Archive for April, 2006


Harry Hayfield’s April local election commentary

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

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    Are the latest results a pointer to Thursday’s Battle for the Town Halls?

April can be a bit of a poor month for local by-elections, in April 2005 there were only three across the entire country. Thankfully April 2006 has been a bit more interesting with 24 council by-elections being held up and down the country, and with the local elections being held in 176 councils next Thursday everyone will be wondering whether we have have a precursor to those elections. First of all though, a summary of the main events.

The Conservatives were trying to defend 13 seats in April 2006 and ended the month also with 13 seats (by the most complicated means possible). Things didn’t get off to a good start when they lost Lesbury in Alnwick to the Lib Dems, but the same day they picked up Wythall South in Bromsgrove from the Independents. And just as their hearts gladened at the gain of Winster and South Dorsely in Derbyshire Dales from the Lib Dems, along came a Lib Dem gain from Con in Warminster East in West Wiltshire. Still overall having polled 47% in three cornered fights in April, a very strong starting line for the Locals next week.


Considering all the trouble Labour has had on the local by-election front the party has had a month almost akin to 1997. Defending two seats, they managed to end up with four! They gained Cleaton Moor North in Copeland from the Independents and also managed a marvellous hit in Mablethorpe East in East Lindsey by gaining the seat from the Liberal Democrats. And yet despite all this sucess they were only able to poll 18% in all three cornered fights.

Liberal Democrats
If Labour had a spectactular month, the Lib Dems were sort of happy just to survive the month. Defending six seats, they managed to lose one (Mablethorpe East in East Lindsey) and gain three (in Lesbury in Alnwick from Con, Frome Keyford in Mendip from Ind and Warminster East in West Wiltshire also from Con) and polled a modest 28% in all three cornered fights. Could this indicate tactical voting? People voting for the Liberal Democrats as the most likely person to defeat the incumbent (regardless of which party that incumbent is from)? We’ll just have to wait and see.

You have to feel sorry for the Independents on occasions. There they are determined to stand out on their own forcing their own political agenda without any party whips and in April 2006 they were wiped out. They lost Wythall South to the Conservatives in Bromsgrove, Cleator Moor North in Copeland to Labour and Frome Keyford in Mendip to the Liberal Democrats and only managed to poll 1% in all three cornered fights. Is the age of the Independent councillor over? If so, what implications could that have on the Scottish elections next year (where several councils are controlled by Independent groups)?

So, what about Thursday?

Well, if at the end of the night Jeremy Vine produces a projected national share like April 2006’s local by-elections every Labour MP in the country will be nervous as anything the following week. The three cornered figures suggest: Con 47% Lib Dem 28% Lab 18% UKIP 5% Ind 1% which when translated into UK national shares is: Con 43% Lab 30% Lib Dem 22% Others 5%. A Conservative lead of 13% over Labour (representing a swing of 8% to Con since Election 2005). Or to put it into Parliamentary terms: Conservatives 360 (+162) Labour 219 (-137) Liberal Democrats 43 (-19) Others 24 (-7) giving a Conservative majority of 74.

And whilst we are on the subject of Parliament, we can’t gloss over Moray now can we? SNP hold with an increased majority over the Conservatives with the Labour vote collapsing and going predominately to the Liberal Democrats. A sign of things to come in next year’s Scottish elections to Holyrood?

Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem activist in Wales

Mike Smithson note Getting good visual images to accompany our threads are important and the pictures I’ve chosen to illustrate Harry’s piece are, from left to right, the town halls of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Ealing – all the subject of betting activity and where there might be changes in control.

Pictures play an important part on the site and if anybody has good shots that I can use then please email the picture or URL to me. Polling day pictures – posters, rosettes or groups of happy/unhappy activists are particularly welcome. So if you are carrying camera phone next Thursday don’t forget PB.C.


Who’s there now to lead “the men in grey suits”?

Sunday, April 30th, 2006


    Every cloud has its silver lining for Lucky Tony

My suggestion on Thursday that the problems with Charles Clarke and John Prescott could actually help Tony Blair stay longer at Number 10 was greeted with a mixed reception on the site.

For I argued that the problems with his troubled cabinet colleagues could help him spread the blame a bit more after Thursday when Labour suffers the expected drubbing in the local elections.

    But there’s another element in the current situation that could make Blair’s tenure that bit more secure – the undermining of the authority of John Prescott.

For the Deputy PM is just about the only senior Labour politician with the authority to lead a “delegation of men in grey suits” to tell Tony that his time is up.

Andrew Rawnsley sums is it well in today’s Observer: “..It was in the power of Prescott to pull the trigger on the Prime Minister by making a public declaration demanding an early date from Mr Blair for his departure. The one solace for the Prime Minister in a sea of troubles is that this threat has evaporated. The debagging of the Deputy Prime Minister contributes to the impression of a government that is simultaneously arrogant, ridiculous and reckless. But it does have this consolation for Number 10. John Prescott is now a much weakened figure whose residual credibility is threatened with more demolition from further revelation. Instead of John Prescott being in a position to tell Tony Blair how long he has left in Number 10, it is now John Prescott who is fighting to save his own job and what shreds remain of his dignity. “

The market on when Tony will go continues to be very interesting. I’m keeping my cash on him being there at the end of next year.

Mike Smithson


YouGov gives Cameron’s Tories a 3% lead (UPDATED)

Saturday, April 29th, 2006


    Lib Dems only up 1% and Blair’s ratings the worst ever

A new YouGov poll tonight has with comparisons on the last survey from the same pollster nine days ago CON 35 (+2): LAB 32 (-3): LD 18 (+1). Amongst a large “others” total the BNP is at 6% – down one. UKIP and the Greens are on 3% each.

The declining Labour share is perhaps not surprising given the traumatic events of the week but the big surprise, surely, is that the internet pollster does not seem to have picked up the big Lib Dem increases seen in the recent ICM and MORI surveys.

    Something is wrong somewhere when within the space of a few days YouGov is showing a Lib Dem figure which is just three-quarters of that found by ICM.

The explanation lies with the weightings the two pollsters use. YouGov seeks to create a sample where 13.9% of respondents have previously identified themselves as party supporters. ICM are currently working on a past vote recall proportion of about 21% for the party. Other findings in the poll include:-

  • Tony Blairdoing well or badly” 33-64%
  • David Cameron doing well or badly” 51-31
  • Ming Campbell doing well or badly” 31-32
  • Gordon Brown doing well or badly” 48-44
  • Patricia Hewitt should she be sacked? 51-39
  • Charles Clarke should he be sacked? 53-21
  • John Prescott should he be sacked? 49-31
  • Blair-Brown Should the PM step down in favour of the Chancellor? 39-39
  • So in spite of all the troubles those surveyed were divided equally on whether Brown should replace Blair now. David Cameron maintains a healthy approval rating margin of 20%. Interestingly even Labour voters in the survey do not give the Tory leader a negative rating dividing 41-41.

    What must be worrying for the Gordon Brown camp is the decline in support for the Chancellor. Those surveyed were divided equally on whether there should be an immediate change-over with Labour supporters supporting Blair by 61-28. Brown’s “doing well/badly” positive margin of 4% compares with the 43% that he had exactly a year ago – a dramatic fall.

    If the Brown figures are reinforced by other pollsters it might just take the pressure off Blair should Thursday’s local election results be bad for Labour.

    The price on Tony Blair still being there at the end of next year is 2.85/1. This and other political markets including Thursday’s local elections can be found here.

    Mike Smithson


    Will Labour get its bank holiday poll bounce?

    Saturday, April 29th, 2006

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      Why you should be wary of surveys taken during long weekends

    With so much going on the political front there are almost certain to be opinion surveys carried out this weekend. If they are then treat them with extra caution because they might be subject to the bank holiday effect.

    Many will remember the famous Populus tracker poll that was published on the day before the General Election last year and showed Labour on 41%, the Tories on 27% with the Lib Dems at 23%. While the figure for Charles Kennedy’s party was almost spot on the poll over-estimated Labour’s eventual support by five points and underestimated the Tories by six.

      In the post-mortem afterwards Labour’s 14% lead was put down to the “bank holiday effect.” For whatever reason pollsters find it extraordinarily difficult getting balanced samples during long holiday weekends. Tories, in particular, are in very short supply.

    The survey was based on interviews that took place on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the May bank holiday weekend. The tracker poll before that and the Populus final poll showed much smaller Labour margins.

    Looking at the detailed data from the Populus 14% poll you can see the challenge the pollster faced. For every two people they could find who said they had voted Labour at the previous General Election less than one person was interviewed who had voted Tory.

    The problem is that although correcting mechanisms are in place to deal with sample distortion not all is taken into account. Populus is currently weighting its polls on the basis of a 9% Labour lead from last May – triple the actual figure. I am much happier with the ICM calculation which has it at 6.5%. Still Populus is substantially better than Mori which has no past vote weighting adjustment at all.

    This bank holiday phenomenon is so well-known that Anthony Wells of UK PollingReport suggested on Tuesday that the the April ICM survey for the Guardian had been put back a week to avoid interviews taking place over Easter.

    So if a poll does come out during the next few days check the survey dates very closely. For any sign that Labour is weathering the current crisis might be because party supporters are much more likely than Tories to be be at home answering the phone during long weekends.

    Mike Smithson


    Sean Fear’s local election slot

    Friday, April 28th, 2006

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    Local councils have had their independence curtailed under successive government. Three quarters of local government income comes from Government grants, while local councils themselves are required to jump through endless hoops set up for them by central Government.

    In some European countries, politicians become well known as the mayors of major cities, before embarking on national political careers. That would be almost unthinkable in this country.

    Although many members of Parliament have been local councillors, one has the impression that it is done more as something they can show on their CV to a Constituency Association, rather than because of the intrinsic importance of the job.

    Local councils lack independence, and cannot be regarded as a real training ground for future national politicians.

      However, local council elections matter in one very important respect. All parties are crucially dependent on local councillors to maintain their base in any particular constituency. They are the people who canvass, deliver leaflets, write letters to the papers, and keep their party before the local electorate

    .If a party’s local councillor base is destroyed in a particular area, then sooner or later, its support at Parliamentary level will evaporate too. It happened to the Conservatives in Glasgow, and several Northern cities, and it is happening now to Labour in parts of the South of England.

    By contrast, a strong local government base will not guarantee success at Parliamentary level, but is almost always a prerequisite for it. No amount of direct mailing, advertising, and paid telephone canvassing by political parties at national level, will produce the same impact as a well organised local party organisation.

    Last night’s by-elections produced, perhaps surprisingly, one gain for Labour.

    East Hampshire DC – Clanfield and Finchdean
    : Lib Dem 733, C 550. Lib Dem hold.

    East Lindsey DC – Mablethorpe East
    : Lab 213, C 123, Lib Dem 114, UKIP 46. Lab gain from Lib Dem.
    North Cornwall DC- Bodmin St Petroc’s: Lib Dem 821, C 463. Lib Dem hold.

    This is the last round of by-elections before next week’s local elections. It only remains to wish good luck to all those who are standing.

    Sean Fear
    Sean is a London Tory activist and was almost the first member of his party to post on the site. He writes a weekly commentary on local elections.

    Click here for the latest prices on the local elections.


    Betfair local election markets opened

    Friday, April 28th, 2006

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      Who’ll take control of twelve key councils?

    Whether it is the pressure from PB.C users or not I do not know but the UK’s main betting exchange has now opened markets on twelve key councils. They are:-

    West Lancashire

    Please note that these are betting exchange markets and at the moment hardly anybody has offered anything to back or lay. That should change quickly.

    If you are betting please could you use the links here or on the main betting markets page. I receive small commissions and these help to defray some of the costs of running the site. It is particularly helpful when people open new accounts.

    The down-side of having a lot of traffic and vast comment threads every day is that it adds to the costs which are borne by my son, Robert, and I.

    Many thanks.

    Good luck.

    Mike Smithson


    Shouldn’t Gordon be attacking the Lib Dems instead?

    Friday, April 28th, 2006

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      Why is he focusing all this effort on the wrong target?

    If Gordon Brown is, as has been reported, the driving force behind the Dave the Chameleon campaign, why is he investing Labour’s precious campaign resources and air-time on the Tory leader when, notwithstanding the party’s second place in Moray, the real threat at the moment is coming from the Lib Dems?

    For the remarkable feature of the polls in recent months is how resilient the Lib Dem vote has been. In spite of everything there was just one small dip in January but the recovery is happened very quickly and is being sustained.

    And in the polls that ask how respondents voted last time another phenomomon is happening – nine out of ten people who voted for the party last May are “remembering” what they did. This compares with the between seven and eight out of ten who “remembered” voting Lib Dem in the 1997 and 2001 elections and indicates that something is happening.

    It was, it will be recalled the Lib Dems who took nearly six percentage points out of the Labour vote last May – a move that was put down almost entirely to Iraq. Given that that vote shift is now looking more permanent then surely Labour should be doing everything it can win back the voters it has lost?

      A huge problem with going negative – as in Dave the Chameleon – is that you can only attack one opponent at a time. So if you do decide on this course you must be absolutely certain you are fighting the real threat.

    The big political challenges at the moment are next weeks’ local elections when the Lib Dems traditionally do much better. A poor Labour performance could have a lasting impact and everything, surely, should have been aimed at limiting the damage.

    One feature of the second “Chameleon” PPB, screened last night, was the focus it put on the famous picture of David Cameron in the background behind Norman Lamont on that day in September 1992 when the UK had to leave the ERM. Could this have been included at the express desire of Brown?

    The problem is that all this was nearly a decade and a half ago which for most people who are less than 30 is ancient history and not part of their consciousness.

    The second Chamelon film was harder-edged than the first and the only thing to be said for it is that it might, just, motivate Labour activists in the final week. But if you are facing a strong Lib Dem challenege in your ward surely you would have wanted see something that dealt with that?

    The General Election betting, meanwhile, has seen a move away from Labour which is now priced at just 0.95/1 to win most seats.

    Mike Smithson


    Prezza and Clarke – coming to the aid of “Lucky Tony”

    Thursday, April 27th, 2006


      Will their troubles take the pressure off the leadership?

    Another month is nearly at an end and I am another month closer to winning my bet that Lucky Tony will still be in his job at the end of next year.labour rose.jpg

    May 4th 2006 was always going to be a tricky hurdle to negotiate. Within a few days of Lucky’s General Election triumph last year so-called “smart opinion” had it that if Lucky did survive 2005 then Labour’s losses in this year’s local elections were going to be on such a scale that the party would rise against him if he tried to cling to office.

    Well given the polls of this week it’s beginning to look as though the prediction of Labour’s performance in the local elections will be accurate. The party is in for a drubbing a week today. But what about Lucky? Will he be blamed? Possibly – but not by enough to cause him to be removed.

    For this he can thank his Home Secretary, Charles Clarke and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. Their “little local difficulties” added to Patricia Hewitt’s forced abandonment of a televised speech to nurses causes the Guardian this morning to call it Triple whammy Wednesday which all helps Lucky.

      The beauty of the current situation from Lucky’s point of view is that when Labour is licking its wounds after the elections a week tomorrow – others will also get the blame. And the more the blame can be spread the less vulnerable he is.

    The latest price on Lucky being there at the end of 2007 in the “When will he go” markets is 2.8/1. This continues to be a great value bet – and twenty months until you pick up your winnings is not too long to wait.

    The other great Lucky Tony bet is on him outlasting Margaret Thatcher at Number 10. This means him holding on until November 2008 and William Hill have this at 13/2. You will probably have to phone.

    Meanwhile following the call yesterday for local election betting markets to be opened one bookmaker began offering odds on the outcome in different London boroughs. At the moment these markets seem to be down but check here to see if they are restored.

    PLEASE if you are betting on this or any event political or not then I would very grateful if you could use the links on the site. We get a small commission to help towards the cost of running PB.C and every little helps.

    Mike Smithson