Statement’s like McCluskey’s on Premier League managers are usually the sign of trouble

November 24th, 2015

Union acion could be what does for Corbyn in the end

It’s been another day dominated by Mr. Corbyn and the Tories are getting an easy ride over the bullying scandal that has been developing.

Earlier UNITE boss, McCluskey, was reported as saying that the LAB leader would have to improve. Tonight there’s been a statement of support.

It mightn’t be that those who backed Corbyn in last September’s election don’t care too much about Labour winning back power but I’d guess that the unions realise that life for them will be tougher if the Tories stay in power.

    Leaders have both to deliver electorally as well as articulate a policy portfolio that satisfies their internal audience.

Whatever the YouGov LAB selectorate polling might say the union bosses are going to get mighty restless if as we get closer to the general election Labour looks as far from power as it does at the moment.

I agree with those pointing to next May’s local London, Holyrood and Welsh Assembly elections. There needs to be signs of progress because really poor performances will be used by the leader’s opponents, of whom there are many, to seek to undermine. In Scotland, where LAB dominated for so long, it is not being fanciful to talk in terms of them coming third in the Scottish Parliament election.

Oldham, a week on Thursday, looks tight but a victory is a victory however slim the margin.

Mike Smithson


Ex-LAB MP Nick Palmer says “Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival”

November 24th, 2015


How do modern political parties cope with change?

The current turbulence in Labour is part of a wider picture seen across the West. Simmering dissatisfaction with established parties and politicians is generating support for iconoclastic individuals and movements in nearly every country to an extent not seen for a long time. From Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to Syriza, Podemos, UKIP, the AfD, the FN and numerous others, merely being not part of the familiar establishment attracts a wave of interest. In Britain, it’s not clear if Labour will settle in markedly different policy positions to its previous stance, and a bad-tempered European referendum with a Leave victory or narrow defeat could leave us talking in similar terms about the Conservatives.

As punters assess how likely these trends are to stay, there is a non-trivial general question. Leave aside whether these changes are good or bad. How can political parties legitimately change their political positioning?

Traditionally, in Britain, these things are leader-driven. A leader (Blair, Thatcher) says, “Things can’t go on like this, we need to change.” The party and the wider electorate may or may not go along with it, but if they succeed the membership generally either puts up with it or leaves. However, the democratisation of leadership elections (membership rather than MPs) increases the likelihood that restless members elect a leader with different views to most MPs – who by definition were selected when the party was whatever it was before.

At this point, honest disagreement can arise, separate from any rivalries or bitterness. Say you’re  a pro-Trident Labour MP but the party votes to scrap it, or a pro-EU Tory if the party has elected a Eurosceptic leader. It’s not that you hate the leader or the membership, but you find yourself in disagreement with it. What do you do?

One answer is “defy the party and vote the other way”. But if you do that across a wide range of issues, inevitably both members and electorate will be unsure what they’re voting for.

Another is “sigh wearily and go along with it”. But what if the issues are central to your beliefs?

A third is “defect to the other side”. But that’s like getting divorced and marrying someone you’ve been feuding with for years – it goes against the grain.

A fourth is “set up a new party”, but we’ve seen where that tends to lead with FPTP – oblivion, and the end of your working life.

Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival. The number of alternative Parliaments that they could join if they lose their seats is more or less zero. It’s no more dishonourable to think about that than it is in any other walk of life, and MPs will be influenced by polling as well as personal belief.

The members have a similar problem. Mad fanatics are a rarity: most members rather like their MPs (who they chose and voted for) and make plenty of allowance for honest differences of view. But ultimately there will come a point where they get tired of their representative constantly disagreeing with them. There isn’t an iron law – legal or moral – that says that the current parliamentary membership of any party has an absolute right to determine policy forever.

What parties have to try to do is discuss possible change with as little rancour as possible (which is difficult) and a clear sense of what is a fundamental expectation and what is merely a preference.

Both MPs and members need to be frank during this process – there isn’t anything dishonourable about saying politely, “If we change to policy X I shall feel I can no longer be your MP” or “If you don’t feel able to support X then I’m afraid we need to find someone who does.”. But out of common sense everyone needs to minimise the list of such policies. For example, I know lots of people who have definite views for or against fracking, but I’ve never met anyone who changed their party over it or talked of deselecting an MP who disagreed. I’m not sure that Trident is that decisive for most Labour people either, for all the rhetoric – a weapon system that nobody can imagine using is neither quite as valuable or quite as horrific as one might suppose. Similarly, many Tories have a definite view on Europe, but I’m not sure that many would really quit the party if it moved in the opposite direction.

Two conclusions. First, it’s important that the legitimacy of disagreement is accepted. Of course an MP selected in a different time may think differently to a group of new members: it doesn’t mean either is morally wrong, and all sides need to think hard before deciding that an issue is absolutely make or break for them. Second, the pressure of personal loyalty and continuing political careers will tend to dampen down apparently irretrievable differences. Journalists like to highlight the drama, but despite Trident and Europe and whatever else comes up, I suspect that the political landscape in 2020 will look less different than we might think, with few defections or deselections and no new parties. Politicians, generally, play the long game. In Britain, it’s often the only game in town.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010


You can get 11/8 on Corbyn being leader at general election. Why I’m not tempted

November 24th, 2015


As the national polls show LAB’s plight getting worse party members remain very loyal to their new leader

November 23rd, 2015

It’s hard to see how at this stage Corbyn can be ousted


Has there ever been a scene like this before – the opposition leader on his own on the front while the PM speaks

November 23rd, 2015


Do 1 in 5 British Muslims really ‘sympathise with Jihadis’?

November 23rd, 2015

Keiran Pedley looks at this morning’s front page of The Sun and argues that we should always check the small print when reading opinion polls.

As someone that has spent most of his professional life reading opinion polls I have always enjoyed this scene from Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey explains to Bernard how to rig an opinion poll. It’s a funny scene but does demonstrate a pretty important point that all pollsters know – opinion poll results are often as much about how the question is asked as what the question actually is.

This feels particularly relevant today as the front page of The Sun screams ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy with Jihadis’. On face value, this is a very worrying finding for obvious reasons.


However, when you look at the data behind the headline things start to unravel a bit. It should be said first and foremost that polling a representative sample of a religious group is very difficult. Tom Mludzinski of ComRes and Maria Sobolewska of the University of Manchester explain why in more detail on last week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast here and Matt Singh is good on this today here too.

However, my real complaint about this poll is the complete disconnect between the wording of the question and the way the result has been displayed in this morning’s paper. The actual question wording can be found below. Keep in mind that this is the question that has led to the headline on the front page of The Sun claiming that one in five British Muslims have sympathy with Jihadis.

So what is wrong with this question? Firstly, it sets a very low bar for support. The one in five figure that The Sun quotes includes anyone that expresses at least ‘some’ sympathy with young Muslims that join fighters in Syria. However, I think that the words ‘sympathy’ and ‘fighters in Syria’ are the most important here. ‘Sympathy’ does not mean support. It can do but the link is not certain. It could just mean that they understand why a young person might go to Syria even if they disagree with the decision. Even more importantly, what should we suppose that ‘fighters in Syria’ actually means? Again, it ‘could’ mean ISIS or perhaps it doesn’t. Notice how the words ‘ISIS’ and ‘Jihadis’ are not mentioned in the poll question but are used in the headline and in this opening line of the supporting article.

This might sound very picky and pedantic but it is important. Let’s consider how an alternative question wording might have been answered.

Do you support or oppose young British Muslims leaving the UK to fight for ISIS in Syria?

1) Strongly support

2) Somewhat support

3) Neither support or oppose

4) Somewhat oppose

5) Strongly oppose

6) Don’t know

Not a perfect question by any means but you can see how it might have produced very different results to the one above. It makes the ‘fighting for ISIS’ point much more explicit.

Perhaps the question was not designed to elicit the headline that it did. This is a common problem for pollsters. We often have no control over how the results of our polls are presented in the public domain. However, in instances such as today – on such a sensitive topic and in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks – the media has a real responsibility to be careful with how it presents poll findings. I think The Sun has got it wrong this morning.

The average person on the street is not going to go to the trouble of scrutinising sampling techniques or question wording. What they will see is a headline on the front page of one of the most popular newspapers in the country that nudges to an ‘enemy within’ – with a giant picture of a knife-wielding ‘Jihadi John’ just in case you didn’t get the message. It leaves a sour taste to behonest.

In this piece I do not seek to play down the scale of the threat posed to our national security from Islamist terrorism. It is real and needs to be dealt with at home and abroad. However, the media has a real responsibility not to make things worse and today’s Sun splash was unhelpful in that regard and unjustified based on the data it was based on. After all, using the same data, it could just as easily have said ‘Just 1 in 20 British Muslims sympathise with those travelling to Syria’. I will leave others to judge why it did not.

Keiran Pedley tweets on polling and politics at @keiranpedley and presents the podcast ‘Polling Matters’


The Great Corbyn leader rating divide

November 22nd, 2015


How GE15 CON voters react differently depending on the question format

With question marks still hanging over voting intention polling there’s been a lot more focus on leader ratings which seemed to have performed far better as voting indicators at GE2015.

But here’s a thing. Over the past five days we’ve seen three completely different pictures of how Mr Corbyn is doing from three of the UK’s leading pollsters. Just look at the chart above.

With Ipsos-MORI things are not going too badly for the new red team captain. YouGov has him a fair bit lower and right at the bottom is ComRes.

The reason is that the three pollsters ask very different questions. For forty years Ipsos-MORI has used the satisfied/dissatisfied question. YouGov’s main measure for more than a decade had been on “well/badly” while in the 2010-2015 parliament ComRes, partly at my suggestion, switched to asking about favourability.

The latter has become almost the standard format in the US and I became convinced it was the right approach while writing on White House Race polling in 2012 for the Daily Telegraph. My view is that it gives a better view of electoral outcomes.

In the chart I’ve shown the responses of Tory general election voters to Mr Corbyn and as can be seen there’s a massive difference from the three pollsters. Ipsos had 28% of the Tories saying they were satisfied with the LAB leader while ComRes had just 5% viewing him favourably.

Given how the new LAB leadership has been working out you can understand why many CON backers are satisfied. Looking on him in favourability terms is, however, a totally different matter.

Mike Smithson


The diminishing options of the average Labour MP

November 22nd, 2015

Resident Evil Zombies

Picture: Scene from Resident Evil, this might be how the typical Labour MP is now feeling because of Corbynmania.

The typical Labour MP started off unenthused with Jeremy Corbyn as their new leader in September.  He commanded little respect among his parliamentary colleagues and he only crept onto the ballot paper for the leadership election with loaned votes.  It is fair to say that nothing that has happened since has improved the view of the average Labour MP of their new leader.

The leadership have taken control of the NEC and are pushing for rule changes to cement the left’s control over the party in the long term, seeking to marginalise MPs and the shadow cabinet as much as possible by making the membership’s wishes paramount.  Jeremy Corbyn is seeking to damp down resistance in the shadow cabinet by going over their heads.  By declaring that he would never use nuclear weapons he short-circuited the debate that he himself had opened up on the future of Trident.  To make doubly sure, he has given the multilateralist shadow defence secretary a unilateralist minder.  Deselections have been disavowed but with a boundary review and a proposed seat reduction, the leadership may well be able to sit back and let nature take its course.

Perhaps most worrying of all to the average Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t seem to be very good at the basics of being leader of the opposition.  The public notice, for example, when a politician doesn’t sing the national anthem.  Above all, they notice if a politician regards the question of lethal force as a hypothetical question three days after a major terrorist outrage.  The public have formed a firm view of him and it’s awful.  According to the latest YouGov poll, 52% of the public think that he’s doing badly (two months ago the figure was an already-awful 39%).  31% of the public, including 11% of Labour supporters, think that he’s doing very badly – up from 22% two months ago.  He’s electorally toxic.

MPs’ disquiet has broken the surface.  The Parliamentary party is live-tweeting its increasingly-bloody weekly meetings with its leader.  Labour MPs overtly sabotaged their own leader’s speech on the floor of the House of Commons on 17 November.  Surely it can’t go on like this?

It can and it almost certainly will.  The non-Corbynite MPs lack anything approaching a coherent alternative analysis, they lack a strategy and above all they lack support where it counts.  Until they address these three defects, they are destined to fume impotently.

Labour MPs are currently talking to each other, trying to work out their next moves.  The anti-Corbyn movement does not want for support in the parliamentary Labour party.  That is not where their problem lies.  Labour MPs seem to have forgotten their own party dynamics.  Thanks to the changes in the leadership election rules brought in under Ed Miliband, MPs play only a relatively minor part in the selection process.  Any MP who gets 15% of the parliamentary party to nominate him or her gets to put their case to the membership.

We have heard a lot about the Labour party rule book and whether Jeremy Corbyn would need nominations if he were challenged for the leadership.  More heat than light has been generated on the subject but few have stopped to ask the two important questions.  First, why has this question not come up before?  Secondly, in practice could the current leader really be excluded from the ballot paper by MPs, whatever the legal niceties? Every previous Labour leader has had a substantial support base in the parliamentary party.  The point has arisen now only because the MPs are so alienated from the party membership.

As yet there is not much evidence that Jeremy Corbyn has lost his support base there.  I looked at his ratings in the YouGov polls above.  In those polls he has exactly the same percentage approving of his performance today as he had when he was first elected.   The deterioration in his polling is entirely down to undecideds making up their mind unfavourably about him.  Those who liked him still like him.  If he is ousted without the 59% of Labour members and supporters who voted him in as their first preference in September getting their chance to say their piece, there will be hell to pay.

In reality, any attempt to fix the ballot paper would lead to even greater party upheaval.  It probably isn’t attainable anyway, given that the support of only 35 MPs is required to get on the ballot paper even if the leader doesn’t have the automatic right to stand again.  The Thirty Years War started when two noblemen were defenestrated but survived to fight again after landing in a dungheap.  Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have their soft landing lined up in case of emergency.  Labour cannot afford a thirty years war.

To oust Jeremy Corbyn, Labour rightwingers need to win over his powerbase: the party membership.  Astonishingly, no senior rightwing Labour figure has so far even attempted to address the membership rather than the parliamentary party.  It’s as though they are playing at 18th century politics in an era of mass democracy.

Whatever his numerous faults, Jeremy Corbyn put a prospectus to the membership and reaped the reward.  We know what the Labour right is against but we have no idea what it is for.  Until it comes up with its own convincing manifesto, the parliamentary party will plot noisily but impotently.

Alastair Meeks