Archive for September, 2019


The hurricane on Labour’s horizon

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Labour can’t rely on election campaign miracles every time

As Labour gathers for its annual attempt to spread a veneer of forced goodwill over ruthless power-plays, rather like a Game of Thrones family Christmas, they ought to be asking a rather different introspective question than ‘how does Momentum increase its control?’. They should be asking ‘how do we get out of this disastrous polling position?’. They almost certainly won’t.

Because the truth is that Labour’s polling position – buttressed by real votes in real elections – is appalling. It’s easy for familiarity to breed complacency. With the polls having Labour’s share hovering around 25% on average since the European elections four months ago, these are numbers we’re now used to so rather than being shocked, we just accept them as the new normal.

The reality though is that the latest poll of each of the ten companies to have released results based on fieldwork carried out this month put Labour between 21% and 28% (inclusive). Even the best of these is slightly below what Labour polled in 1983, when their GB share was 28.3%; everything else would certainly be their worst result since 1918. As the two polling companies whose polling got closest to the actual result at the EP election (also the two companies least likely to be affected by false voter recall) give Labour 21% and 24% respectively, chances are the true share is at the bottom end of that range.

Put another way, these polls imply that Labour has lost almost half its vote – over six million voters – since the 2017 election.

It’s true that the Tories are also well down on their own 2017 share: the same ten polls put them in the 28-38 range with an average of 32 and shares from Mori/YouGov of 32-33. That’d be a decline of around 10%, equating to a quarter of their 2017 vote or around 3.5 million votes. That’s bad but in the context of a worse Labour decline, it’s still a net swing to the Blues.

These voting intention figures are backed up by other data. This month’s Mori leader satisfaction ratings saw Corbyn poll the worst-ever net rating for a Leader of the Opposition since the series began in 1977: -60. That’s around 30 points worse than Hague going into the 2001 election or Kinnock going into the 1987 one; it’s 15 points worse than Foot’s rating two months before the 1983 poll.

As this tweet notes, there’s a clear (but not always consistent) relationship between the gap in leader ratings and the eventual election result. Although we don’t yet have this month’s rating for Johnson, the most recent figure that we do have implies a very healthy Con majority.

If you prefer real votes we could equally take the local by-election results this week. Labour’s vote declined in all six. Or looking a little further back, Labour’s vote share suffered double-digit declines in the two summer Westminster by-elections (note that while Labour started in third in Brecon this year, when Blair was leading Labour back towards government, Labour put on vote share in similar by-elections such as Littleborough & Saddleworth or Perth & Kinross – being squeezed isn’t inevitable in such circumstances). Alternatively, we could look at the EP elections, where Labour finished third, with fewer votes than the Lib Dems – the first time that’d happened in a national poll since 1910; Labour failed to win a single constituency.

Of course, this might not matter. The election won’t be tomorrow; it might not be for months. Much could change between now and then. There will be an election campaign and Corbyn might perform another miracle to match the one from 2017 but it’s unlikely.

2017 has entered Labour mythology but the truth is that the cards fell perfectly for Corbyn. Having called the election on the issue of Brexit – where the Tories were reasonably strong at the time – Nick Timothy then sabotaged the Conservative campaign by producing a manifesto which was massively unpopular and which also had the effect of dragging the election debate onto domestic policy where Corbyn was far more comfortable. On top of which, Theresa May practically hid in a box for the duration, while Tim Farron wasted the Lib Dems’ media exposure by becoming embroiled in a bizarre controversy about Christianity and gay sex. They gave Corbyn a far clearer run than anyone expected, and made the most of it.

It would be optimistic in the extreme for Labour to expect such a favourable ride again (and of course, both Labour and Corbyn are more unpopular now than they were before the 2017 vote). Labour’s Brexit policy is confused and if the row over the Deputy Leadership is going to set the tone for Labour’s conference, chances are the divisions on Brexit policy won’t be healed. If so, the question of whether Labour is an ‘in’ or ‘out’ party will dog them throughout the campaign.

Labour could quite simply be sleepwalking into a catastrophe the like of which they cannot imagine. It’s easy for commentators to slip into the comfort zone, predicting small changes. Most elections do produce relatively small changes. However, the electorate is becoming ever more transactional and identifying less with parties, as this very good Prospect article explains and inertia only takes you so far. As happened in Scotland this decade or across the UK in the 1920s, change, when it comes, can come quickly and ruthlessly. No party has a right to the top table (Boris Johnson and co might want to take note there too, in passing).

This isn’t to say that Labour will suffer the kind of wipe-out that Scottish Labour did in 2015 (which actually just repeated what happened in 2011); not straight away anyway. But there is a whole dashboard of warning lights flashing. They should not be ignored.

David Herdson


Mayor of London Siobhan Benita? Don’t rule it out

Friday, September 20th, 2019

SV means the Lib Dems could pull off something extraordinary

In the absence of big names and big characters, London politics has dropped off the media radar a bit. After the controversial Ken Livingstone and the future PM Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan has been – spats with Donald Trump aside – a lower-profile mayor.

Khan’s term ends, however, in less than eight months, when he’ll bid for re-election. Until recently, this was all-but assured. The Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey, looks lightweight and gaffe-prone while all other candidates seemed doomed to be also-rans. No candidate from the minor parties (which in London included the Lib Dems) has ever polled more than 15%, other than exceptional case of Livingstone in the initial election of 2000; in the last two elections, none outside of Con/Lan polled more than 6%. Add in the dominance of these two parties in the polls at the start of the year and everything looked set for something like a repeat of 2016. Not now.

For one thing, Sadiq Khan’s popularity ratings generate a ‘meh’ response from Londoners. In a July YouGov poll, he recorded 30% satisfied and 33% dissatisfied, for a net -3 rating. Overall, that’s not bad and certainly much better than many politicians rate (though London has been a strongly Labour city through the 2010s so they’re maybe not quite as good as they first appear). On the other hand, there are a lot of Don’t Knows in there, which allied to the negatives suggests there is opportunity for an opponent.

However, the revolution in party support this year opens everything up. Across the country as a whole, Labour may be down by close to half what it polled in January, with the Tories down by at least a quarter. In London, the main beneficiaries have been the Lib Dems, who finished first across the capital in the European elections and have polled first in Westminster VI there too in some polls (albeit in unweighted and small subsets, with consequently large margins of error).

Of course, it’s one thing to do this in an election no-one really campaigns in or in opinion polls; quite another to produce that result when the parties are running near full-throttle. Do the Lib Dems have the manpower and resources to match Labour? That’s still a very open question and without positive evidence to suggest so, we have to assume that the campaign factor still works strongly to Khan’s favour.

On the other hand, Siobhan Benita has three things going for her (besides the quality of the other candidates and her ability to hold her own on that score). Firstly, London is a very strongly Remain city and the Lib Dems are very strongly Remain. Secondly, Khan doesn’t have a great track record and is likely to be the subject of far more negative campaigning from all parties than she will, especially on crime.

And thirdly, the Supplementary Vote system. Benita probably doesn’t need to win the first round in order to win outright: she can probably expect more transfers than Khan. This is, admittedly, finger-in-the-air stuff from me but if she can beat Bailey in the first round, then transfers will either be coming from the right-of-centre or from left-of-centre voters who have chosen not to back Khan. In both cases, I’d guess that she should win the greater number if the first round is close (although there may be high levels of non-transferable votes). If she can reach the low-30s in the first round – a level the Lib Dems have polled at in London – she’d stand a good chance of winning.

Now, it has to be said that the polling doesn’t yet bear such a prediction out. We’ve only had one poll since the party ructions in the Spring, and that was in early May, which had Benita polling fourth on 10%, behind the Green candidate Sian Berry (16%), with Bailey still second on 23%. Clearly, there is some work to do in convincing the public – to which end the EP election results, bar charts and “can’t win here” allegations would no doubt feature.

There are two other critical factors to consider. Between now and next May, there’s a good chance that at least one and perhaps two things will happen: Brexit will finally occur, and a general election will take place. Both have the capacity to do a lot of damage to the major parties. It is possible that come May, Corbyn could be in a honeymoon period, having restored post-No Deal order with an agreement, so providing Khan with a nice clear national backdrop against which to sweep to re-election.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that Labour could be in a right mess following either victory or defeat (likewise the Tories, though that’d matter less for these purposes). If YouGov’s methodology rather than Survation’s is correct then Electoral Calculus has the Lib Dems making eight gains across London, four from both the Tories and Labour on the most recent poll. For reference, YouGov got the Lab-LD gap at the recent EP elections right to within 0.2% (understating both by about 1%); Survation missed the mark by some 17%! Such a sweep of gains would surely greatly affect public perceptions as to which parties are serious contenders for the mayoral race.

Does all this make the Yellow Team favourites? Not at all. That honour still lies with the Reds and the power of incumbency, political inertia and the hard facts of such polling as we have. However, this is a race to keep an eye on, particularly on how intensely the Lib Dems are ramping up their campaign efforts on the ground in London. If they do, then the current odds for Benita, as long as 7/1, would be value.

David Herdson


Corbyn’s Ipsos-MORI satisfaction ratings drop to the lowest for an opposition leader since it started in 1977

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Hardly the platform for an election campaign

Ipsos-MORI, has been polling UK politics since 1977, and throughout that time has been asking in exactly the same manner if those sampled are satisfied/dissatisfied with a range of political leaders. We had the latest numbers for Jo Swinson yesterday. Today the Corbyn figures are released and have the LAB leader with a dissatisfied rating of 76% with just 16% saying satisfied.

Amongst those who voted LAB at 6E2107 33% said they were satisfied with 60% saying satisfied. Compare that with the 42% satisfied to 35% dissatisfied that the same segment recorded for Jo Swinson.

As Keiran’s Tweet points out these are the worst figures any opposition leader recorded by the firm and his Tweet looks at the record lows for all who’ve held that post for more than half a century.

The LAB leader needs to stage a recovery far far in excess of what happened at GE2017 for his party to have any chance. Then Corbyn started the campaign with a net rating of -25%. That compares with today’s net rating of minus 60%.

Mike Smithson


The real issue, surely, is that Johnson does not have the confidence of the Commons and should have quit when the Benn bill passed

Friday, September 20th, 2019

The blog post above, which is well worth reading in full, from a leading academic expert on the prerogative articulates something which has not really been taken up before. The fact is that PMs derive their authority by being able to command a majority in the House of Commons. So far in his short premiership Johnson has lost every vote including one that could be regarded as issue of confidence – the Benn bill which is now law. Arguably Johnson should have quit when that bill went through against the wishes of his government.

Professor Anne Twomey states:

“Where prorogation is undertaken at the behest of a government which has, or appears likely to have, lost the confidence of the lower House, and is done for the purpose of avoiding a vote of no confidence or other action by Parliament against the government’s will (which may amount to an implied vote of no confidence), then such action may be regarded as ‘unconstitutional’ and may legitimately be rejected by the Queen”

This view could be important if the Supreme Court rules next week that the prorogation was null and void and Johnson, no doubt at the behest of Cummings,seeks to close Parliament down again. The Queen could refuse such a request.

All could have been different if in the immediate aftermath of Johnson’s victory in the Tory leadership contest there had been an effort to legitimise his premiership by winning a key vote in the Commons. I’d suggest that it would have been a lot easier then than it would now.

Mike Smithson


New Democrat nominee polling finds Warren’s generates the most enthusiasm

Thursday, September 19th, 2019



In general almost all the Democratic nominee polling that we’ve seen this year has had 76 year old Joe Biden in the lead. This has been a been underpinned by the findings that he’s seen as the one most likely to beat Trump.  Even so it is being suggested that his position is not as strong as it might appear.

The growing doubts about the former VP are basically because of ongoing gaffes, his age and little things that underline that like talking about young people and record players in the last debate. He finds it increasingly difficult to keep on topic when responding to questions and meanders.

It is in this context that HuffPost has commissioned the above polling asking about enthusiasm for each contenders rather than voting intentions.  Those sampled were asked to to give their level of enthusiasm for the long list of people still in the race and how upset people would be in relation to each of them

The findings are in the table above and as can be seen Elizabeth Warren tops this table with  Biden coming in third place because 25% say they would be upset if he got the nomination.

I think the questions that hang over Joe will continue and polling like this is not going to help.

Mike Smithson


Ipsos-MORI has the LDs at a post-GE2010 high with a big increase in awareness of Joe Swinson if not her net satisfaction figures

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

At the Euro elections in May two pollsters stood out for the accuracy of the final polls – YouGov and Ipsos MORI. These were the only ones to have all the parties in the right order and were also pretty close with most of the final shares. They compared very well to the final results of all the other pollsters which did pretty badly.

As can be seen in Keiran’s Tweet the Lib Dems see an increase of 3% putting them on the the highest level, as David Herdson has Tweeted, since the final poll before GE2010.

Although Swinson’s net satisfaction is down the big change is in those having an opinion about her. A former regular PBer who used to follow leader ratings closely, Rod S, always maintained that the negative numbers were irrelevant – what mattered was the percentage giving positive rating

Given that we could be within in a couple of months of a general election the pollsters appear to be gearing up. I’ve just completed an Opinium survey that wanted to know my constituency and what I would do given, as the questionnaire said, this would be a battle between LAB and CON.

I’m not sure that this is right. The LDs have the elected Mayor and in the locals in May the Tories failed to win a council seat within the constituency that they held until GE2017.

Mike Smithson



The first full poll after Swinson’s Brexit gamble sees the LDs up 4 ahead of LAB into second place

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Today’s YouGov: Con 32%= LD 23+4 Lab 21-2 BXP 14=

There is a new YouGov poll in the Times this morning which is the first one to have taken place since the Lib Dems at their conference voted to stop Brexit even without a referendum.

The figures are above and will give a lot of reassurance to the new Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, with what has been widely criticised as a massive gamble in terms of policy. It has however got her really noticed in the media something that the LDs have struggled to get since GE2015.

Before the yellows get too over excited I should post a note of caution about political polling during conference season. Generally there is a tendency for whichever party has been up last in the conference cycle to get a boost and really we don’t know what the full picture will be until mid October.

Having said that the party that will be most concerned about this latest move, particularly if it is supported by other pollsters, will be Labour. Boris Johnson’s Tories have now fully established themselves as the party for Brexit with Jo Swinson party appearing to be overwhelmingly the party that is opposed.  Given that this is the biggest issue of the day it is hard to see where LAB stands and its equivocal position might be hard to defend in a general election campaign.

I think the LDs are benefitting from having total clarity on the overwhelming  big issue of the moment and are also helped by having a new, young (Swinson’s 39) and female leader. This is in sharp contrast to Labour who are stuck with a leader whose been around a longish time, has personal ratings that are amongst the worst ever recorded for an opposition leader and whose ambiguity on Brexit looks set to be hard to defend in an early general election campaign.

How LAB responds to the LD tanks on its lawn will dominate the upcoming Labour conference. I’d argue that the more Swinson gets attacked by LAB the better it is for her.

Mike Smithson



If Johnson is to fight a successful election campaign he needs to cope with situations like this better

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

First mistake: Denying it was a press event when it was blindingly obvious it was

Mike Smithson