Archive for May, 2006


How MORI’s web-site is confusing polling history

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

1992 general election.jpg

    The pit-falls of using the pollster’s historical all-firms table

With the first major shift in party popularity since 1992 a lot of people on the site are looking back at the data from the final years of the John Major government to find comparisons with what we are seeing at the moment.

Many are asking how the Tories are doing now compared with how Labour was performing in the polls in the first year or so after the 1992 election. Unfortunately there are dangers using the main polling source from that period – the “all polls table” from Mori.

I discovered this a few weeks ago after I got into a furious argument with two people on the site when I made the assertion that in spite of “Black Wednesday” in September 1992 the Tories were still ahead at the start of 1993. This was based on the ICM Guardian poll for January 1993 which had the parties on CON 39: LAB 37: LD 18.

Those who were questioning my data were using, apparently, the Mori historical all polls table which showed shares of CON 38: LAB 42: LD 15 from the same survey.

We had the same with yesterday’s thread when a number of contributors on the site were using the Mori table as their source to compare with this month’s ICM poll in the Guardian. According to the pollster’s website the comparative poll in 1993 had CON 32: LAB 38: LD 24. The Mori site figures for the same poll were CON 29: LAB 43: LD 23.

Well I think that I’ve worked out why there’s the discrepancy. In a footnote at the bottom of the MORI table it states “ICM/NOP/Harris/ORB unadjusted figures, not headline figures”. This refers to the ICM September 1994 poll but I assume it reflects what they had been doing the year before. At that stage other pollsters had embraced a form of past vote weighting to ensure that unbalanced samples were corrected – something that Mori still do not use.

With all historic polling comparisons it’s vital to compare like with like and the best source of consistent historical data is the ICM polling archive. There’s an excellent table here of all ICM polls for the Guardian since 1984.

    From this it’s clear that the Tories are not doing quite as well as Labour were in 1993 – but they are not far behind.

The Mori all-firms’ list, which on many occasions appears to have unadjusted figures for ICM until just before the 1997 General Election, gives a wrong impression and should be avoided.

  • Bromley By-election betting has opened.
  • Mike Smithson


    ICM has yet more poll gloom for Gordon

    Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

    Brown haggard.jpg

      Poll shows the Tory lead more than doubling with him as leader

    Today’s monthly ICM poll in the Guardian has with changes on last month CON 38%(+4): LAB 34%(+2): LD20%(-4). This is in line with the trend of other recent polls showing the Tories moving forward although Labour has a better showing than the recent Populus or YouGov surveys.

    When the voting intention question was asked with Brown named as leader against Cameron’s Conservatives and Campbell’s Lib Dems the shares were with comparisons from the last similar poll in March CON 40% (+3): LAB 31% (-6): LD 19% (nc). The 9% Tory margin compares with the 10% in Populus two weeks ago.

    This is the tenth poll in a row from the three main pollsters where the Tories do better against Labour when the Cameron-Brown voting intention question is put.

      There can be no getting away from this any more for the harsh polling reality is that Brown is not the right leader to fight a General Election against Cameron.

    In March the boss of ICM, Nick Sparrow, confirmed to me that the firm applies the same turnout and past vote weighting calculations to this question as it does to its main voting intention question – so you can make a direct comparison between the two sets of figures.

    According to the Guardian report “Labour voters – unlike the wider electorate – rate Mr Blair more highly than the chancellor as someone with wide appeal, someone prepared to take a stand on difficult issues, and someone more likely to make them vote Labour…Only 85% of people who say they would vote Labour in a general election with Mr Blair as leader say they would stick with Labour under Mr Brown, although the party would pick up support from other parties including the Lib Dems”

    What makes this poll particularly depressing for the Chancellor is that Labour’s vote drops by three points when the Brown-Cameron voting intention question was put. In most other polls when this was asked Labour have stayed almost the same or shown a slight increase – it is just that the Tory figure has increased more.

    These findings could not have come at a better time for Tony Blair who is under increased pressure from many in the parliamentary Labour party because of the reliance on Tory support to get controversial provisions of the Education Bill through.

      How can the Brown camp argue for an early change over when presented with these poll findings? At the very least it makes the prospect of an uncontested Labour leadership election that less likely.

    In the betting my punt at 18/1 on Alan Johnson to be Blair’s successor looks even better. It’s now 13.5/1. It also could see changes on the Blair departure date market where I expect the 3.1/1 on him being their at the end of next year to tighten.

    Mike Smithson


    Have the Tories got their northern strategy right?

    Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

    cameron waving 2.jpg

      Why Cameron can afford to ignore Manchester, Liverpool etc?

    The above coats of arms are from Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield – all great commercial centres, the homes of major universities and with proud industrial heritages. One or two of them, I’m told, have, or have had, modestly good soccer teams.

    Yet none of them has a Tory MP and some commentators are saying that the party can never return to power unless this can be reversed.

    Indeed – judging by his actions – David Cameron seems to share this view. With a series of visits he’s trying to demonstrate that these cities are no longer no-go areas for his party – and even the Tory spring conference was held in Manchester.

      Yet the notion that the Tories need to win again in the big cities is absolute rubbish and does not stand up to critical examination.

    The young Tory leader should go into Martin Baxter’s excellent Electoral Calculus site. If he clicked on the prediction tab, keyed in the vote shares CON 41; LAB 31: LD 18 from Brown-Cameron question in this month’s Populus poll he would get a pleasant surprise

    For out will come a projected House of Commons of CON 344: LAB 251: LD 20 seats – an overall Tory majority of 42. This is based on 145 Tory net gains that the Baxter site helpfully lists and which, surely, represents the battle-zone for the next General Election. This includes a scattering of northern Tory prospects but only two of the targets are in the five cities.

    The reason is depopulation and the move to the suburbs. For the five cities have just 22 parliamentary seats between them – a small fraction of the 529 seats in England as a whole. Together all the seats in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield represent less than a third of the 74 constituencies in London. The population shifts have made them getting on for irrelevant.

    Surely the Tories should abandon this preoccupation with the north, certainly the cities, and focus the party’s campaign efforts on elsewhere in England where there are many more rich pickings?

    General Election Betting
    Most seats LAB 1/1: CON 1.02/1
    Overall majority LAB 2.4/1: CON 2.55/1: no overall majority 1.34/1.
    Commons seat spreads Cantor Spreadfair. CON 270-285: LAB 280-295: LD 54-57.
    If you believe that Populus Cameron-Brown voting intention poll then now might be the time to back the Tories.

    Mike Smithson


    Can Johnson pull a rabbit out of the hat on the bill?

    Monday, May 22nd, 2006

    alan johnson speech.JPG

      Will my 18/1 long-shot stop another damaging rebellion?

    With the controversial Education Bill coming back to the Commons the next few days could be crucial for the leadership chances of Alan Johnson – currently in the second favourite slot and who I suggested was a good value bet at 18/1.

    rabbit out of hat.gifThe bill’s passage gives the new Education Secretary a great platform to build up his public profile and to show his political skills dealing with the most divisive domestic Labour party issue for years.

    For the bill only got this far in March thanks to the support of the Tories. They stepped in to more than fill the void after after a rebellion in the parliamentary Labour party that saw 52 voting against and a further 25 abstaining.

    A real fear for Blair this week is the possibility of a Tory ambush. Cameron’s team could find a reason to back off their support and the Government could be defeated on a flag-ship piece of legislation in the Commons.

      If that happened then Blair’s days at Number 10, surely, would be even more numbered than they currently are.

    With the number of Blair dissenters having grown following the half-baked Brown assault on Number 10 two weeks ago the focus for all those who want him out now is on the bill.

    Enter then the politically-savvy former London postman who was elected boss of one of the country’s biggest unions when he was just 42. His options, however, seem limited. Watering down the bill even further would make it easier for Team Cameron to vote against. Leaving it in its current state could fuel a bigger rebellion than March.

    But has Alan Johnson got something else up his sleeve?

      Could, for instance, he come up with a measure he could take that would, say, allow a partial withdrawal by the Prime Minister avoiding a potentially hazardous vote without conceding anything on the “reform agenda”?

    I have no idea – but the opportunity is there for Johnson to make a mark and win support from all sides of the party.

    This could have an impact on the Blair leaving date, Labour leadership and next Chancellor markets.

    Having been rewarded handsomely for betting against David Davis in last year’s Tory leadership contest I remain unconvinced by the received opinion that says Gordon Brown is a similar or even greater certainty. At least in the Tory contest we knew when Howard was going and contenders could emerge. With the Labour race we have no idea about the timing and anything could happen. It could be a walk-over for the Chancellor or it could be a bitterly fought contest stoked up by the media. Who knows?

    One thing’s for sure – if the Johnson price eases to 18/1 again I’ll be there with my cash.

    Mike Smithson


    Will this woman add further to Labour’s woes?

    Sunday, May 21st, 2006

      Make a few bob on the Peter Law seats not being won back?

    So far there’s been little interest in the Betfair markets on the June 29th by-elections to fill Blaenau Gwent seats that the former Peter Law used to occupy at Westminster and the Welsh Assembly.

    On the face of it the area is a traditional solid Labour strong-hold and the seats should be returning to the party as a matter of course. Peter Law won in May 2005 against the official candidate in protest against an all-women short-list being imposed on the local party.

    Law’s former agent, Dai Davis, is running for the Westminster seat while his widow, Trish, is going for the place in Cardiff. A new party called “People’s Voice” has been created and both are likely to be running under this flag. So what are their chances? I think they are quite good.

  • There’s still residual bitterness from what happened last year.
  • The scale of Labour’s challenge can be seen from the General Election vote shares:- Law 58.17%; LAB 32.29%; LIB 4.29%; PC 2.39%; CON 2.31%.
  • Labour invariably has problems getting its support out away from General Elections
  • The linkage that each of the candidates have with the former MP is very strong
  • Labour’s doing much worse nationally now than it was a year ago.
  • For the latest local press round-up on the elections check the excellent by-elections site.

    My assessment is Trish Law will probaby make it to the Welsh Assembly. Dai Davis has a bigger challenge but probably stands a -reasonable chance for the Wetminster seat. Both are worth a punt when there is more liquidity in the markets.

    Mike Smithson


    Could Cameron catch a Chislehurst cold?

    Saturday, May 20th, 2006


      Will B&C be the first Tory by-election hold of the 21st Century?

    For a party whose performance at by-elections can best be described as pitiful the Tories have had a remarkably good new millennium. For the only seat they have had to defend was Romsey in 2000 – a seat made vacant by the tragic fire in which Michael Colvin died. They lost it to the Lib Dems.

    The party went through the whole of the 2001-2005 Parliament without the need for a by-election and of the five vacancies that have been created in the current Parliament Bromley & Chislehurst will be first one where they are defending.

    The last Tory seat which they retained was Kensington and Chelsea in 1999 when Michael Portillo replaced Alan Clarke on November 25th.

      So what about B & C? Is this going to be an easy hold or could Cameron’s Conservatives come unstuck?

    Last May these were the shares:- CON 51.12%: LAB 22.20%: LD 20.30% so a very comfortable 13,000 majority in a seat where you would have expected the Lib Dems to be doing better.

    Given the national situation Labour have not got an earthly but could the Lib Dems be a threat from their third place? Certainly there is a significant Labour vote to squeeze and the Lib Dems are past masters at this sort of contest. But they could be hindered by their relative poor showing in local elections indicating not that much strength on the ground.

    I can see Ming’s party getting 35-40% but the David Cameron must feel pretty secure. All the evidence is that he loves face to face campaigning and he’s bound to spend a lot of time there.

      One thing’s for sure – Cameron’s not going to screw up his first by-election defence as Tory leader.

    No betting markets yet but these will be opened.

    Mike Smithson


    Sean Fear’s local election commentary

    Friday, May 19th, 2006

    metroland.JPGFew parts of the Country were traditionally more solid for the Conservatives than John Betjeman’s Metroland, the leafy suburbs that sprung up in the Twenties and Thirties in West, and North West London, as the Underground pushed out beyond London into the Countryside and connected towns and villages like Harrow, Hendon, Finchley and Wembley to the Metropolis.

      Most seats in this region delivered five figure Tory majorities at general elections with monotonous regularity, and delivered scores of council seats.

    This all changed in the mid 1990s, as the Conservatives’ reputation for economic competence was destroyed. Barnet, Hillingdon, Ealing, and Harrow Councils were all lost in 1994. The proposed closure of Edgware General Hospital finished off Conservative chances in this part of London, and the Conservatives lost almost every seat they held here in 1997.

      For me, election night in 1997 was summed up by the site of Sir Rhodes Boyson, on television, plainly shocked to have lost Brent North on a 17% swing.

    Worse still for the Conservatives, most seats in this area of London shifted even further to Labour in 2001. Seats like Harrow East looked safe for Labour, which would have been inconceivable in 1992.

    Fortunately for the Conservatives, this region has begun to shift back in their direction. The local elections of 2002 saw the Conservatives regain Barnet, and win the most votes in Harrow and in Brent North. This shift was confirmed in the London Assembly elections, and last year’s general election, and most dramatically, the local elections on May 4th, which saw the Tories regain Harrow, Hillingdon, and Ealing, and increase their lead in Barnet and Brent North. Constituencies which were looking pretty safe for Labour, must now once again be regarded as Conservative prospects if Labour remain unpopular. Even taking the new boundary changes into account, the Conservatives led Labour by 4% in both Harrow West and Brent North; by 5% in Hendon; by 7% in Ealing North, and by no less than 15% in Harrow East and Finchley.

    Local election gains do not necessarily translate into general election gains. However, it is worth remembering that the Conservatives actually performed worse here, relative to Labour, in 1997, than they did in the London Borough Elections of 1994.

    Last night’s by-elections were generally good for the Conservatives:-

    Chichester DC – Tangmere: C 278, Lib Dem 275, BNP 41, Ukip 22, Lab 14. Con gain from Lib Dem. As other commentators have pointed out, this result gives the Conservatives control of every local authority in West Sussex, for the first time ever.
    East Ayrshire SUA – Altonhill, Hillhead and Longpark: SNP 715, Lab 296, C 178, Scottish Socialist Party 23. SNP hold. This is a strong performance from the SNP.
    Hambleton DC – Thirsk: C 700, Lib Dem 286, Lab 161. Con Hold, with a huge swing.
    South Kesteven DC – Truesdale: C 416, Lib Dem 232, Ind 171, 166. Con gain from Independent, although none of the main parties contested this seat last time.
    West Lindsey DC – Lea: Lib Dem 621, C 391. Lib Dem gain from Independent The Liberal Democrats have now taken control of this authority
    Wyre BC – Park: C 560, Lab 456 Con gain from Lab. This was a truly terrible result for Labour in what was a very safe seat.

    Sean Fear is a Tory activist in London and writes a weekly local election review.


    Can Ming withstand the media barrage?

    Friday, May 19th, 2006

    Ming PMQ.jpg

      How important is a good PMQ performance?

    Amidst all the big political stories at the moment there’s a special focus on Ming Campbell who, if you read some columnists, is on the critical list.

    After going through the trauma of ousting Charles Kennedy Ming finds himself under the media microscope every Wednesday when, as Lib Dem leader, he is allowed a maximum of two questions at Prime Minister’s Questions.

    The scrutiny has been going on since his lacklustre performance at his first appearance in January and yesterday he answered questions about it on the BBC’s Daily Politics. His response was: “Politics in this country is not prime minister’s questions..It’s important to all of us who live in the Westminster village, but it’s not the issue on which people decide how they are going to cast their votes”.

    Well is it? I’m not so sure. The problem for Ming is that the issue is always raised whenever his party is being assessed. After the local elections on May 4th the lack of progress for the Lib Dems, however unfairly, was partly put down to this.

    No doubt we’ll see the same when the Bromley by-election is being examined?

      Ming needs to give PMQs the same attention and careful preparation that Tony Blair and David Cameron give it. He also needs a strategy for dealing with the barrage of noise immediately as he gets to his feet.

    My sense is that, as his comment above shows, he does not attach the importance to getting this right that he should. He gives the appearance of being irritated by it.

    Meanwhile although he has barely been in post for two months and already there’s a spread market on how many months he’ll survive as well betting on who will be his successor. The current spread is 25-27 months which mean a buy bet will come good from June 2008 onwards while a sell bet would stay in profit until the end of March 2008.

    Provided his health holds I cannot see many in the Lib Dems having the stomach for another leadership contest this side of the General Election. Ming, I believe, will fight a good campaign.

    Mike Smithson