Archive for May, 2007


Can anybody stop the Benn bandwagon?

Monday, May 28th, 2007

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    Is Johnson suffering over his public school teacher comments?

The deputy leadership candidate who had the most trouble getting the necessary 45 nominations to get on the ballot, Hilary Benn, is continuing to attract the money on the Betfair market and now stands at his tightest price yet – 1.32/1.

As the chart shows there has been a big turnaround in the past week with interest moving away from the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, who chalked up the biggest slate of Labour MPs prepared to nominate him.

But Johnson’s call for public schools to be forced to loan teachers to the state system seems to have done him no good at all managing to incur the wrath of both sectors at the same time.

    A key factor here could be the disproportionate number of Labour members employed in education and alienating them is not smart politics while an election is going on.

John Cruddas has his own personal education issues to deal with following the weekend attacks on his life-style in the Mail while none of the other four candidates seem to be making a significant impression.

Benn’s solid support on the markets is almost exclusively down to the two YouGov surveys of party members which showed that he was on 36% with a 17% lead over Johnson. That gap is going to take a lot of overhauling even if the international development secretary comes bottom amongst Labour MPs. The only survey of trade unionists entitled to vote had Benn leading by a big margin.

    Unless something dramatic happens between now and when the ballots start going out it’s hard to see him being knocked off his perch in these sections of the electoral college.

There is, of course, the alternative vote element to consider but my guess is that he will do pretty well there as well. The Benn name still has a powerful appeal in large swathes of the movement.

As I have examined previously the YouGov member surveys in the last two Tory contests and in the 2006 Lib Dem election were pretty good at predicting the broad trends and, with the exception of the Cameron surge in October 2005, showed relatively little movement amongst the contenders.

An issue here is likely to be turnout which will probably be depressed because of the lack of media attention and the fact that a vote on the top job is not taking place at the same time. In such a context you would put your money on the polling favourite.

  • My betting is on Benn and on Cruddas who has a special appeal that might just come through. I have not even bothered to cover myself on the other contenders.
  • Mike Smithson

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    Is a Tory “love-bomber” coming to a Lib Dem near you?

    Sunday, May 27th, 2007

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      What do we think of Cameron-Osborne’s latest wheeze?

    Perhaps the most interesting political piece in an otherwise boring lot of Sunday papers is an article by Melissa Kite in the Sunday Telegraph in which she quotes from a secret campaign report prepared for the Tory leadership on the May 3rd outcome.

    The document concludes “…. that a strategy of not campaigning negatively against the Liberal Democrats, but rather appearing to agree with them on key issues, has been vindicated. The party had previously been aggressive in its attacks on the Lib Dems, but has apparently decided that -flattering Lib Dem voters is a better way of persuading them to vote Tory. The memo says: “There were some fantastic results against the Lib Dems (eg Bournemouth, Waveney, North Devon). Love bombing the Lib Dems works – so don’t let’s revert to old-style campaigning now and no return to ‘Voting Lib Dem is a wasted vote’ .”

    From a Tory perspective that sounds like quite a good move if attracting Lib Dem waverers is your objective – for they are likely to be more responsive if the Tories are agreeing with their parties.

    Watch this space.

    Mike Smithson

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    Could YouGov’s approach be understating the Brown bounce?

    Sunday, May 27th, 2007

      What happens if you don’t measure “likelihood to vote”?

    One of the most important questions asked by four the five pollsters that regularly carry out national voting intention surveys in the UK – ICM, Populus, Ipsos-Mori and Communicate Research – is how likely it is that respondents will actually vote.

    Those surveyed are asked to rate, usually on a scale of 1-10, how likely it is that they will turn out and these answers play a huge part in determining the headline numbers.

    To look at the impact of this compare the February and May ICM Guardian polls. In the former, only 76% of Labour support counted for the final figure against 86% for the Tories. In the latter, that came out on Thursday, you find that the Labour turnout rating had moved up to 84% while the Tories were still rated at 86% likely.

    Not only does this have the affect of giving a big boost to the Labour share but it also dilutes the Tory share because the overall number of responses on which the final figures are calculated is greater.

    So an immediate impact of Blair’s departure and Brown impending arrival is that many supporters feel better about the party and are telling pollsters that they would be more likely to vote.

    Which brings us to YouGov which does not normally apply a turnout filter to its final figures.

      If the change in the desire of Labour supporters to turn out is having such an impact with the other firms is there a danger that YouGov might not be picking up the scale of any Brown-induced move back to the party?

    Certainly the internet pollster has not recorded the Labour lows on the same scale this year as the other four – maybe it won’t record the “highs” as well.

    If my analysis is correct then expect to see bigger moves to Labour in the Communicate Research and Ipsos-Mori May surveys which are still to come out.

    Ipsos-Mori, of course, only counts those scoring 10/10 in its headline figures and the big swings that it often records can be put down to an increased or a decreased desire by Labour supporters to vote.

  • Deputy Leader Betting Hilary Benn is now back as firm favourite at 1.75/1
  • Mike Smithson

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    Will it be five times in a row for John Howard?

    Saturday, May 26th, 2007

      Guest slot on the Australian election by Steven Phelps

    john howard.JPGThe next General Election in Australia is likely to be held in October this year. The last one having been held in October 2004 the latest possible date for the next one is 19th January 2008, but commentators are predicting 20th October 2007, and that’s only five months from now.

    The incumbent Prime Minister is John Howard. As leader of the Liberal Party, he heads the Liberal Party / National Party Coalition, the equivalent of the Tories in the UK. The National Party is only a power in rural areas. In opposition is the Australian Labour Party (ALP), who had an unbroken spell in Government from 1983 to 1996. John Howard won all four subsequent General Elections: 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004.

    The Australian Parliament has two houses, the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the Senate. The Prime Minister comes from the lower house. Voting for the lower house is by constituency, but by transferable vote where there is no overall majority of first preferences. Voters list candidates by preference and so the phrase “Two Party Preferred” (TPP) is used by pollsters and pundits to indicate likely outcomes.

    In addition to the Liberals, Nationals and ALP, there are several minor parties, but the only important one now is the Greens. They poll around 8%, which gives them no lower house seats. However, the overwhelming majority of Green preferences go to the ALP, so Green votes are important.


    In 1996, the Labour Government was tired and suffered a heavy defeat. In 1998, the campaign was dominated by the proposed introduction of GST (the Aussie equivalent of VAT), which was anything but popular. Howard won anyway, albeit with a smaller majority. The ALP was lead at that point by Kim Beazley, whose lack of charisma was comparable to Howard’s.

    In 2001, refugees, the MV Tampa and accusations of ‘Kids Overboard’ held the headlines throughout. Howard was accused of playing the race card, but his position won out. The ALP, still under Beazley, saw their opinion poll lead overturned during the campaign.

    In 2004, the ALP had a new leader in young firebrand Mark Latham, who had deposed Beazley. Australia had taken part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but trustworthiness in handling of the economy and other domestic issues dominated the 2004 election. Although it looked to be evenly-balanced, Howard and the Coalition won comfortably. Howard showed his mettle by coming from behind yet again. That made it three times in succession.

    2007? Howard is still there, but the Labour leaders have played musical chairs. Beazley, who came back from the dead to replace Latham in 2004, was himself unceremoniously ejected and replaced in December 2006 by one Kevin Rudd. With Kevin Rudd, the ALP now has a leader who is both fresh and seen as being a safe pair of hands. After Rudd took the helm, the ALP rocketted in the opinion polls and hasn’t looked back. They have consistently rated 55-60% on a TPP basis, sufficient for a huge Parliamentary majority.

      Another major factor is Howard himself. His Government has now been in power for over 10 years and is starting to look very tired. Shades of 10 years of Thatcher and 10 years of Blair?

    In 2004, the coalition won control of the Senate. It’s unusual for a Government to control both houses, but what looked like a blessing gave Howard the opportunity to shoot himself in the foot. And shoot himself he did when he introduced the major workplace reform known as WorkChoices. This has allowed employers to tear up old contracts and re-employ people under poorer conditions. It’s been nothing short of an electoral disaster and Howard knows it – but he’s stymied. It was his policy that brought it in.

    Australia has enjoyed a long period of economic growth, averaging 3% pa. or more. It seems that China can’t get enough of Australia’s raw materials. On top of this, low interest rates and tax giveaways in recent years have kept the average Aussie very happy, economically. All this should make another Government victory a shoe-in, yet they are floundering in the polls.

    At the beginning of May the latest budget saw another major tax giveaway. This was expected to give the Coalition a recovery in the polls, but it just hasn’t happened.

    John Howard is a highly skilful politician and is no stranger to overturning opinion poll deficits. But the size and consistency of the ALP’s opinion poll lead this time is starting to look unassailable. On 22nd May Howard himself said to his party room that they face annihilation at this year’s election. It was a tactical statement, but it’s the truth.

    BETTING MARKET AND LIKELY OUTCOME Howard’s past record has kept the market from being a one-horse race and so – in my opinion – provides plenty of room to make a very healthy profit. The price of a Coalition win has been in the 2.1 to 2.2 range on Betfair in recent days, while an ALP victory can still be backed at around 1.80.

    When I was in Australia in 2001 and 2004, Howard looked to be on top of things. But now, more and more commentators are starting to see him as a spent force. WorkChoices is turning into a millstone. Even if they don’t know someone affected, everyone has read stories of unfair conditions being forced on employees – they’re are all over the newspapers.

    The economy is still doing well, but there is the possible effect of the drought to consider. Howard made a momentous statement a couple of months ago, when he said that if there wasn’t significant rainfall soon, all non-domestic water consumption in the Murray-Darling basin would have to be stopped. In other words, no irrigation. Now the area covered by the vast Murray-Darling basin is 40% of the very large Australian agricultural sector, so the economic hit from this could be major.

    The ALP price on Betfair went above 2.00 in the days after the budget of 8th May, but with opinion polls showing that their lead was staying solid, the ALP price has since dropped to the low 1.80’s. In my opinion, as we near the election, that figure will tighten considerably, and tighten very quickly. On 19th May, the average of the Aussie bookies for an ALP win was 1.85. On 24th May, it was 1.75.

    I think that this recent comment on the OzPolitics blog ( sums up the situation very well: “I still think we need to wait until end of June early July for a real clear cut trend. Yes, I know the ALP are a long way in front, but if we get into July and the ALP have spent 6 months over 57% or at least above 55% then I cannot see the ALP losing the next election. Yes, I know I called it here about a week ago, but while the Economy is good, a very small part of me thinks that Howard could wiggle out of this corner, even though that small chance is very very small.”

    Note those words – “very very small”.

    Addendum Also on Betfair is the seat of Bennelong, which is Howard’s own constituency. His opponent will be the high-profile former ABC journalist Maxine McKew. She needs a 5% swing to win.

    Steven Phelps


    Boost for Cameron as the Tories move to 39% with YouGov

    Saturday, May 26th, 2007

      But Brown gets within 3% on the pollster’s forced choice question

    dc thin rh.JPGRegular visitors here will know that it has long been a pet theory of mine that what drives Tory ratings in the opinion polls is the amount of publicity, good or bad, that the leader, David Cameron, is getting. If he’s out of the headlines and bulletins then his party slips – if not his party moves forward.

    Thus after a week where the main political story has been Cameron and the grammar school row today’s YouGov figures with changes on the last survey by the pollster two weeks ago show: CON 39% (+1): LAB 33% (-1): LD 15% (nc). So the Tory gaps increases to 6%.

    The fieldwork for today’s May YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph, finished on Thursday while interviewing for the Guardian’s ICM poll ended last Sunday following an intense few days when the Labour succession was dominating the domestic agenda and the Tories were hardly getting a look in.

    But the big news for Labour’s leader-elect is that Brown has narrowed the gap from 10% to just 3% when respondents were asked the pollster’s forced choice question of whether they would prefer a Cameron-led Tory government or a Brown-led Labour one.

    This is the best outcome for the Chancellor on this question since February 2006 when Labour had a 6% margin.

    The Telegraph is putting the big emphasis in its story on the Lib Dems and the leader, Ming Campbell. Certainly YouGov has been the least friendly pollster for the party since the general election. The firm’s 15% share compares with the 21% that ICM recorded last weekend. I think that this is a methodological issue which is driven by the weightings it uses.

    Certainly there will be no panic in the Lib Dem camp if the poor ratings are just restricted to YouGov. ICM would be a different matter.

    Generally I think that all the polls should be treated with some scepticism until after the party conference season in the autumn. Once Gordon is in Number 10, has settled in and we have gone though the notoriously odd polling period of the conferences we’ll be in a better position to start making predictions about the general election. Certainly nobody should be betting on the basis of any poll at the moment.

    Mike Smithson

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    Sean Fear’s Friday slot

    Friday, May 25th, 2007

      Be Careful What You Ask For

    One old chestnut that comes up from time to time is that the Conservatives have only won the majority of elections since 1918 because the “progressive consensus” is divided between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Hence, if only proportional representation were introduced in British elections, Labour and the Liberal Democrats could form a more or less permanent administration.

    It would appear that former Lib Dem Leader, Paddy Ashdown, was convinced that Tony Blair would offer his party some form of proportional representation, in the run up to the 1997 general election, in return for his party’s support. In the event, Labour’s victory was so overwhelming that Tony Blair could afford to ignore him.

    I am not intending to comment on whether PR is a good thing (and I can see both sides of that argument), but whether it really would lead to permanent centre-left government in this country. I believe it would not.

      While it is true that the Conservatives have not gained an overall majority of the vote since 1935, it is equally true that no other party has either. If there is an anti-Conservative majority in the country, there is also an anti-Labour, and anti-Liberal Democrat majority as well.

    Labour and the Liberal Democrats often differ over many issues. Following the Scottish and Welsh election results, the Liberal Democrats have refused to form coalitions with Labour. It was clear to me from my conversations with several Liberal Democrat activists at Mike Smithson’s book launching that many of them would detest the idea of forming a coalition at national level with the Labour Party.

    In short, it is quite wrong to regard Labour and Liberal Democrat voters and members as being ready to regard the other party as their automatic second choice. What is true is that from 1992 to 2005, many such voters were willing to vote tactically against the Conservatives, but there is no reason to believe that that is a permanent feature of our electoral system. In local elections, anti-Conservative tactical voting has disappeared.

    PR would reduce the share of the vote won by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. There is a significant minority of far-Left voters who hold their noses and vote for the two parties. Under PR, they would have an excellent chance of returning MPs who were much more to their liking. The Greens, Respect, and perhaps other Left wing groups could all expect to gain votes at the expense of the two parties. While the Liberal Democrats could expect to gain seats, even as they lost votes under PR, it is very hard to see what benefit Labour could derive from PR. They would lose both votes and seats.

    Paradoxically, Labour and the Liberal Democrats could also lose votes to eurosceptic and far right parties. There are very socially conservative Labour voters who would cut their right arms off, rather than vote Conservative. Yet it is clear that some of them have been prepared to vote for the British National Party in local elections.

    Likewise, some Liberal Democrat voters are simply protest voters who can’t stomach either Labour or the Conservatives, but will happily vote for parties that are reviled by the establishment in order to make a point. Under a system of PR, such voters would know that their vote would cease to be a wasted vote, and instead, would have a good chance of returning a representative who was much more congenial to them. In the last round of European elections, conducted under PR, UKIP and the BNP took almost 22% of the vote between them, and not all of that vote can have come from former Conservatives. In the Devon and Cornwall, for example, UKIP polled especially well in a number of areas that are strong for the Liberal Democrats at Parliamentary level.

    There was one by-election last night, and one countermanded election.

    Brent LBC: Dudden Hill. Lib. Dem 1262, Labour 1177, Conservative 412, Respect 160, Green 156. Lib Dem hold. The Liberal Democrat candidate had won last year, but was disqualified on a technicality. The result showed almost no swing between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, compared to last year.

    South Gloucs. UA. Frampton Cotterill. This election was delayed, due to the death of a candidate. Lib. Dem 1524 and 1624. Conservative 1165 and 1179. Labour 162 and 225. A comfortable win for the Liberal Democrats.

    Sean Fear is a London Tory and writes a weekly column here

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    Has Cameron been following a “Yes Minister” strategy?

    Friday, May 25th, 2007

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      Was the schools row created to keep Gordon off the front pages?

    Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of this week’s news – Gordon’s first as leader-elect – has been how little coverage there’s been of him and the Labour deputy leadership contest.

    For the big political story has been about Tory policy on grammar schools and the battles that Cameron has been having with his old guard.

    Hasn’t the timing of this been a bit too convenient? Could all this have been deliberate? Fraser Nelson in this week’s Spectator has some interesting insights:-

    For some time, David Cameron has been looking for an unpopular education policy. To be heard, he believes, one needs to be attacked. He has already been denounced for his ‘hug a hoodie’ speech and for promoting the family. The ensuing arguments, he feels, moved the party forward. So how to repeat the trick with education? He only half-jokingly rejected proposals as being ‘not unpopular enough’. Well: if it was a fight he was after, he will not have been disappointed.

    The past week in Westminster has been not about Gordon Brown or his ideas for the future, but about the Conservatives and their internal battle over grammar schools. David Willetts has had more exposure in the past week than he has in his entire career as shadow education secretary. Mr Cameron has once again slipped into his favourite role, playing St George to the dragon of the wicked Tory Right. And the fight is still raging.

    And how well they have responded judging by the streams of invective on CONtinuityIDS and in the Telegraph and Mail?

      At times this has reminded me of that wonderful “Yes Minister” episode when Jim Hacker, urgently needing a publicity boost, seeks to capture the headlines by manufacturing a row with Brussels to “defend the British sausage”

    In this case, of course, read “Tory old guard” for “Brussels” and “grammar schools” for “British sausage“.

    Whatever the merit of the education argument nobody seems to question the political impact – for it is just assumed by the supporters that this will produce more votes. The reality is that for there to be more grammar schools then you need more secondary modern schools to which the vast majority of pupils would be forced to go. Is that going to boost Tory chances in marginal constituencies?

    Whatsoever in terms of interest in Labour’s election there’s has not been very much betting activity and only £16,000 has been traded on Betfair.

    Mike Smithson

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    Could your “winning” deputy bet be a loser?

    Thursday, May 24th, 2007

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      Is your wager on deputy PM – not deputy leader?

    A couple of people have emailed to point out that the earlier version of William Hill’s deputy market was not on who would be deputy leader, but who would become deputy prime minister.

    At the time, nearly a year ago, the two roles were seen as being almost synonymous and they had not really checked the details. But things could change dramatically following the strong reports today that Brown is planning to make Jack Straw his deputy PM.

    So many of us, including me, who bet in this market nearly a year ago could find ourselves unstuck if our choice wins the deputy election but does not get appointed by Brown as Deputy PM.

    I’ve written to Graham Sharpe at William Hill asking for clarification and suggesting that if we punters got it wrong then as a goodwill gesture then deputy PM bets should be treated as deputy leadership bets as well.

    This might mean that Hills would have to pay out on both Straw and the winner of the current election.

    The news has led to a rapid easing of Straw’s “next Chancellor” price.

    Mike Smithson

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