Archive for August, 2006

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David Cameron – the strengths and the weaknesses

Thursday, August 24th, 2006
    Part 1 – the polished presenter with female appeal?

Before my main holiday I thought I’d pen out a couple of posts on THE political phenomenon of the past twelve months in British politics – David Cameron. Is the billing right that he’s the great saviour of his party or will the Cameron thing just fizzle out in a year or so and Labour will win their fourth term? cameron trunks + baby2 side strip.jpgMy first part is on his strengths.

First a couple of anecdotes about Cameron which are quite revealing about the man who would be Prime Minister.

In her IoS column on Sunday Sarah Sands wrote of how a friend had been on the same plane as the Camerons as they were returning from their holiday in Corfu “. ..the plane had been on time and not too full. And sitting right there in economy were David Cameron and his family. Furthermore, the Conservative leader had spent much of the journey walking up and down the aisle with his baby. When I repeated this anecdote I got a mixed reaction. All women want a husband prepared to take the baby during the plane journey rather than peering sympathetically from the seat in front then returning to a newspaper and a gin and tonic. The men I mentioned this to, however, groaned and grumbled. What a nitwit. What a show off. I reckon that David Cameron’s dilemma is not between old Conservatives and new ones but between men and women.”

On a completely different tack one of the site’s regular contributors, Tyson, quoted an anecdote about Cameron’s search for a seat before the 2001 General Election. By the year before there weren’t many seats available and any vacancy in a constituency which was in any way safe was fought over bitterly. As the election got nearer Cameron must have almost given up until Shaun Woodward defected to Labour. Witney, in Oxfordshire, became vacant.

“When Cameron was selected as the Tory candidate for Witney he took some notes for his speech. He knew the ground rules that no notes were requested, so when reminded of this he elaborately tore them up and gave an impeccable speech. One of the selecting panellists told me that they had made the decision on this gesture alone. Cameron IMO entirely planned it for dramatic effect, and I think everything about Cameron’s politics since is planned, tested, rehearsed, coached, repeated for maximum impact”

For all we might scoff at the qualities featured in these two examples they are both proving to be highly effective and appear to swing votes. Certainly the ability to make brilliant apparently unprepared speeches has been the heart of Cameron’s ability to sweep all before him for, firstly, the Witney selection and then the Tory leadership.

    You keep on hearing it being said that after falling for Blair ten years ago the electorate won’t go for the same type again. That’s like saying that a woman who always ends up with the wrong sort of man is going to choose better next time. We all know that it’s highly likely that she won’t.

Those Blairite qualities of “being an ordinary sort of guy”, the ability to make good sound bite, the way he looks, and the fact that for many his voice is easy on the ear all add up to a powerful combination.

Looking back over the past year the most telling phase was the way he handled the intense media questioning on whether he had taken cocaine. He stuck with his line about the private lives of politicians before entering public life and it eventually went away. A second Mr. Teflon had arrived.

His special appeal to women is most intriguing. While individual polls might show varying figures the overall trend is that Cameron has picked up more female support in the polls than male compared with last year’s General Election. The Labour “female bonus” that was won in 1997 appears to be almost exhausted.

    But there are serious chinks in the Cameron armoury and those I will discuss in Part 2 tomorrow.

Anybody want to contribute a guest column? During my holiday Philip Grant (Book Valie) will once again be standing is as guest editor. Anybdy with ideas for guest slots should contact him by email.

Mike Smithson



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Why is Gordon not getting the credit for growth?

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

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    ICM find that only 37% think he’s created Britain’s economic success

The Guardian publishes more data this morning from its August ICM poll and focuses on the Labour’s record generally, and Gordon Brown’s performance in particular, in running the economy for the past nine and a bit years.

In findings that might have an impact on the Labour succession the pollster records that those surveyed split by 37%-52% on whether they thought Brown had been responsible for Britain’s economic success.

The paper’s Richard Adams describes this as “a blow to supporters of the chancellor who argue that his reputation as the architect of growth will pave his way to No 10. Even among Labour voters fewer than two out of three are willing to give him credit…the findings suggest that Labour may be losing its reputation for economic competence as memories of Black Wednesday and the recession of the early 1990s under John Major fade.”

To another question asking whether respondent’s families are better off since Labour came to power, 55% agreed against 41% who didn’t. The latter included 67% of Labour supporters. Adams also reports that the poll shows that “more than three-quarters, 77%, think people have become more selfish under Labour, while 78% agree that the rich have become richer.”

By 49%-41% the sample agreed that Labour policies had been responsible for “some prosperity” since the party came to power in 1997.On the impact of Gordon Brown’s flagship policy on reducing poverty “only 36% said fewer people now lived in poverty, while 57% disagreed.”

Overall the poll is in line with other recent surveys. Before the General election last year ICM found that Labour had a lead of 24% on the question “Irrespective of how you yourself will vote at the next election, which political party do you think is putting forward the best policies on The economy generally?”.

Today’s data and the changing perceptions of Labour economic performance might partially explain yesterday’s voting intention figures from the survey that had the Tories on 40% – nine points ahead.

  • A footnote to yesterday’s ICM poll story is that the detailed data shows that without past voting weighting the Tory 9% lead might have been bigger. The number of respondents saying they voted for the party in May 2005 was higher than the pollster’s targeted weighting amount and had to be scaled down. This is highly unusual because the norm is there are not enough people saying they voted Tory last time in phone poll samples and the proportion has to be scaled up.
  • Mike Smithson



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    Guest Slot: Lewis Baston on the US Mid-Terms

    Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

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      Will 10% poll margins be enough for the Democrats?

    It is always election season in the United States. Every second November sees either a Presidential election or important midterm elections that determine control of Congress and other political offices across the country. Currently, the Republicans run both houses of Congress, but the outcome in November 2006 seems in doubt given the unpopularity both of President Bush and Congress. If the Democrats win one or both houses, the implications for the Bush administration are serious.

    The Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since 1994, but never with a comfortable majority. The Democrats currently need a net pick-up of 15 seats in a 435-member House to win control. On the face of it, this should be easy. President Bush’s approval ratings are in the tank, more or less everywhere.

    In ‘generic’ polls as to which party voters would prefer to see in control, double-digit majorities are choosing the Democrats. The Democrats seem highly motivated and have recruited some strong candidates. But despite all this, most commentators think the chances of a change in control are only evens or worse.

    There are remarkably few truly competitive House districts, so gaining a net 15 out of perhaps 25 vulnerable Republican seats would be a strong showing. There are several reasons for this. One is gerrymandering. In several large states – Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania – Republicans have drawn the boundaries for blatant party advantage. In others such as California there have been bipartisan ‘incumbent protection plans’ to minimise the number of marginal seats.

      It is quite possible for the Democrats to poll more votes, as they have several times since 1994, but win fewer seats – they need a 5-7 per cent lead nationally to win control.

    Winning the Senate, where the Republicans have 55-45 majority is perhaps even tougher. The Democrats need six net gains in order to win control. This is possible, but quite a stretch.

    It would be surprising if the highly conservative (and homophobic) Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania survived against Democratic challenger Bob Casey. Conrad Burns of Montana is also very endangered by links with corrupt lobbyists and his own foot-in-mouth tendency.

    Three other Republican Senators are lagging in the polls at the moment – John Chafee in Rhode Island (easily the most anti-Bush state – the net Presidential approval rating is -54), Jim Talent in Missouri and Mike DeWine in Ohio. The Republicans have narrow leads in a number of other races, including Nevada, Tennessee and now Virginia, where James Webb, once Reagan’s Navy Secretary, has been gaining ground on tarnished Republican golden boy George Allen. There are currently no Democratic incumbents behind in the polls, although the most endangered seats seem to be in Maryland, New Jersey and Michigan.

    The picture may be complicated a little by Independents – Bernie Sanders of Vermont would vote with the Democrats, while if Joe Lieberman defeats the official Democrat Ned Lamont in Connecticut his voting behaviour would be less predictable. It might all come down to which side of the aisle Lieberman chooses.

    It is tempting to follow the conventional wisdom and look for modest Democrat gains in both houses in November, without control switching in either. The Iowa electronic markets give the Democrats about a 50 per cent chance for the House but only about 20 per cent for the Senate.

    But in the past midterm elections have often seen a strong trend, with most of the close races ending up on the same side and a change in the political atmosphere. In 1986 the Democrats gained the Senate surprisingly easily; in 1994 few anticipated the size of the Republican sweep; in 1998 the Democrats’ resilience delivered a verdict on the attempted impeachment of President Clinton. In 2002 the midterms gave encouragement to the Bush administration.

    The 2006 results could be a long way from the conventional wisdom on either side. So far, 2006 looks like a Democratic year, and brave punters may find that there is good value in a bet on the Republicans losing both houses.

    Lewis Baston is research officer of the Electoral Reform Society and co-author
    of several books on elections.



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    Is this the sight we’ll see after the General Election?

    Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

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      Tories take record 9% lead with ICM

    After a 24 hours which has seen biting criticism from inside his party at the plans to increase the number of women Tory MPs the ICM Guardian poll for August is out this morning and shows that his party in in a position where it could just have a working majority after the next election.

    The headline figures with changes on last month are CON 40% (+1): LAB 31% (-4): LDEM 22% (+5). So the main driver of the change has been a big switch from Labour to the Lib Dems with the Tory share advancing one point. But that small increase takes Cameron’s party above the 40% mark for the first time in an ICM poll since 1992.

      The new leader’s relationship with parts of his party is such that you almost think that the people who will be most upset by today’s numbers will be the hard-liners who daily vent their anger at ConservativeHome.

    For David Cameron this survey, from the pollster which has traditionally shown lower Tory numbers, will provide reinforcement as he seeks to answer the growing band of critics of his change programme. They might not like the direction that Cameron is taking them but they cannot argue with the numbers.

    Labour’s 31% share is, according to the paper, at a 19 year low and could not have come at a worse time for Tony Blair as he plans his return from his Caribbean holiday. Of all the monthly polls ICM is probably the one taken the most seriously and these figures will provide more ammunition for those who want a change at Number 10 now.

    For Ming Campbell the poll movement to the Lib Dems will reinforce his position ahead of next month’s party conference. There’s little doubt that the Lebanon war has played a big part in shaping opinion and the Lib Dem leader’s surefootedness on this and other foreign policy issues is holding him in good stead.

      A factor which will impact on left of centre politics over the next few weeks is that the Guardian takes its own poll as almost gospel and hardly ever acknowledges any other pollsters or even other surveys from ICM. Its coverage, especially on the Labour leadership, as we enter conference season is likely to be shaped by these figures.

    All the UK political betting markets might be affected including the General Election ones, the Blair departure date and who will be Labour leader.

    Mike Smithson



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    Is Cameron making the female MP issue his Clause 4?

    Monday, August 21st, 2006

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      Is he right to push a change on which he could be beaten?

    Ever since he was elected as leader critics have argued that David Cameron needs to do more than have smart presentation to prove to the electorate that the Tory party has changed. For this, like Tony Blair with Clause Four in the mid-1990s, Cameron has needed an issue on which he can campaign.

    Today he is to announce moves that could prove to be highly controversial and on which he could conceivably be beaten – he wants to interfere with the way local Tory parties choose their candidates to make sure that more women are being considered.

    For as we saw with the Bromley by-election candidate selection local Tory associations have a huge amount of autonomy on this issue and taking this away is not going to come easily. The culture of the party throughout the country is not one that is ready to accept encroachments that many will see as being pushed for politically correct reasons.

      The Tories desperately want to return to power – but would giving up part of local party powers be a price that many would regard as a step too far?

    Today’s Cameron plan will strip grassroots members of the final say on who should be their candidate and on the face of it looks like a highly dangerous road for the leader to go down. But Cameron appears determined to move from a system that results in just 10% of his party MPs being female.

    To my mind the moves do two things: they will divert the focus from accusations that Cameron is policy-lite and they will set the media agenda as we move into the conference season. The fact that defeat is possible will only add to the interest.

    In one sense I don’t think that Cameron is risking much. If he fails to get his changes at least he will have proved to the world – and women voters in particular – that this is a battle that he is willing to fight. Women know how tough it is breaking down the barriers and a defeat at the first hurdle would reinforce his victory when that eventually comes.

      Also the longer the argument on female candidates goes on the less he will be challenged on other things. This is the classic Blair device – so for Cameron it could be Win Win.

    One of the interesting polling moves since Cameron was elected has been the proportion of women who now say they support the party. In poll after poll the female segment is proving to be much more Tory than the male one. This is only returning to how things used to be. Until Blair’s victory in 1997 women were much more Tory inclined than men.

    Mike Smithson



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    Reid soars ahead of Cameron on YouGov’s BrandIndex tracker

    Sunday, August 20th, 2006

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      Home Secretary’s “positive impression” rating up 15% in eleven days

    The latest YouGov BrandIndex data published on the UK Polling Report site shows a massive boost for the Home Secretary, John Reid (GREEN) since he came to prominence over his handling of the alleged terror plots.

    As can be seen from the chart he is well ahead of his potential Labour leadership rival, Gordon Brown (BROWN) and now enjoys poll ratings ahead of the Tory leader, David Cameron (BLUE), whose figures continue to slip.

    It should be noted that these are based on whether respondents have a “positive impression” of the named politician and are not the “good job – bad job” figures that YouGov has been providing PBC with over the past few weeks.

    These are based on a five day rolling average of surveys of 600 people each day. The sample size in therefore 3,000.

      Although these figures should be treated with great caution they are likely to have the effect of helping John Reid establish a position where he could challenge Gordon Brown.

    What we really need are proper vote intention figures with Brown and Reid named alongside Cameron and Campbell. Let’s hope that ICM and Populus, due out in the next couple of weeks, will ask those questions.

    My strong view is that if Reid is polling better on such a measure against the Chancellor then he would have a serious chance of challenging for the leadership. Labour wants a winner and will be influenced by the polls.

    The challenge for Reid is maintaining this position because as many ex-Home Secretaries can vouch – the job is not normally good for a career.

    In the betting the best Brown price has eased a touch to 0.46/1.

    Mike Smithson



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    Mori: 56% want Blair out by the end of the year

    Sunday, August 20th, 2006

      Brown has 7% lead on Cameron on being a “capable PM”

    The Sunday Times this morning features a Mori poll on immigration and leader ratings but without a voting intention question and without using the measures other pollsters employ to ensure that their samples are politically representative.

      The most significant finding is that 47% of those surveyed think that Tony Blair should go immediately with 56% wanting him out before the end of the year. This is by far the highest rating on this question in any opinion poll and comes only a few days before the Prime Minister returns from his summer holiday.

    To the question “Who do you think would make the most capable Prime Minister –Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Menzies Campbell?” these were the shares with changes on March when the question was asked last time using a similar methodology. Brown 31 (-4): Cameron 24 (-2): Campbell 11 (+2)

    Regular visitors will know that whenever Mori produce a poll, whatever it is saying, I always give a health warning about the firm’s methodology.

    For in all phone surveys there is a proven tendency to grossly over represent Labour because, for whatever reason, party supporters are much more likely to take part in surveys than supporters of other parties.

    Thus ICM and Populus find that on average the number of poll respondents saying they voted Labour at the last election is about quarter more than actually did so and make adjustments for sample distortion. Mori don’t and their figures should be treated accordingly.

    Normally with voting intention polls, which this isn’t, Mori filters its results by only including those who say they are “certain to vote” in its headline figures. So even that control does not apply here.

    To give an idea of the scale of potential distortion a Mori poll for the FT just four days before the May 2005 General Election reported a Labour lead of 15%. The turnout filter cut that back to 10%. At the election Labour’s margin was 3%. Mori’s final election poll employed different methodologies and so cannot be compared.

    Within the next week or so we should see the August surveys from ICM and YouGov – both of which employ robust techniques to avoid sample bias. Wait for them and ignore Mori.

    In the betting on Blair’s departure the 2006 price is 10/3 with current odds of 5.4/1 on a final quarter departure.


    Mike Smithson



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    Could Blair face a challenge at next month’s conference?

    Saturday, August 19th, 2006

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      The Independent reports left-wing moves to press for an election

    A report by Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor of the Independent, this morning says that “..demands for Tony Blair to quit over his support for US President George W Bush in the Middle East are to be taken to Labour’s annual conference next month in a direct challenge to his leadership by left-wing Labour campaigners.”

    He says that all constituency Labour parties are being sent an emergency resolution calling for a leadership election within two months of the conference. What gives the move some force is that behind it are leaders of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, who successfully backed four candidates to the party’s NEC.

    Among those on their list was Walter Wolfgang – the 82 year old who was ejected from last year’s conference after heckling Jack Straw.

      Whether this will gather any momentum is hard to say but in the past fortnight the tempo has clearly moved up a gear as a result of the Prime Minister’s position on Lebanon. An indication of the change is the way John Prescott’s reported use of the word “crap” about George Bush has been well received within the party.

    Those campaigning against Blair are said to want to provide a spur to Gordon Brown to force the Prime Minister out. An NEC member is quoted as saying “So far, Gordon has been too afraid to strike. He has got to demonstrate that he is ready for the leadership by helping the party to get rid of Blair.”

    Whatever the pressure it’s still very hard to see the Chancellor doing anything other than maintain his cautious approach.

    The element that’s still in the background for Blair is the cash for peerages police investigation. That’s very much out of his control but it hasn’t gone away. What would be the impact of the police interviewing him on top of the current discontent in parts of his party?

    I still think think that the 6.2/1 on Blair going in the final quarter of 2006 is a good value bet.

    Mike Smithson