receive extra attention and money to fight this election

The chosen ones are said to be in seats the Tories must hold or win and their campaigns have benefited by donations reported to be as large as £21,000. These are individual donations to the constituencies themselves and have by-passed the party’s central organisation.

Visiting the town of Bedford, where I’m moving back to in a fortnight’s time, and you can’t but notice that a different form of political campaign is taking place. As well as the standard “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” Tory bill-boards there are huge poster sites dedicated to bespoke ads on behalf of the local candidate. A flashy new campaign headquarters has just been opened and thousands of households have been sent a specially produced CD-Rom. This features a series of mini-films of the man himself and promoting what’s presented as a warm, approachable but highly effective individual who is strongly rooted in the local community.

    The Tories are playing to win here, there’s big money going into this local campaign and it has certainly got people talking about the candidate.

What is surprising is that Bedford, where I stood for the Lib Dems in 1992, is on the list at all. It is down as the Labour seat number 111 in terms of marginality and if seats like this starting changing hands then we are firmly in hung parliament territory.

Surely the money could have been better spent in a constituency where a win was more achievable?

One wonders, too, how Tory activists and PPCs in seats not chosen by Lord Ashcroft feel about being left out. This sort of thing can be very divisive.

Whether the extra resource will produce more gains we will have to wait and see – but it might be something spread-betters need to factor in. If Ashcroft’s lucky candidates enjoy disproportionate successes then it will certainly affect the Commons seat markets.

Mike Smithson


Will we have to wait until Sunderland South?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

    Confusing polls leave punters – confused

If the polls continue to be all over the place we might have to wait until Chris Mullin’s declaration in Sunderland South before we get any idea at all about how this election is going. Last time this result came at a 10.43 pm – less than three-quarters an hour after the polls had closed and with so much civic pride at stake it’s hard to seem them not winning the declaration race again.

In spite of four major polls in the past week and the Howard Flight affair punters are very reluctant to part their cash at the moment – at least on the main spread-betting Commons Seat markets. The Labour spreads have remained pretty stable on 351-356 seats with IG Index, and 349.2 -354 with Spreadfair

The only oddity is Sporting Index which is quoting a spread on the Labour majority of 51-57 seats which is out of line with its own Labour price of 350-355. In fact there is a minor arbitrage opportunity with IG who are quoting 58-64 on the majority.

Another good barometer of betting opinion is the main “winning party” market with Betfair which has the Tories at 7.2/1 which compares with the 10/1 it reached only a few weeks ago after the defection to Labour of the former Tory minister, Robert Jackson. Certainly that news was treated by punters as a much more damaging blow to the Tories than the Flight sacking.

The range of possible outcomes reflected in the polls goes from a Labour majority of 174 from Communicate Research to a possible hung parliament with the “certain to vote” figures from the British Election Study.

All this led to Villan, one of our regular contributors, making this observation last night …..All in all, the opinion polls are not proving much help and I can’t see it getting any better in the run-up to the election. If the polls are close, does that mean the Tories are really going to win (on votes)?.Or has the Labour overstatement been reduced by a combination of the pollsters changed methodologies and the fact it’s no longer “fashionable” to be Labour? If the polls show a big Labour lead, will that mean we are due another Labour landslide or will it allow the Conservatives in by the back-door if it encourages a poor Labour turnout? We all know the arguments and know which interpretations we would prefer to be true but none of us can be sure.

And will Sunerland South make it any clearer? Last time Chris Mullin won it with a 63% majority over the Tories and the turnout was only 48%.

Mike Smithson


Why pollsters ask how you voted last time?

Monday, March 28th, 2005

    Do Communicate Research polls overstate Labour?

Yesterday’s Communicate Research poll in the Independent on Sunday suggesting that Labour is doing even better than at the 2001 General Election has provoked a lot of debate on how the pollster carries out its surveys.

For ever since the firm began polling for the paper we’ve raised questions about the CR methodology which we believe overstates Labour and understates the the Tories and Lib Dems.

A major challenge for telephone pollsters is finding a sample of voters to interview that is representative of the electorate as whole. For every successful interview they carry out most have to make to six calls. Many people are out, many have answerphones or employ some form of phone-screening that stops calls from unknown sources getting through and many, the majority, simply refuse to be interviewed.

    So how can they know that those they do talk to are representative?

Could it be that the available interviewees are not a fair reflection of the electorate as a whole? Could it be, say, Labour supporters have different lifestyles from, say, Tories, that makes it more likely that they will be there when the phone call comes and they are more willing to take part?

As well as asking standard demographic questions to ensure the correct age/gender and socio-economic make-up of the group a measure that all the other phone pollsters adopt is to ask how interviewees voted last time.

Because we know that Labour got 42% of the vote in 2001, then clearly something needs to be done when, for example, the March Populus poll found that 51% of those taking part said they voted for the party four years ago. You have to allow for some false memory or faulty recall and in this case Populus weighted their sample so that 46% were Labour voters. In broad terms this means that the Labour totals in the March survey were reduced by about a tenth.

It is this which CR are not doing and why we think their polls are over-stating Labour. We are also concerned that when they put the question CR’s interviewers do not list the party options. In the past it has been shown that this reduces support for the Lib Dems who sometimes get forgotten.

All those interested in election betting and forecasting political outcomes have an interest in knowing how each pollster works. We would love to hear from CR about the the points we raise.

Mike Smithson