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What is the mystery over Ken’s congestion charge poll?

February 15th, 2008


    Why has the British Polling Council decided to investigate?

A week before Christmas, on December 18th, the above press release was issued by the GLA about a poll showing that 38% of Londoners “strongly supported” plans to increase the congestion charge to the most polluting cars with 21% opposing the scheme.

In the normal course of events within two days the pollster, Ipsos-MORI, would have published full data from the survey on its website as part of the transparency arrangements that all members of the British Polling Council adhere to.

That hasn’t happened and now, nearly two months later with the detailed data still being unavailable my understanding is that the British Polling Council is establishing a formal panel to look at the situation. This is the first time that this process has ever been applied since the Council was established in 2004.

So why is there the hold-up? I cannot believe that the problem is with the pollster which has an impeccable record in this area. Could it be that the blockage is with the mayor and there is something in it that Ken does not want us to see?

Given the proximity of the mayoral election one can only speculate over what that could be. This would have not got to the stage where a formal process has had to be initiated, surely, unless there was a good reason.

To give an idea of the importance that is being attached to this the BPC panel is likely to consist of major figures from the media, the polling world and academia. My understanding is that the names being proposed are the YouGov boss, Peter Kellner, Peter Riddell of the Times and the political scientist, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University.

A good example of why seeing the full data matters came during Labour’s Deputy Leadership election. A YouGov survey found that 15% of voters said they would be “more likely” to support Labour if Harriet Harman was Gordon’s deputy leader and her campaign made great play of this finding. The poll had in fact been funded by the Harman campaign and when the full data became available a very different picture emerged – for an equal proportion, 15% – said they would be LESS LIKELY to vote Labour with these two in the jobs. No wonder the last part was suppressed .

The whole purpose of the BPC disclosure code is to protect us from poll findings being presented in a misleading way or for aspects to be hidden. All strength to the council’s elbow I say and it is good to know that it will take steps to enforce its code.

The latest mayoral race betting has Ken as the 0.73/1 favourite with Boris on 1.56/1.

Mike Smithson






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