Archive for October, 2010


How can Ed Miliband get onto the news?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Google News search -“Ed Miliband”

Is visibility always the problem when you are opposition leader?

On the face of it yesterday was a pretty bad news day for the coalition. There was Boris and “call me Dave” having their huge public spat over housing benefit, a suggestion that the child benefit move for higher rate tax-payers might be a lot harder to achieve than was first thought, and the PM fighting a tough battle in the EU.

Yet the main story about the opposition leader was that William Hill have opened a number of betting markets on Ed Miliband’s new family addition due in November.

It’s almost the same day in day out for the man who only became Labour’s leader five weeks ago. Getting the attention of the news media is proving to be something of a challenge. Yes he gets a bit of national coverage each week at PMQs but apart from that it’s quite a struggle.

For the big political story of the moment, the cuts and all their ramifications, doesn’t involve Labour very much, if at all. The dissension and news interest is confined to coalition ranks alone – witness Simon Hughes and Boris on housing benefit.

If it’s any consolation it was ever thus for opposition leaders. Just remember those three months after Gordon Brown became PM at the end of June 2007. Cameron barely got a look in until his party conference in the October where the broadcasters give guaranteed coverage.

If the parliament does run its full course and the election is in May 2015 then EdM will have been at the helm for 56 months. That’s two and a half months longer than Cameron from 2005 and a very long time.

At the end of the day opposition leaders can only call for things or comment -governments can do and the latter is where the news interest usually lies.

Mike Smithson


Win a copy of this book

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Enter this evening’s quickie competition

The publishers of the Kavanagh/Cowley General Election 2010 book have given PB a copy for a competition prize.

So can you guess the numbers in tonight’s YouGov daily poll which will be out at 10pm. Please post on the thread giving the shares for the three main parties and the government approval/disapproval figures.

The competition will be decided by who is the least wrong. So if you have CON 41: LAB 38: LD11 and 41% approve and 43% disapprove your score is the aggregate of how far you are out with the five numbers. The lowest aggregate is the winner.

If there is a tie then it will be the first to post who wins.

Because I can’t be arsed going through the entries you will need to make a claim by email to me if you think that you have won. Claim emails must arrive by noon tomorrow stating the time of your entry and your score. The email should be titled Competition Claim.

If there is any dispute on anything my decision is final.

Only one entry is permitted per person.

Entries will be allowed until 9.45pm

Good luck.

Mike Smithson


Can boffins really work out your politics from your genes?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Cambridge University Press

Could your politics be determined by your genetic make-up?

Like most PB regulars, I guess, I’ve always assumed that a person’s political ideology is determined by family environment and friends. New research suggests something different.

For liberals, at least, may owe their political outlook partly to their genetic make-up, according to researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University. Ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4.

The study’s authors say this is the first research to identify a specific gene that predisposes people to certain political views.

Appearing in the latest edition of The Journal of Politics published by Cambridge University Press, the research focused on 2,000 subjects. By matching genetic information with maps of the subjects’ social networks, the researchers were able to show that people with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults, but only if they had an active social life in adolescence.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Previous research has identified a connection between a variant of this gene and personality traits related to political liberalism.

Lead Researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends’ points of view. As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average.

They reported that “it is the crucial interaction of two factors—the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence—that is associated with being more liberal.” The research team also showed that this held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex, or age.

What worries me is that if they can identify liberals through this gene could some future totalitarian regime use this science to round those of this disposition up and neutralise them? This could be scary.

Mike Smithson

DATE FOR YOUR DIARY Next PB get-together is on Wednesday November 17th at 6.30 pm at the Dirty Dicks pub close to Liverpool Street station. If you are thinking of going please send email to


What’ll slashing 500,000 public sector jobs do to the Tory vote?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
Populus poll All voters Public Sector Private Sector Retired voters
CON 37 23 45 44
LAB 38 50 30 37
LD 15 17 15 10

Do people vote according to their current situation?

The above table has been produced from data from this week’s Populus poll for the Times and shows the voting intention shares broken down in terms of respondents employment sector or whether or not they are retired.

As can be seen there’s a massive gap between private and public sector workers with Labour doing particularly well and the Tories does correspondingly badly in the latter group. Other pollsters have found a similar trend but not quite on this scale.

The fieldwork took place over the weekend when the details of George Osborne’s CSR statement were still dominating the news and public sector workers were, of course, singled out.

This is not a new phenomenon. At the general election in May the Tories performed significantly less well in those seats where there was a higher proportion of public sector workers.

2010 election Change in Tory vote
Seats < 22% public sector +5.1%
Seats > 28% public sector +3.1%

This table is based on data from Denis Kavanagh’s and Philip Cowley’s The British General Election of 2010 which was published at the end of last month. The numbers are featured in a lengthy appendix by John Curtice, Stephen Fisher and Robert Ford.

So what will happen to the electoral prospects of the blues with the planned reduction of 500,000 in public sector jobs? Will their chances increase if fewer voters are on the state payroll or will there be ongoing resentment by those no longer employed.

And what about the remaining public sector workers who will see their pay curtailed and their pensions costing more – are they going to be even more anti-Tory? Quite simply what’s going to be the electoral impact of such a big change in the work-force.

My view is that people’s votes can be influenced by current self interest – so someone who has made a transition from the public to the private sector, or to retirement, might possibly be less inclined to vote Labour. If that theory is correct then lopping half a million jobs off the state pay-roll might help the blues.

Mike Smithson


Betting countdown to the Mid-Terms

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

We are less than a week away from next Tuesday’s elections in the US when two of the key issues will be whether the Democrats lose control of both the House and the Senate. So far, at least, the markets think that the Republicans will take control of the House but not the Senate.

So far there’s not been a lot of betting in the UK though that could grow sharply in the final few days.

Ladbrokes has a range of markets as do several other bookmakers.

Mike Smithson


Has John Rentoul got the PMQ HB row right?

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Should EdM be thinking of the wider audience?

In his summary of today’s PMQ encounter between Cameron and Ed Miliband the Indy on Sunday’s John Rentoul concluded:-

“..Good tactics on Miliband’s part; poor strategy. He succeeded in winding up Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, standing at the end opposite the Speaker’s chair, shouting, “Absolute rubbish!” He succeeded in dividing the left-wing of the Liberal Democrats from their colleagues on the Government benches. (Miliband had a good line about Simon Hughes looking glum and Nick Clegg glummer, and Bob Russell, the rebellious Lib Dem MP got up at the end and asked the Prime Minister to look again at the proposals.)

But I suspect Miliband conveyed the wrong message to the country, which simply cannot understand why so many billions of taxpayers’ money is poured into such a badly-designed benefit that undermines work incentives, profits landlords and keeps property prices higher than they would otherwise be.”


Mike Smithson


Is welfare the new political divide?

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

What are the dangers in getting tough?

Maybe I’m being unfair to suggest that there is perhaps nothing that pleases Daily Mail readers more than reading headlines like this morning’s about the efforts to tighten up on who should receive the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance – which is replacing incapacity benefit.

Phrases like “weeding out the work-shy” are powerful and resonate, surely with the audience.

The Mail highlights new statistics showing that 640,000 out of about 840,000 who applied were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – indicating, according to the paper, that they were ‘trying it on’.

Trials are taking place in two locations to assess existing recipients of incapacity benefits to see if their weekly payments should continue.

The prize for George Osborne is massive – if the same ratio applied with the old benefit then the annual bill could be reduced from £12.5bn a year to about £4bn.

That’s fine – but what are the political risks? Isn’t a tightening up going to throw up difficult hard cases and could the government be vulnerable because of the involvement of a private contractor?

What post-CSR polling data there is suggests that whilst a majority are concerned that overall the measures are unfair there is public support for a welfare clamp-down – but there is a sharp divide based on people’s political allegiance. This is from YouGov.

Cutting £7bn a year from welfare All voters CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Support 57 83 33 65
Oppose 31 9 55 19
12 month time limit on employment & support allowance All voters CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Support 57 80 37 64
Oppose 29 11 50 22

The contrast on both questions between the responses of Labour voters and Tory ones is extraordinary. Interestingly the Lib Dem voters in the group were taking a pretty tough view.

  • The overnight daily poll from YouGov for News International had CON 40%: LAB 38%: LD 12%.
  • Mike Smithson


    Are the new boundaries going to be announced all at once?

    Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

    Is the plan a big bang rather than a dribble?

    We all know that a key part of the coalition’s electoral reform package is to reduce the commons from the current 650 seats to 600 all apart from one or two of the same size.

    What I understand tonight is that next September there’s going to be a big announcement when the boundaries of all the new seats will be revealed all at once.

    Until now the process has been to announce new boundaries a few seats at a time.

    My guess is that the “big bang” approach is being designed to minimise opposition.

    Mike Smithson