Archive for March, 2006

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Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Friday, March 24th, 2006

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    HOW BADLY WILL LABOUR DO ON MAY 4TH?

Labour is in the fortunate position of being expected to do badly in the local elections on May 4th. Anything other than a complete disaster can be portrayed as a success by Labour’s spin-doctors. So will Labour face a complete disaster, on a par with the wipe-outs of 1968, or 1976-1978?

In fact, this is unlikely. In 1968, Labour were reduced to 350 councillors in London (compared to 1,400 Conservatives). In the late seventies, they did not perform quite so badly, but still lost boroughs like Leeds, Tameside, and Oldham to outright Conservative control. By contrast, even in the mid-1990s, the Conservatives still managed to hold 520 seats in London, and it’s hard to believe that Labour can do worse than that.

    Labour’s performance in by-elections since the start of the year (and in fact since Autumn last year) suggests a national vote share of 28%, which is about 9% behind the Conservatives. By-elections in London in 2005 implied a swing of 2-3% from Labour to Conservative and a similar swing from Labour to Liberal Democrat.

If Labour’s performance on May 4th matches its by-election performance, then it will lose considerable ground in London. Several boroughs which Labour controls, such as Hammersmith, Bexley, Harrow, Croydon, Brent, Camden, and Merton, are vulnerable to small swings to their opponents. Labour were lucky to win 15 London boroughs outright in 2002 (compared to 8 for the Conservatives) despite being level-pegging with the Conservatives, in terms of vote share. A loss of 150 seats is plausible. That will hurt, but it would still leave Labour with c.700 seats in the Capital.

Outside London, the scope for Labour losses is smaller. In the Shire District and Unitary Authorities, there is little left for Labour to lose. They may well lose Crawley, one of their very few remaining authorities in the South outside London, and could easily lose 100 or so seats, but there will be few big headline defeats.

In the Metropolitan Boroughs, Labour may manage a small net gain in terms of seats. These were last contested in June 2004, which was a particularly poor year for Labour. Few authorities are likely to change hands, as only one third of the seats is being contested.

Last night’s by-elections saw two seats changing hands:-

Bradford MBC, Keighley West: Labour 1,819, BNP 1,216, Con, 627, LD 208. Labour gain from BNP. Clearly there was huge tactical voting from opponents of the BNP to oust their candidate, doubtless caused in part by annoyance at the sitting BNP councillor quitting and causing an unnecessary by-elections. It is notable however, that the BNP vote share, 31%, was unchanged from 2004, and may point to a high vote for that party in Bradford on May 4th.

Bracknell Forest UA: Con 921, LD 444, Lab 174, UKIP 119. An easy Conservative hold in a safe seat.

South Oxfordshire DC: Watlington; Con 737, LD 274. An easy Conservative hold.

Sunderland MBC – Millfield: LD 566, Lab 397, Con 260, BNP 79. LD hold. This will be very pleasing to the Lib Dems as the other two seats in the ward are held by Labour.

Waverley BC – Ewhurst:
Ind 372, Con 360, LD 230, Lab 6(!): Ind gain from Conservative. A very curious result. Waverley is controlled by Conservatives with independent support. A Lib Dem win here would have given them control of the council. The victorious independent will be able to put either party in power on this council

Sean Fear

Sean is a Tory activist in London



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Will Ed succeed Gordon at Number 11?

Friday, March 24th, 2006

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    Darling now favourite to be next Chancellor

Given the 0.33/1 price tag on Gordon Brown being the next Labour leader a more interesting market for those turned off by such tight prices is on who will be his replacement as Chancellor.

The above chart shows the implied probability of the two front-runners, Alastair Darling and Ed Balls based on best betting prices. Apart from a shot period immediately after David Cameron’s Tory leadership victory when George Osborne came into the frame the market has been dominated by Balls (RED) and Darling (BLUE).

In the immediate aftermath of last May’s General Election we had a good argument on the site when I suggested that Ed Balls, then an MP for less than a week, might be an interesting way of cashing in on an expected Gordon Brown promotion.

    For Balls, who had been Brown’s close adviser from 1997, seemed to have a reasonable chance because of the closeness of the two men’s relationship – a view shared by punters in what, admittedly, has been a very light market.

In recent weeks, though, the sentiment has moved away from the former adviser and Alastair Darling is now the 2.4/1 favourite. The position of Balls has not been helped by his lack-lustre speaking style and the less than convincing way he has handled radio and TV interviews.

The MP for Normanton is still a back-bencher and the suggestion that he could suddenly move to one of the top job’s in Government after spending so little time in the Commons seems a big argument against. But Brown will want his close friends round him in his cabinet and Balls fits the bill.

A Balls bet at the current 3.1/1 price might just be worth a punt because there is little doubt that there’ll be big interest in his chances once Tony Blair has announced his departure date and Brown looks all set to take over. This could see the Balls price tighten sharply.

  • The Times, meanwhile, has the results of a poll on the public’s view of Brown that was taken in the hours after the Budget on Wednesday. On a scale of 1-5 his best rating was a 3.06 score for being “Competent” down to 2.1 on his charisma. On whether he is up to the job of being Prime Minster he rated 2.68. All very predictable.
  • Mike Smithson



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    Is Charles Clarke the man to tell Blair to go?

    Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

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      Should the “men in grey suits do their duty”?

    After all the pressure on Tony Blair over the “loans for honours” row yesterday’s budget must have felt like a welcome respite. But this morning the left-wing magazine, the New Statesmen, joins the growing list of newspapers and magazines which are calling for an early Tony Blair departure.

    This is not yet available online but according to Newsnight it says that “the men in grey suits must do their duty” – a suggestion that senior party members should take him aside and suggest that for the good of the party he should make way for a successor.

      The programme also says that in an article in the magazine the former Young Liberal Leader, Peter Hain, suggests that the only person who is in a position to tell the Prime Minister to go is the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

    The problem with this is that Clarke has been a long-standing opponent of Gordon Brown and it’s questionable whether he would make such a move to help the Chancellor. Clarke has also been talked of as a candidate himself though he has recently said that he would back Brown.

    An intriguing thought is that if Clarke became the assassin he could put himself into contention. The Home Secretary would have done what others, including Brown, had not had the stomach for and this could be rewarded.

    Everything depends on whether “the loans for honours” row burns itself out or will there be further revelations? The Sunday papers could be interesting.

    On the markets the Blair’s departure date betting is After January 1 2008 3.2/1: April-June 2006 5.8/1: Oct-Dec 2006 6.6/1: Jul-Sep 2006 4.4/1. So of the 2006 departure periods July-September is favourite.

    The Budget has led to no changes in the Next Labour Leader betting. Brown 0.34/1. Miliband 10/1 Johnson 22/1 Milburn 25/1 Benn 25/1 Clarke 37/1

    It is very hard to see anybody but Brown doing it and as soon as there’s a whiff of Blair going that 0.34/1 price will tighten considerably. Blair is a remarkable survivor and that 3.2/! on him staying at Number 10 for another 21 months might start to be tempting. I cannot read this and am keeping my money in my pocket.


    Mike Smithson



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    Budget betting: Tories progress while Blair wobbles

    Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

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    There’s been very little reaction on the various betting markets to today’s Budget. The only real movement was on the Tories for the General Election and whether Tony Blair will survive another 21 months.

    As the chart illustrates the immediate reaction was that the chances of Blair staying until the end of next year declined sharply immediately after Gordon Brown sat down but prices recovered soon afterwards.

    On the who will win most seats General Election market there was a slight move to the Tories.
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    Mike Smithson



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    At last – the Gordon & David Show

    Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

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      Whose career prospects will look better tonight?

    This afternoon’s budget looks set to become the first one for many decades when there’ll be almost as much interest in the response of the Leader of the Opposition as in the contents of the Chancellor’s statement itself.

    For this will be the first time that David Cameron has faced Gordon Brown across the floor of the House in what is likely to be a foretaste of things to come. How will Brown’s extraordinary experience and economic record fare when pitted against the young ex-PR man who has been in the Commons for less than five years?

    Cameron will be the fourth Tory leader that Brown has had to face during his nine year tenure in the job and no doubt a lot of thought will have gone into getting his approach this afternoon just right. It is after all a budget statement and direct attacks on Cameron might be quite hard to weave in. But Brown is not going to let this opportunity pass by.

    The challenge for opposition leaders on these occasions is that they’ve got to make a big set-piece speech after being given very little advance information about what is in the Budget. Though today’s news of a £2.3bn record February shortfall in the public finances gives Cameron something to get his teeth into.

      The Tory leader’s approach is to focus on the media battle rather than the argument in the Commons and his Notting Hill team will have been working hard on super sound-bites for tonight’s bulletins. Watch out for something like the “you were the future once” put-down that Cameron used about Blair in his first PMQs.

    With his campaign launch, the Blackpool Conference speech and his first PMQs Cameron has performed reasonably well with his set-pieces although a lot of it has been carefully worked out in advance. This afternoon might be a tougher challenge.

    Following Cameron Sir Menzies Campbell will be next on his feet giving the Lib Dem response. He wants to make an impact too in his first budget debate as leader.

    For the record the key UK betting prices are:-

  • Next Labour Leader Brown 0.34/1. Miliband 10/1
  • Blair’s departure date: After January 1 2008 3/1: April-June 2006 4.3/1: Oct-Dec 2006 4.7/1: Jul-Sep 2006 5/1
  • Most General Election Seats. LAB 0.9/1 CON 1.14/1
  • General Election outcome. Hung parliament 1.38/1: LAB majority 1.82/1: CON majority 3/1
  • General Election – Commons seat spreads Cantor Spreadfair. CON 264-275: LAB 299-303: LD 51.9-53.9.
  • Mike Smithson



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    Labour supporters stay loyal to Tony

    Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

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      The bad headlines are barely having an impact

    Even though he is under the most intensive media pressure the detailed numbers, just out, from Sunday’s YouGov poll show that those planning to vote Labour are overwhelmingly loyal to the triple General Election winner Tony Blair.

  • A total of 85% think Tony Blair is doing well in the job – only two points below the way Tory supporters are rating David Cameron.
  • The Labour supporters disagree by 41-34 with the suggestion that “Rich donors have too much influence over the Labour government”
  • They reject by 36-28 the notion that “the prime minister has given peerages in return for party donations and loans
  • By 67-15 they do not agree that Tony Blair is sleazy
  • When asked about Tessa Jowell the same group was much less charitable. By 44-33 they thought that her separation from her husband was “not genuine but only to save her career”

    The YouGov findings were very similar to ICM’s Guardian survey last week for which the full data is now available. This had 72% of Labour supporters declaring themselves “satisfied” with Tony Blair compared with 68% of Tories saying the same about David Cameron.

      The real challenge for Blair now is that he seems to have lost the support of several important parts of the media and the stories could just run and run.

    Keeping Rupert Murdoch and the Sun on side might be critical. For if the fellow Oxford-educated media tycoon turns against him then surely Blair will have to adjust his departure timetable.

    What could also be key are the May local elections. The expected Labour set-backs could be covered by the media as being fatal. It will be recalled that in May 2003 there was a huge expectation that a poor Tory local election performance would act as a springboard to IDS’s departure. The Friday edition of the Today programme seemed to be all set-up to report on Duncan Smith’s demise. The only problem was that his party won 600 seats.

    In the “When will Blair go” betting the money has been piling on a 2006 departure.

    Mike Smithson



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    The Monday Guest Slot – Nick Palmer MP

    Monday, March 20th, 2006
      HOW DO PARTIES CHANGE?

    “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” A: Only one. But the lightbulb has to *want* to change.

    It’s my second-favourite light bulb joke (I’ll work the favourite in later), but I wanted to introduce a thread on why political parties change, and how, and why not.

    The first thing labour poster strip.JPGto bear in mind is that people generally join political parties because they like them as they are. Sometimes people join because they loathe a rival party, but actually doing all the work involved in helping a party is soul-destroying if you don’t actually agree with it.

    Once you join, though, you probably start to think about winning stuff. This applies most to the biggest parties and hardly at all to the smallest. If you’ve joined the Socialist Workers’ Party, you’re probably realistic about the chances of winning an election (zero), but you want to support the cause. Nothing wrong with that – indeed it makes life simpler. (It’s also why ideological disputes are often fiercest in small parties, since getting the ideas right is all the party is really about.)

    However, if you’re in one of the larger parties, the wish to have perfect policies is balanced against the desire to win. This changes over time. In 1983, Labour had what many of us at the time felt was the perfect manifesto. You heard people say things like, “We mustn’t compromise with the electorate!” Others thought, correctly as it turned out, that it was electorally a suicide note. In 1987 we cut it back significantly, and still lost big. In 1992, we trimmed further, and lost again, but by a small margin. By the time Tony Blair came along, members were so fed up with losing that we were open to considering almost anything he suggested. End clause 4? OK. Scrap unilateral disarmament? Oh, all right. Promise not to raise income tax? Grrr, if you insist. Slaughter of the second-born? Well, mustn’t rule it out too hastily.

    The Conservatives, similarly, have now decided that they’re tired of losing. For the moment, Cameron is able to say almost anything with minimal internal opposition. Oppose selection, question the Royal Prerogative, vote with Labour in the Commons, learn to like immigration, embrace greenery? Mumble, grumble, yes, OK, if it works, say most of the members.

      Note, though, that wanting to win is not the same as wanting to change. Initially, members of a party who joined because it had policies X, Y and Z cannot possibly rejoice at the news that they need to scrap them all.

    What happens next? If the changes don’t work electorally, they get largely reversed (and the bloke who suggested them too). But if they do work and you’re swept to power? Then two things happen. First, the members who are initially thrilled at winning gradually realize that very few of the things that made them join are happening. Little by little, they start to drift away. Second, (in smaller numbers) people who actually like the new policies join the party. Gradually, the party changes its basic stance, and the membership actively defend the new policies, instead of merely tolerating them.

    This is why Labour constituency delegates consistently disappoint the media by applauding Tony Blair to the echo at the conference – it’s partly to stuff the Daily Mail, but mainly because they genuinely like him. Eventually, the change of stance originally accepted for electoral purposes becomes complete. This is how a new consensus is developed. whether it’s Labour conceding that strike ballots are necessary, or the Tories giving up on new grammar schools.

    There is, however, a snag. The body of MPs cannot change in this way. An MP cannot easily drift off to apathy or another party like a disillusioned member. His or her job depends on staying in the party unless they go through the soul-wrenching business of crossing the floor, to derision, debunking and loathing from most of the people you’ve worked with for decades. So MPs who are out of sympathy with party change soldier on grimly, grinding their teeth in frustration and slipping into regular rebellion. This happens mainly to governing parties, since in Opposition the longing to win still holds sway, and the new policies that you dislike are not actually being implemented. (Perhaps when in power it will all be right?)

    What, finally, of the electorate? They’re not dim. They are well aware that change is being done primarily to accommodate them, and they watch warily to see whether the MPs who championed different policies have really changed their tune. To convince the electorate, the leadership has to pick a fight and win. Blair did it with Clause 4, and from time to time he’s been doing it ever since, including last week. Cameron has not yet picked a battleground, but I think he will, unless the polls suggest he doesn’t need to. Campbell, too, needs a little drama and a defining moment.

    And the other light-bulb joke? I offer it to cheer up the Tory MPs who are starting the teeth-grinding phase.

    “How many free-market economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

    None! Leave it alone and it will screw itself.

    Nick Palmer has been Labour MP for Broxtowe since 1997 and has been a long-standing contributor on the site.

    The Monday Guest Slot is a new innovation on the site. Several ideas have been put forward already but if anybody would like to take part then please drop me an email – Mike Smithson



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    We’re back with the YouGov-ICM divide

    Sunday, March 19th, 2006

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      YouGov has Labour 3% behind while ICM shows a 4% lead

    In much of the period leading up to the 2005 General Election the UK’s two major polling organisations were showing very different pictures of the way the public were thinking. Alas by polling day findings from the two firms almost converged and it was hard to draw a significant conclusion about their respective methodologies.

  • Today a telephone survey by ICM in the SundayTelegraph has LAB 37: CON 33: LD 21. The only change on the firm’s Guardian survey on Tuesday is a one point decline in the Tory share.
  • Meanwhile a YouGov internet survey in the Sunday Times has CON 38 : LAB 35: LD 19 – the only changes on its last being being a one point decline in Labour support and a one point increase for the Lib Dems.
    • So how do you explain these totally different figures?

    We last looked at the differing methodologies two months ago when the two firms had very different Lib Dem shares.

    When the full datasets are available from the two pollsters we’ll be able to examine if there are any technical polling factors involved. ICM weight by recalled past vote and there might have been a change in the numbers they use.

    As far as I can see neither ICM nor Yougov are currently weighting by the relative likelihood of people voting – something they did in their General Election polls. This resulted in 1-2% drops in both their projected Labour leads.

    ICM also use what has become known as the “spiral of silence” adjustment that distributes 50% of don’t knows in the same way they said they voted did last time. In recent ICM polls this has boosted the Labour margin.

    The main issue with YouGov is that its polls are carried out on the internet amongst members of its “polling panel” which critics say might not be representative. Sometimes YouGov appears to magnify trends such as the UKIP support ahead of the 2004 Euro election and the 13% Lib Dem share in January.

    For whatever reason the people who respond to phone surveys like ICM’s are almost always more Labour-inclined than the electorate as a whole. The pollster has pioneered methods for adjusting for this but is this enough?

    YouGov also has a voting intention figure based on what people would do if Gordon Brown was Labour leader. This produced shares of CON 39% LAB 37%: LD 17%.

      So for the first time since December the pollster is showing that the party would do better under the Chancellor.

    Aside from the main voting intention both surveys have “sleaze” questions. ICM report that 73% think Lab is “”sleazy” – or more so – than John Major’s government. Almost two-thirds of the YouGov responses thought that Labour kept the loans secret because they were embarrassed by them.

    Mike Smithson