Archive for November, 2006


Tories in lead with Mori for the first time since July

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

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    Labour support drops 4% on the month as LDs get boost

The latest Mori survey, published in the Observer, shows a sharp fall-back in Labour support. Its poll, carried out from November 9-14th, has the following shares with the changes from October – CON 35 (nc): LAB 33 (-4): LD 20 (+2).

The poll is quite old and the field-work finished a week last Tuesday. Thus the whole of the survey was completed before the Queen’s Speech the week before last and was finalised five days before the November ICM poll for the Guardian which we reported here on Wednesday. So Tony Blair’s “big clunking fist” endorsement of Gordon Brown took place after the poll was completed.

Like all Mori surveys the headline figures are based on those who say they are certain to vote. Amongst all respondents Labour has a 5% lead.

    The firm has been the only pollster since April to have reported Labour leads and this latest survey is the first to have the Tories ahead since July.

The poll has bad news for Cameron – a decline to 25% of those saying they are satisfied with his performance as leader of the opposition – a product perhaps of the intensive campaign by the Murdoch press in the period just before the poll attacking the Tory leader. This figure, it should be noted, was not subject to Mori’s turnout filter but should be worrying nevertheless if supported by other polling firms. There’s a list of Cameron approval polls here.

My usual Mori comment. Unlike the other main pollsters carrying out monthly polls Mori do not seek to ensure their samples are politically representative by asking how respondents voted last time and making adjustments. For this reason I attach less importance to the pollster than to surveys from Populus, ICM and YouGov.

I should note that the pollster has invited me to a breakfast meeting with leaders of the firm just before Christmas and I will report back on the site.

In the same poll a year ago, just before the change in the Tory leadership, Mori was reporting Labour on 42% – ten points ahead of the Tories. In December 2005 this had changed to a 9% Tory lead – an extraordinary turnaround.

There is an poll in the Sunday Telegraph this morning on view of Scottish independence both north and south of the border. More later on this.

UPDATE: There are voting intention figures in the ICM poll – showing CON 37%, LAB 31%, LD 23%. It is not clear whether this is a normal ICM finding for Great Britain or, as the article suggests, for England alone. Maybe the print edition of the paper will clarify this. The shares are very similar to what ICM had in the Guardian on Wednesday. I cannot recall the pollster ever producing England-only shares but maybe this is different. Maybe not.

A total of 52% of those in Scotland said they favoured independence and, perhaps very surprisingly, 59% of respondents in England supported the proposition. There was also support from 48% of the English group to the notion of English independence.

SECOND UPDATE: The print edition of the Observer makes confusing reading for those trying to work out precisely what was in the Mori poll. It prints two charts – one showing, apparently, a RISE in satisfaction amongst all voters since January for Cameron with a slight decline since September. That does not marry up with the story. Why in heaven’s name don’t they just print a table of numbers instead of fancy colour charts which are highly misleading? Rubbish Observer – Rubbish

The print edition of the Telegraph makes clear that two ICM surveys took place – one in Scotland and one in England. So the vote shares sown above were for England only.

Mike Smithson


NOP poll setback for Brown against Cameron

Saturday, November 25th, 2006
    The Chancellor trails 19-29 on who would make the best PM

According to Iain Dale an NOP telephone poll for tomorrow’s Sunday Edition programme on ITV found shares of Cameron 29: Brown 19: Campbell 5 when respondents were asked to say who would make the “best Prime Minister”.

A striking feature of the poll is the very high level of don’t knows or refusers – getting on for half of those who took part.

When asked who “had the freshest ideas” Cameron was beating Brown by 39-17. But to a question on national security Brown was beating Cameron by 22-21%.

I do not know whether a voting intention question was asked and further details might appear over the weekend. I am expecting at least one full poll in the papers tomorrow.

Mike Smithson


Is the real story that Labour’s going broke?

Saturday, November 25th, 2006


    How serious a financial mess is the party in?

While everybody is focussing on the row over Labour ordering its councillors to pay a proportion of their allowances to help it wipe out its massive debts are we missing the bigger picture – that following the loans for peerages crisis that the party is in danger of going broke?

This latest move, backed by threats of disciplinary action against those councillors not obeying, follows the decision by the party to levy a 15% “tax” on all contributions that are made to the the campaigns of the candidates in the coming leadership and deputy leadership elections.

    Labour, surely, would not have brought in draconian measures like this unless it was going through a massive financial crisis.

Clearly conventional fundraising must be extraordinarily difficult at the moment and recent filings at the Electoral Commission have shown how challenging it is for the party to attract money in the wake of the loans for peerages affair.

    Just who would want to become a big donor to the Labour party when those who have gone before have had their motives questioned and have found themselves being part of the Yates of Scotland Yard investigation?

So with donors drying up, Tony Blair’s General Election loans having to be paid back and the cost of servicing the accumulated debt rising by the day how serious is the party’s position? It doesn’t look good.

There is the move towards state funding of parties but this is hardly the right climate to have that debate. And why should the Conservative party be supportive of the idea when it, as far as it appears, is finding it much easier to attract gifts?

Forcing through legislation that would provide tax-payers’ money for parties could be highly dangerous for Labour. Why should the public bail them out of the mess they got themselves into?

This is a job that will test Gordon’s political skills.

Mike Smithson


Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Friday, November 24th, 2006

    Can the Liberal Democrats Pull Off a Triple Triumph in North London?

The Liberal Democrats have seen their support growing steadily, across Brent, Camden, Haringey and (until recently) Islington. Currently, they hold two seats in these boroughs, Hornsey & Wood Green, and Brent East, which is due to be abolished.

The Liberal Democrats will be aiming to take win Islington South, together with the new seats of Brent Central and Hampstead & Kilburn, in each case, from Labour.

Notwithstanding that Sarah Teather will be fighting Brent Central, I consider that that seat is out of reach. Labour achieved one of their best results in London, in the wards which make up this seat, in May, winning 40% of the vote, compared to 29% for the Liberal Democrats. Sarah Teather is a formidable campaigner, but I can’t see her winning a safe Labour seat, which has one of London’s highest proportion of black voters, a constituency which is very loyal to Labour.

Islington South, on the face of it, looks much better for the Liberal Democrats. This had a Labour majority of just 484 at the last general election. However, unusually, this seat actually showed a swing to Labour in May, who took 32% to 33% for the Liberal Democrats. Both the Conservatives and the Greens polled quite well in this seat, with 15% and 14% respectively. The result may come down to which of the two main parties here can persuade Conservative and Green voters to vote tactically.

Hampstead & Kilburn will probably be the most interesting contest, a genuine three- way marginal, particularly now that Glenda Jackson has said she will be stepping down. The Liberal Democrats led in this seat in May, taking 36% of the vote, compared to 29% for the Conservatives, and 21% for Labour. However, historically, wards where the Liberal Democrats have done well locally, such as Fortune Green, and West Hampstead, have voted Labour at Parliamentary level.

The fact that Sarah Teather will not be standing in this seat may also lead to the wards that come in from Brent East reverting to their old allegiances – to Labour in the case of Kilburn and Queens Park, and to the Conservatives in the case of Brondesbury Park.

Last night saw no change in the four seats that were contested.
Huntingdonshire DC – St Neots and Eaton Ford: Conservative 658, Lib Dem 577. Conservative hold. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote shares hardly altered.
Surrey CC – Englefield Green: Conservative 664, Lib Dem 317, UKIP 281, Labour 150, Monster Raving Loony Party 34. Conservative hold. Although there was no real shift between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, UKIP saw their vote share rise strongly.
Torridge DC – Northam: Conservative 556, Green 414. Conservative hold. In fact, the Conservatives didn’t fight this seat in 2003, when it was won by the Community Alliance. However, the retiring councillor switched from the Community Alliance to the Conservatives.
Walsall Borough – Aldridge North and Walsall Wood: Conservative 1157, UKIP 309, Labour 222, BNP 160, Lib Dem 132. Conservative hold. Unlike most recent contests, the BNP performed very badly here, dropping from second to fourth, while UKIP performed well, getting into second place.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist


How will punters react to Blair being interviewed?

Friday, November 24th, 2006
    Could we see a tightening of the early exit prices?

It must be a near certainty that in the next few days or weeks Tony Blair will be interviewed by the Scotland Yard team carrying out the honours probe.

When is this event going to take place? We don’t know but it cannot be far off. And when it does happen will the Prime Minister be asked questions “under caution”? Again we don’t know but there can be little doubt that the questioning of Tony will be a mammoth political event.

    Coverage on the 24/7 news channels will be wall to wall and there’ll be huge speculation. Just remember the scale of coverage when Lord Levy was arrested.

The question for punters is how will the markets react? My guess is that there will be a rush to bet on the early exit dates as pundits start suggesting that he will not be able to stay in post very long. I would expect, as well, the Gordon Brown price in the Labour leadership betting to tighten as well.

Mike Smithson


ICM data shows further evidence of the gender divide

Friday, November 24th, 2006
    But poll junkies will have to wait for YouGov

I was expecting to be leading this morning on the November YouGov poll which invariably features in the Daily Telegraph on the final Friday of each month. Well it does not appear to be there but for those those who need their regular “fix” of polling information we do have the full dataset from this week’s ICM survey for the Guardian.

The main point from these numbers is that they reinforce the trend from recent polls showing that the move to the Tories has been biggest amongst men than women.

With males the split was CON 36%: LAB 34%: LD 20% while with the females in the sample the shares were CON 38%: LAB 31%: LD 22%.

    But ICM did not find the same dramatic difference as Populus earlier in the month when it asked the named leader question – how would you vote if it was Cameron’s Tories, Brown’s Labour and Campbell’s Lib Dems.

On a cautionary note what the full data also shows is that when you look at the standard voting intention and contrast it with the now almost inevitable named leader question you are not comparing like with like. It is very easy, as we saw in the Guardian on Wednesday, to seek to compare the two findings but they are calculated on a different basis.

The named leader numbers are based on the full sample while the main voting intention figures are adjusted in accordance with how likely it is that respondents say they will vote. Given that this measure usually helps the Tory number a turnout linked adjustment would probably show a bigger gap – maybe 1-2% more.

On the other hand the pollster does not use the “spiral of silence” adjustment with the named leader question and this in recent months has sometimes been giving Labour a slight boost.

This is a bit technical but it is very easy to get drawn into comparisons which are not strictly accurate and I acknowledge that I am as guilty as anybody.

Mori note. The Sun survey that appeared on Tuesday was not from Mori’s main poll for the month. That should be out this weekend.

Mike Smithson


Will Gordon be any good at fundraising?

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
    Can the new leader solve the party’s financial crisis?

The overnight news that all challengers in the coming Labour leadership contests are going to have to pay the party a “tax” of 15% on the campaign funds they raise is a further indication of the serious funding problem that the party is now facing.

For a consequence of the “cash for honours crisis” is that big donors are, perhaps understandably, reluctant to make contributions and Labour has a campaigning machine that requires a lot to keep going. In the political arena, too, the big cash tends to move towards potential winners and Labour is looking less like that than it has done for a decade and a half.

So a major challenge for Gordon, or whoever succeeds Blair, is finding the sums, first, to pay off the big deficits and then to build up a war-chest to compete with what is likely to be a well funded Tory machine.

There is, of course, an inquiry into party funding going on and it’s highly likely that both the fund-raising and spending rules will have changed by the time of the next election. But getting the tax-payer to pick up a large part of the tab is not going to be popular and a gift for the Tories to make into an issue.

    So how is Gordon going to do? Is he going to be able to raise the cash that Labour needs? Has he the personality to be a supplicant – to ask for money?

The role of the leader in this was touched on in a recent column by the Guardian’s Jackie Ashley.

This is what she wrote:“..It isn’t hard to imagine a different way of doing things. There should have been entirely separate party fundraising, with absolutely no connections to No 10. Donors would not therefore have had the personal touch from the most powerful man in Britain, and the fundraisers would have had a harder job. It would have forced them to reach down, below the fat cats, to party sympathisers and members. The galas, quiz nights, appeals, 0800 phone numbers and pestiferous mailshots used by charities would have been in play.”

This is just naive. My day job is as professional fundraiser and over the past decade or so my campaigns have produced more than the totals raised both the Labour and Tory parties added together. The reality is that small ticket fundraising of the type Ashley describes is likely to be be costly and is only going to produce a fraction of what’s required to feed a modern political machine.

You have to engage big donors and it is simply not possible to produce the sums required without them. The rub is that to persuade people to make the big gifts involves the leader. There is no way that the role can be divorced from the process.

If Gordon was an American politician seeking his party’s nomination to run for president then he would have got nowhere without getting closely involved in the fundraising process. From what I have observed of Brown he does not look like a natural – in fact rather the opposite. Whatever his success in this area could be a key factor if he wants to stay in the job after the next election.

Latest Labour leadership betting is here.

Mike Smithson


Could Ming do a Cameron on Cameron?

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

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    Why not some smart third party politics?

With Maurice Saatchi making coded attacks on David Cameron over “going for the centre ground” and the seemingly extraordinary suggestions about the Tories and Polly Toynbee isn’t it time for some smart opposition tactics from the Liberal Democrats.

They should start be recalling one of the early actions the new Tory leadership. At the start of the year Cameron’s team came up with the novel approach of backing the Labour leadership as it sought to push its school reforms through the Commons. With dozens of Labour MPs rebelling over the Blair-Kelly plans the Tory approach reinforced Labour discomfort by ensuring that the only way this got onto the stature book was as a result of their support.

    So why doesn’t Ming Campbell take a leaf out of Dave’s book and take steps to embarrass Cameron in the same way?

For Cameron’s biggest problem, surely, is dealing with the hard-liners and traditionalists – party members who really find the direction that their leader is taking the party hard to stomach. This week’s pamphlet by Lord Saatchi was a case in point.

So why doesn’t Ming starting praising Cameron when his rhetoric moves onto liberal territory? Thus today their could have been fulsome congratulations at the “change in thinking” that led to Polly Toynbee’s name being raised.

Last month after the Tory leader’s conference speech proclamation on same sex partnerships could have been followed quickly by statements from Ming in a non-churlish welcoming this development – reminding people of course of how big a step this was for Cameron in the party that brought us the infamous Section 28.

And when “hug a hoodie” became “tough love for yobs” fulsome praise at the way Cameron was taking the party of Michael Howard’s “prison works” would have appealed to Ming’s Liberal base and embarrassed the young Tory leader.

All this would be much better than the current Lib Dem approach of trying to say that Cameron does not mean it which makes them look so defensive.

Mike Smithson