Archive for September, 2007

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What will Gord make of the council by elections?

Friday, September 28th, 2007

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    Do these make the general election decision even harder?

Having worked for BBC national news for nearly a decade and a half and having been closely involved in politics since I cannot remember a Friday morning when a batch of local councils by elections has made the headlines. The only times the news editors have taken notice of these contests in the past has been when the BNP or similar parties has made progress.

Maybe it was the revelation at the weekend that Gordon Brown is an avid follower of these contests has put them up the political agenda?

Clearly with a possible general election much in mind every bit of evidence that might indicate how opinion is moving will be scrutinised to the nth degree.

The BBC is quoting an analysis that suggests that in national terms last nights results represent a projected 6.2% lead. I’m always very doubtful about such numbers because local elections are just that – local – and I am far from convinced that it is possible to make that sort of projection.

The “Guardian poll”
reported in the previous article turned out to be the paper listing as “latest polling results” last weekend’s ICM survey for the Sunday Mirror which had Labour 6% ahead.

Mike Smithson



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Has the Guardian got a new poll or not?

Friday, September 28th, 2007

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Above is the front page of the Guardian as featured on the SkyNews website. But there’s no reference anywhere, it seems, to the numbers that are apparently on the front page.

Has anybody got a copy? Does anybody know?

Mike Smithson



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Is Gord waiting for the polls after this?

Thursday, September 27th, 2007


    What margin would trigger a visit to see the Queen?

For all the bravado, leaking, teasing and wind-ups Gord is not going to risk his premiership on the basis of current polling evidence. What he needs to see is how the public react after they’ve been exposed to the Tories and, in particular, to the big speech by David Cameron.

For much of the poll movement to Labour has been driven by the almost total news blackout from the Tories during Brown’s return from holiday, the Lib Dems conference and then, this week, Labour in Bournemouth.

    What will be at the back of their minds is the extent of damage to the Tories that September has caused – for it’s only four weeks ago that YouGov’s Labour leader dropped a staggering seven points in a fortnight and ComRes was showing the two parties neck and neck.

No doubt Gord will have plans to distract attention from the coverage of Cameron’s speech but he needs to see how the public react. If the polls move back to the August levels then it will, surely, be too risky.

If however the conventional pollsters, ICM and Populus in particular, are reporting margins of 6-7 points or more then I believe there’s a good chance that Gord will chance it.

One thing’s for sure – next week is going to be one of the biggest weeks in British politics for a long long time.

Mike Smithson



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Does Boris stand a chance?

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

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    Or is Ken certain of a third successive victory?

This morning’s news that Boris Johnson had won an overwhelming victory in the Tory “open primary” to choose its mayoral candidate will hardly come as a surprise. In races like this it’s the most well-known that usually clinches it and there could have been little doubt that the former Spectator editor fits that category.

But what are his chances? Is it possible that he could give Labour’s unopposed choice, Ken Livingstone, a run for his money?

On the face of it the electoral system should make this quite an easy election for the Tories. Turnouts are normally substantially higher in the outer suburbs than in the Labour strongholds. In 2004 the Tories had a substantial margin over Labour in the London Authority elections that were held at the same time.

    Alas there wasn’t much enthusiasm behind their candidate, Steve Norris and perhaps one in six Tory voters in the Authority election switched to Livingstone for the Mayor.

Will the same happen again? Will Boris’s perceived lack of seriousness count against him? Was Ken right when he boasted at the Labour conference that he had just delivered “..the first “Boris Johnson memorial lecture”?

It’s hard to say but Livingstone is one helluva politician.

Mike Smithson



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Why is the Times leading on the plagiarism suggestions?

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
    Will this impede Brown’s election momentum?

times brown copy-cat speech.JPGReproduced here is the front page of this morning’s Times showing the lead story which won’t please Number 10. For Labour’s new leader is accused of “rehashing old phrases from Bill Clinton and Al Gore without attribution in his first speech to a Labour conference as Prime Minister”.

The report describes a study of Brown conference speech on Monday which “shows a marked similarity between parts of Mr Brown’s speech and big set-piece speeches of Democrat leaders” and goes on to list a number of similar phrases and ideas.

Brown’s speech is also said to have followed a similar format and the paper reports that parts may have been crafted by Bob Schrum who worked for both Gore and Clinton and who has been a regular recent visitor to Downing Street.

So what? – you might say. Who cares? – the story is hardly likely to become the talking point in pubs this evening. Yet as the 1988 Democratic hopeful, Joe Biden, will testify things like this can seriously de-rail a campaign.

It will be recalled that Biden’s standard stump speech included the phrase “Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go a university? Why is it that my wife . . . is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright…? ..” This was an almost direct copy of Neil Kinnock’s 1987 election rhetoric.

For me the most interesting element is that, in its early editions at least, the Times is leading on the story thus ensuring that it might get picked up by other parts of the media.

Could this be another shot across Labour’s bows from Rupert Murdoch? He can’t allow Brown to get so far ahead that he doesn’t need the media magnate’s support any more.

Brown has had such an exceptionally good first quarter that a real danger is the so called media narrative changing. And if that happens then all talk of a 2007 election may come to an end.

Conservative party watchers might note that the ever present opposition attack dog, Chris Grayling, is quoted by the paper putting the boot in. As I’ve discussed before he is the Tory to follow and might just be a future leadership candidate.

Mike Smithson



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My rule of thumb for assessing the polls

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

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    What do you think of the “2nd best 2nd worst rule”?

With so many polls showing such different pictures I’ve now adopted my own “rule of thumb” for working out what the big picture is. Basically I take the latest surveys from YouGov, Mori, ComRes, ICM and Populus and take the second lowest share for Labour and the second highest shares for the Tories and Lib Dems.

Where two or more pollsters are showing the same high figure I take that and do the same with the low ones.

The reason for this is that the pollsters have a long-standing tendency to understate the main opposition parties and to overstate Labour. Even though the formula compensates for this it would have over-stated Labour in the past four general elections but not by as much as most individual polls.

One of the issues is that many respondents say Labour when they actually mean “Anti-Tory” – an element that affects ratings for both parties. Also with nearly 10% of all seats in Lib Dem hands there are going to be even more tactical considerations next time, whenever that is.

In 2005 the approach would have produced CON 33% (correct): LAB 37%(+1): LD 23% (correct).

Taking the second highest and second lowest cuts out the odd rogue or old survey.

Based on the latest polls from the five pollsters the current “Second best – second worst” calculation produces CON 34%: LAB 39%: LD 18% – which seems about right.

Mike Smithson



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Is this the day you should be buying Labour seats?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

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    Why are the spread markets not reacting?

The above shows the latest commons seat spread prices from two of the main markets – IGIndex and Spreadfair – and from where I sit these levels simply do not fit with the polling evidence.

We are nearly at the stage, surely, where it’s going to be very difficult for Brown and Labour to pull back from the general election challenge. Last night’s stunning poll showing C33-LAB44-LD13 will almost certainly prove to be an overstatement of Brown’s position. In fact I am sure it will but it is becoming very difficult to argue that an October-November general election would produce anything other than a significant Labour majority.

    Yet with 325 seats being the magic point at which Labour would be returned with a majority the current spreads seem extraordinary. These levels will surely go up.

There will be a raft of new polls over the weekend and if they also show a further move to Labour then the pressure on Gordon to risk it this autumn are going to be almost overwhelming.

With commons seat spread betting you buy and sell like shares on a stock exchange. The higher level is the buy price and the lower one the sell price. Thus I hold a buy contract on Labour at 318 seats. If they ended up 358 my profits would be the difference between the two numbers multiplied by the stake level. So a £20 bet would produce winnings of forty times that – £800. I can sell the position now at the 322 level and still make four times the stake as profit.

Of course if things move in the other direction losses are calculated in the same way.

My biggest position is a £42 sell at 75 weeks on the length of time between Brown’s arrival at Number 10 and the general election. If there is an early poll then my profit could be sixty times that £42. Even if there is no 2007 election there will be continued speculation throughout 2008 and the levels will remain tight.

Mike Smithson



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So will 11 Gordons influence the election decision?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

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    The Lib Dems move down as Labour hits a staggering 44%

A YouGov poll for Channel Four news taken in the immediate aftermath of of Brown’s conference speech gives Labour an amazing 44% share with the Lib Dems down to 13%.

These are the shares with the changes on the last poll from the internet pollster – CON 33% (nc): LAB 44% (+5): LD 13% (-3).

This is the lowest Lib Dem share from YouGov since Kennedy moved on and won’t surprise the party which has long complained about the pollster’s approach.

Clearly the timing was crucial. Staging a poll so soon after a leader’s speech of any party was going to produce a boost given the amount of media coverage that is given.

YouGov does not weight by certainty to vote though it should be said that in the latest ICM poll Labour supporters were almost as likely to say they would turn out as the Tories. This has been a sharp trend in the period since Brown came in.

This is going to affect the thinking on an early election and it become harder for Brown to resist it. What better opportunity will he ever have?

My money stays as a buyer of Labour seats and a seller of Gordon weeks on the spread markets.

Mike Smithson