Marf celebrates gay marriage with a cartoon …

May 24th, 2015



Labour leadership. TV Hustings will give the unknowns a chance to shine

May 24th, 2015

Don Brind on how the battle might evolve

I sat in a pub in Croydon a couple of days before polling day after an evening canvassing with Clive. We agreed that we had a brilliant Labour candidate in Sarah Jones – but what about Ed Miliband and the doubts we had both heard on the doorsteps? What did Clive think?

“He can’t tell a story, can he?” said Clive. It was exactly the same conclusion I had come to after hearing the Labour leader being interviewed by Nick Ferrari on Classic FM. . It was a friendly interview which gave Miliband the opportunity to talk about his family and their flight from Nazi occupied Europe. Except that none of the stories came alive.

It reminded me that back in 2010 I had changed my mind about supporting Ed after watching him perform weakly alongside brother David on a televised Newsnight hustings. As time went on I had warmed to Ed; particularly his living standards analysis and his emphasis on inequality, which Tony Blair has acknowledged was a gap in New Labour’s approach. And it’s true that his performances improved but the doubts raised by the TV hustings were never fully removed.

Labour members and voters will get the chance to judge the current contenders when Newsnight stages the first hustings of the leadership election in Nuneaton on June 17th.

It will provide a fascinating contrast with the 2010 event when one woman, Diane Abbott, was flanked by four blokes – the Milibands plus Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. Next month Burnham will contend with three women, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh. It will give the unknowns a chance to shine

There is a near parallel with the TV challengers debate during the general election when Ed Miliband appeared with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, the Green’s Natalie Bennett and Plaid’s Leanne Wood.  It was the high point of Miliband’s campaign with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee enthusing: “Calm, relaxed, even laughing sometimes, he hit all the buttons … Once he thought presentation didn’t matter – now he knows better.”  

Burnham, MP for Leigh and shadow Health Secretary and the best communicator in the Shadow cabinet has, arguably, the most to lose. According to the bookies he’s the frontrunner but  anyone thinking of betting should remember that, as in the 2007 deputy leadership election when Harriet Harman beat Alan Johnson, 2nd preferences can be crucial.

Like Burnham the Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Pontefract and Castleford Yvette Cooper  is hugely experienced. But she will be looking over her shoulder at Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh. Kendall MP for Leicester West and shadow Health and Community Care minister performed impressively in an interview with Andrew Neil  So too did Mary Creagh., MP for Wakefield and shadow International Development Secretary Both interviews are worth a watch.

At the moment I’m not tipping anyone or supporting anyone. On June 17th and at subseqent hustings I will be looking not just at the performances on the night but at potential.

Back in 1990 as a BBC political producer I stood next to Peter Mandelson as Tony Blair made his first major platform speech at a Labour Party conference. An attack of nerves half way through the speech had him clinging to the lectern like a life raft. What did I think of the speech asked Mandelson. Not bad I said adding that Gordon Brown’s speech earlier in the day had been brilliant. What I had overlooked was the young lawyer’s potential. Mandelson had spotted and nurtured it.

Offering a convincing account of the positives and negatives of the Blair legacy will be another test for his would-be successors. That’s a question for another day.

Don Brind


The trade union member who could be the next Tory leader

May 24th, 2015

George Osborne praising Robert Halfon’s campaign for cheaper fuel.

I’ve always thought the next leader would be someone associated with George Osborne, he declined to run in 2005 and he probably will not enter the next Tory leadership election, and prefers to be the éminence grise for another Tory leader. Sajid Javid seemed to be best placed in such a scenario, but perhaps, there is another, the man who was Osborne’s Parliamentary Private Secretary prior to the election, Robert Halfon, who must be one of the very few Tory MPs to be a member of a trade union.

Some of Halfon’s policies are the sort you don’t normally associate with the Tory party, in 2012, he wrote a pamphlet entitled “Stop the union-bashing” where he “set[s] out to debunk the myths and misunderstandings about the relationship between the Conservative party and trade unions and conclude[d] that the two could become ‘soulmates.’ In 2013 he talked what sounded like the language of Ed Miliband by talking about a windfall tax on energy companies who he saw as charging too much to their customers.

A few days ago he talked about his boldest idea

Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, has said the Conservative party should change its name to The Workers’ Party. He told the Sun the party had “an incredible opportunity” to claim the mantle of championing workers’ rights from Labour, and turn the party into “the modern trade union movement for working people”. Their tree logo – which replaced the older torch – could now be exchanged for a ladder, he suggested.

“We are the party of the ladder, it was Churchill who first said that,” said Halfon. “The ladder symbolises everything we’re about . . . It’s not just leaving people to climb up it themselves, we hold that ladder for them. Labour on the other hand are the party of dependency and the welfare state, and that’s why they didn’t get in.”

He added: “When we knock on people’s doors, I want people to know we are on their side – on the side of the workers, that we are the workers. The Labour Party have demonised us, and unsuccessfully as it turned out – as 11 and a half million people still voted for us.”

He’s also a very good campaigner, in 2013, he cost the Treasury 1 billion pounds, with his campaign on lower fuel duty,  Halfon also has the advantage of being recently appointed Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party, which should give him regular unfettered access to Tory activists and members, who ultimately have the final say on who will be the next Tory leader. He also has an interesting way of campaigning as this video shows, which explains his increased majority.

One of the perceptions for the current Tory party is that they are out of touch with most voters due to their backgrounds, electing Robert Halfon would repudiate that line instantly given his background and make it difficult for the opposition parties to attack Halfon in the same way they’ve been attacking the current leadership of the Tory party.

It will be very hard to attack someone who is the son of immigrants, a trade unionist with a disability, non Oxbridge educated guy as an out of touch Tory, especially in light of some of the policy platforms he has set out.

At the time of writing, only four bookies have odds on Robert Halfon as next Tory leader, with Ladbrokes offering the best price of 50/1.



STAY likely to win the EU In/Out referendum for the same reason that CON won GE15 – the fear of the unknown

May 23rd, 2015

On the face of it the numbers look good for STAY but are they?

One of the things that the Tory victory on May 7th ensures is that during this parliament there will be an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The question is which way will it go?

A big campaigning lesson from the general election was how successfully the Tories were able to deploy the fear of the unknown factor in the closing few days. Labour and the Lib Dems in seats they were defending were simply not prepared and had no answer.

The same, I’d suggest, could happen in the coming EU referendum. When faced with a choice between the status quo and the unknown British voters have a long record of opting for the former. Fears about what tomorrow could bring are a very powerful campaign message and will be used extensively by those wanting us to stay.

The polls above, only one of which was carried out after GE15, presents a fairly consistent picture although in today’s context people will rightly question the validity of all political polling.

A factor that could change everything, of course, will be how Cameron’s negotiations with other European leaders on the where Britain has specific concerns are seen to have gone. My guess is that he’ll seek to present the the outcome as showing that sufficient progress has been made to enable him to report things in a positive light. If Cameron recommends LEAVE then in the current context that could happen.

One problem with referenda is that the actual issue being voted upon is sidelined and it becomes a vote on something else.

The bookies make STAY the 4/7 favourite.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson: Elect in haste; repent at leisure

May 23rd, 2015


Straight after defeat is not the best time to elect a new leader

Michael Howard did the Conservatives two great favours as leader: the manner of his arrival and the manner of his departure. After the hapless two years under Duncan Smith, he (and David Davis, by standing aside), created a much-needed sense of unity and with it, the first signs of the determination and hunger necessary to regain office. Perhaps even more importantly, after he led his party to a relatively honourable defeat in 2005, he didn’t resign straight away but allowed the Tories time to relax, think and reassess the previous four years before starting the election to succeed him. Had he not done so, it is far less likely that David Cameron would have become leader.

    Not that having thinking space guarantees it will be used wisely – Labour waited until 1980 before picking Michael Foot, for example – but to pitch battle-tired MPs and activists alike into an internal contest within weeks or even days of a general election is asking a lot of their judgement.

It’s also asking a lot of the candidates and such a short timescale inevitably favours front-runners: politicians already at the top or with powerful connections. This matters particularly for Labour where there’s a very high threshold for nominations but applies to all parties simply because name recognition matters even for MPs (how many of those new to Labour’s benches hadn’t even met Burnham or Cooper before this week?). As such, there’s a stronger chance of a continuity candidate, particularly following a defeat. Hague and IDS’s pro-Thatcherite credentials were crucial in winning, as, in a not dissimilar way, was Ed Miliband’s union backing. It is a hard task for any candidate to immediately and credibly disassociate him- or herself from the policies they’ve just fought under. By contrast, some of the clearest turns to the centre, such as the elections of Major, Blair or Clegg, happened mid-term.

It’s even less necessary to pick quickly now with the FTPA in place. Labour could be forgiven for wanting a new leader installed by September 2010 when there was no guarantee the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s would last the winter never mind five years. There is no such pressure this time. Cameron has a working majority will almost certainly see him through until the EU referendum: there’ll be no general election before October 2017 at the very earliest, and then only if there’s a massive Tory revolt.

So why do it? In some ways, that’s the wrong question. Clearly much depends on whether the sitting leader being willing to stay on or whether it’s possible for a deputy to lead an extended interregnum. Both scenarios depend on the mood of the party in question, both in the House and in the country.

The problem lies in the dual nature of the job, particularly for parties in opposition, which is where most changes occur. It’s all very well picking someone to lead through the next parliament and hold the government to account; that has to be done now. On the other hand, to select someone to fight the next election nearly five years before it happens might be considered a bit previous. If all goes according to the three parties’ respective plans, the Conservatives will select their next PM-candidate more than four years after Labour and the Lib Dems. That carries its own risks but will allow people to make their way through during the parliament. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Tory leader isn’t currently in the cabinet.

The real question is more about goings than comings. If parties have to have leaders all the way through, which they do, then it’s essential that there’s an effective ejection method. That doesn’t have to be a formal mechanism – the Lib Dems replaced Kennedy and Campbell without any such need – but it’s certainly better if it is, not least because such a means stands as a credible threat to an underperforming leader, to be utilized if they refuse to jump. Getting it right, however, is a tricky balance; you want something usable that’s not destabilizing.

But that’s about more than just systems. The Conservatives didn’t materially change their leadership election process between 1975 and 1999 and yet the two halves of that period could not have been more dissimilar: until 1987, not only was Margaret Thatcher not challenged but there was practically no talk of it; by contrast, from thereon, whoever was Tory leader was almost always under threat. What changed was not the process but the mentality of the party (and, it has to be said, its electoral success – or not – at the polls). And getting the right cultural attitude towards leader replacement is as fine a balance as the powers in the rules: too passive and you drift to a foreseeable and perhaps preventable defeat; too aggressive and you become a discredited unruly mob.

Of course, it’s best not to need to change leader at all but if events do plunge a party into an early leadership contest before candidates or electorate are ready, the last thing you want is to be stuck with the wrong person for five years with no effective way out.

David Herdson


LabourList “poll” shows Burnham well ahead with Kendall in strong 2nd place

May 22nd, 2015

    Keiran Pedley assesses the importance of a recent poll of LabourList readers that shows Andy Burnham the clear front-runner for the Labour leadership but with Liz Kendall in a stronger position than you might think.

As the Labour Party leadership campaign gathers pace, we are gradually building a picture of what the contest will look like. Right now, it seems that there are three serious candidates that can win, with a maximum of four likely to take part. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper seem certain to make the contest, Liz Kendall looks likely too but there are some question marks over whether or not Mary Creagh will make the ballot.

Given that the polling industry has collectively gone to sit in a corner and think about what it has done there is not much polling out there on the candidates so far (yet). However, LabourList has released the results from a survey of 2,274 of its readers today. The findings are interesting.

As LabourList sensibly acknowledge in their write-up, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious about this poll. It is an online, self-selecting sample of LabourList readers and therefore almost certainly not representative of those that will vote in the eventual leadership contest. We should always be very cautious with such polls. Who can forget, for example, the survey of Sun Readers that showed UKIP in second place nationally that was presented by some as a proper nationally representative voting intention poll? Put simply therefore, these are not poll results you can ‘take to the bank’ (of course the unkind among you may ask what are these days!).

In fact, I suspect that we are going to have to be cautious about any poll produced on the subject of the Labour leadership race. The ballot itself will be conducted among Labour Party members and affiliates. It is highly doubtful that nationally representative surveys conducted by pollsters are going to be able to adequately sample this audience. A simple Labour voter cross-break in a standard voting intention poll is not going to cut it. This does not mean that surveys produced tell us nothing but it does mean we should be careful in how much significance that we place on them. Perhaps then, polls such as this one produced by LabourList are as good as any we can use to understand what is happening.

With such caveats in mind, what does this survey tell us? Well, it confirms what we already knew, which is that Andy Burnham is most definitely the front runner. This will no doubt help the Burnham campaign reinforce such a perception among MPs as they consider who to support. Of course, the front-runner position is not always a comfortable place to be (just ask David Miliband) but Burnham supporters will be heartened at such a convincing lead in this survey nonetheless.

However, this survey should also give significant heart to the Kendall campaign too. To be second, at this early stage, ahead of Yvette Cooper, is a great place to be for a relative newcomer to frontline Labour politics. Other than just being second place with a long way to go there are other aspects of the survey results that should boost the Kendall campaign too. Importantly, this survey does not ask respondents to rank their preferred candidates in order, a likely crucial factor in the result of the leadership contest. We do not know where Yvette Cooper’s support in the above example would go. Also, a large number of respondents chose ‘other’ (22%) when asked which candidate they prefer. In some respects, this does not reflect well on any of the current crop of candidates. However, one of them has to win and this group selecting ‘other’ represent a large group of potential untapped support for each candidate to win over. Of course, there is no evidence that Liz Kendall should disproportionally benefit from 2nd preferences or ‘others’ being reallocated but the point is merely that there are votes out there to be won. Andy Burnham’s position is not unassailable.

Of course, Liz Kendall’s candidature has its own limitations too. For a start, she will have to make sure she gets on the ballot in the first place and Labour members are entitled to wonder whether backing a candidate that cannot command large amounts of support in the PLP is wise. Furthermore, she will need to be careful that she does not run too far to the right of the party. A common refrain from some of the Labour Left on twitter is ‘what difference is there between her and the Tories?’ There is a delicate balancing act to be struck here between (rightly) taking Labour out of its comfort zone but also in ensuring that the party is willing to come with you. With this in mind, I expect her to start attacking the Conservatives with gusto in the coming weeks.

So overall, at this early stage, the contest is up for grabs. Given sample considerations and the fact that this poll recorded so many preferences for ‘other’ whilst not asking respondents to rank their choices, there are enough unknowns to suggest that each of the leading candidates has a chance. Burnham is of course favourite. He is clearly ahead among MPs and party members and if he takes enough second preferences and ‘others’ he will be the next Labour Leader. Also, it is likely that the above poll skews London so his current position could be stronger than even this 11 point lead suggests. Nevertheless, he is not inevitable. If Liz Kendall can make the ballot, this poll gives enough encouragement to her supporters that she can compete and win. The idea of a ‘fresh start’ is likely to be a potent message to Labour members. Finally, let’s not forget, it could also be that Yvette Cooper, relatively quiet until now, emerges as something of a ‘consensus candidate’ between the Labour ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. The fascinating aspect of this race we cannot call yet is who makes the final two and where do second preferences go. The final outcome is not yet clear, there is a long way to go yet.

Keiran Pedley is an Associate Director at GfK NOP and presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’. He tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley.


How Britain voted on May 7th – the Ipsos MORI guide

May 22nd, 2015

pic (1)

And the BPC announces details of its GE15 inquiry

After every general election Ipsos produces a table like the one above which become a key source of reference.

Meanwhile the British Polling Council has announced details of its inquiry into what went wrong with the polls.

Under the chairmanship of Prof. Patrick Sturgis, Director of the National Centre for Research Methods at the University of Southampton, the Inquiry is charged with the task of establishing the degree of inaccuracy in the polls, the reasons for the inaccuracies it identifies, and whether the findings and conduct of the polls were adequately communicated to the general public. Due to report by 1 March next year, the Inquiry will seek and welcomes submissions from all interested parties, and is empowered both to make recommendations about the future practice of polling and, where appropriate, for changes in the rules of the BPC. The BPC and MRS are committed to publishing the Inquiry’s report in full.
Eight people with professional expertise and experience in conducting and analyzing survey and polling data, have agreed to serve (unpaid) as members of the Inquiry. None of them were directly involved in conducting published polls during the election campaign. They are as follows:
o Dr. Nick Baker, Group CEO, Quadrangle Research Group Ltd

o Dr. Mario Callegaro, Senior Survey Research Scientist, Google UK

o Dr. Stephen Fisher, Associate Professor of Political Sociology, University of Oxford, who runs the Electionsetc website

o Dr. Jouni Kuha, Associate Professor of Statistics, London School of Economics and lead statistician for the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll

o Prof. Jane Green, Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester and Co-Director of the 2015 British Election Study

o Prof. Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Southampton, and a member of the Polling Observatory team.

o Dr Ben Lauderdale, Associate Professor in Research Methodology, London School of Economics and one of the team behind the electionforecast.co.uk website.

o Dr. Patten Smith, Research Director, Research Methods Centre, Ipsos MORI and Chair of the Social Research Association.

Mike Smithson


New PB columnist Don Brind looks back two weeks

May 22nd, 2015

ITV News 2200 May 7th the moment the exit poll was announced

The Tories won the ground war

There was a persistent refrain from Tories as they looked at polls pointing to David Cameron being ejected from No 10 – “Rememeber 1992”.

It was tempting to reply – “Beware of what you wish for”

The Tory annus mirabilis saw John Major confounding the pollsters and trouncing Neil Kinnock with a record 14 million votes. But it swiftly turned into annus horribilis when four months later Black Wednesday saw the pound crash out of the European Exchange rate mechanism in a welter of interest rate hikes.

The Tories plunged to 32% in the polls where they flatlined, making Major easy meat for Tony Blair in 1997,

On May 7th David Cameron delivered the first Tory majority for 23 years. The comparison with 1992 tells us something interesting about GE 2015.

Cameron’s tally of 11.5 million votes and 37 % share look miserable alongside John Major’s 14m votes and 42% share.

Cameron got his overall Commons majority despite increasing his vote tally by fewer than 100,000 – an increased vote share of 0.8%. Labour’s vote was up 1.5% — an extra 150,000 despite dropping 125,000 in Scotland.

    But if the Cameron comes out badly – the comparison is grim for Labour. What made the results so bad for Labour was they lost where they thought they were strong – in the ground war.

That is the big contrast with 1992. Then John Major’s record record vote was rewarded with a Common’s majority of 20 a handful more than Cameron’s. Labour had mastered the art of key seat campaigning and denied Major around 20 seats that he would have expected to win.

Two landslide defeats later the Tories set about catching up. In 2010 with the then deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft was in charge. He has described how “target seats received nearly 74 million centrally produced fliers, leaflets, postcards, surveys, newspapers and magazines.” The keys seats showed bigger swings to the Tories than the national average and that, he claims produced an extra 23 gains from Labour and another 9 from the Lib Dems.

This time round the Tories employed micro-targeting techniques from the US, which were “so sophisticated that in the final week the party was having multiple contacts via Facebook, phone and on the doorstep with individual voters who had been identified as likely to switch from the Liberal Democrats or choose the Tories over Labour,” according to Jim Messina, recruited by the Tories from among top Obama campaigners.

“Facebook was the crucial weapon; using data which the social media site sells to advertisers, he was able to target key constituencies and get to niche groups of voters,” he told the Times.

“We went in and took very deep dives in the seats and to see what was do-able, what was winnable . . . who were the voters, who were potential waverers, thinking about leaving the Lib Dems; who were the voters trying to decide between us and Labour; and who were the voters considering leaving us for Ukip — and we were able to have very focused messages to all of those people.”

Labour had their own hired gunes from the US but it looks as though the Tories’ was the best buy. But that may have had something to do with the fact he had more money to spend. Messina said of his operation “It’s expensive, it’s difficult, but you’re gonna miss a bunch of close races if you don’t.”

It enabled the Tories to match Labour in the key marginals where Labour’s meagre haul of Tory seats was matched by Tory by gains from Labour.

But it was the Lib Dems – traditionally very good at fighting local ground wars — who felt the full force of this Tory onslaught. As campaign chief Paddy Ashdown told the New Statesman’s Tim Wigmore “ they had £50 million to throw at their election campaign, I had less than £3 million.”

“Those organising the Lib Dem campaign on the ground report being outspent by the Conservatives like never before,” says Wigmore. And it was the slaughter of his erstwhile partners that was the key to the David Cameron’s outright victory. His 25 gains from the Lib Dem was about twice what most pollsters and pundits expected.

Labour have been developing techniques similar to Messina’s with the help of “data guru” Ian Warren. Ahead of the election a party source was describing it as the “This is the most sophisticated election tool we’ve developed.” The “Ribena test” (coloured Ukip purple) uses demographic information to carry out risk assessments for the 50 MPs deemed most at risk from Ukip A party source told the paper.

The big challenge facing the new Labour leader and his or her deputy is to work out how they can can scale up this initiative and to match Tory operation – and even more important how they can raise the cash to do it.

Don Brind