This week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast on Theresa May’s snap election

April 21st, 2017

With a snap general election announced, Leo Barasi is joined by Progress deputy editor Conor Pope, and political consultant Laurence Janta-Lipinski, to talk about the state of the parties and the race ahead. The Tories seem to be on course for a guaranteed landslide but does that mean they won’t be able to scare potential voters about a Corbyn government? What policies and arguments can Labour offer to fight back? How far can the Lib Dems go? And is it all gloom for Ukip?

Keiran is on holiday.

Follow this week’s guests:


Two local by-elections tonight – both LAB defences

April 20th, 2017

Blacon on Chester West and Chester (Lab defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 38, Conservatives 36, Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 1)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 3,579, 3,349, 3,119 (58%)
Conservatives 1,109, 979, 941 (18%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 1,054, 1,037, 805 (17%)
Green Party 482, 303, 227 (8%)
EU Referendum Result (2016): REMAIN 95,455 (49%) LEAVE 98,082 (51%) on a turnout of 75%
Candidates duly nominated: Steve Ingram (Ind), Jack Jackson (Con), Lizzie Jewkes (Lib Dem), Ben Powell (Lab)
Weather at the close of polls: Cloudy but dry, 12°C
Estimate: Labour HOLD (Lab 57%, Con 24%, Lib Dem 14%, Ind 5%)

Kenton East on Harrow (Lab defence, death of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2014): Labour 34, Conservatives 26, Independents 2, Liberal Democrat 1 (Labour majority of 5)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,695, 1,561, 1,550 (43%)
Conservatives 1,310, 1,200, 1,178 (33%)
Independents 534, 459, 377 (13%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 453 (11%)
EU Referendum Result (2016): REMAIN 64,042 (55%) LEAVE 53,183 (45%) on a turnout of 72%
Candidates duly nominated: Annabel Croft (Lib Dem), Herbert Crossman (UKIP), Nitesh Hirani (Con), N Patel (Lab)
Weather at the close of polls: Cloudy but dry, 12°C
Estimate: Too close to call (Lab 37%, Con 32%, Lib Dem 21%, UKIP 10%)


Momentum’s cunning plan to change the narrative about LAB’s chances

April 20th, 2017


The French Presidential polls edge back a touch to Macron who is now odds-on in the betting once again

April 20th, 2017


Tuesday’s shock announcement by Mrs May that there is to be an early UK General Election has rather overshadowed events in France where the country’s presidential election takes place on Sunday.

In political betting terms this overshadows the British General Election period with over the past week £1.4m being matched on Betfair alone.

Sunday sees the first round and if none of the candidates secures 50% of the votes cast, which is highly likely, then there will be a second election two weeks later. That will just be runoff of the top two.

Macron backers must be assured that his polling numbers have edged up as we have got closer to the big day. Le Pen is staying fairly constant which is 3 of 4 points below her high point.

With the top 4 running so close together it is hard to predict the final two with a degree of certainty.

Mike Smithson


The true purpose of GE2017 will be confirmed in the CON candidate choices in Thanet S and LD-CON battlegrounds

April 20th, 2017

The CPS could play a role like the FBI’s Comey in the closing campaign stages

The veteran Labour firebrand, Dennis Skinner, raised the Tory GE2015 campaign expenses investigation in usual style at PMQs yesterday. The prime minister responded in her usual style as well and appeared to back all the MPs involved.

But we do know that the Crown Prosecution Service have said that charges are being considered against 30+ individuals and the timescale of this means that there will have to be an announcement one way or the other before election day on June 8th.

It is likely that at least half of those those cases are under consideration are election agents from the last general election meaning that the number of MPs might be 15 or possibly fewer.

This presents a tricky problem for the party. Should the MPs be re-selected with the possibility, however remote, that they might not be able to serve a full term.

Whilst it is innocent until proven guilty, being charged doesn’t infer guilt, as Hillary Clinton can testify perceptions can matter more than the facts, just look at these tweets from some opposition MPs to the sort of attacks/coverage Mrs May could expect to see.

So much could depend on the CPS timetable. If the all clear was given before the date when election nominations have to be in then it would be a lot easier for the party.

What we do know, as reported here last week, is that prior to the general election decision the Prime Minister was give details of private constituency polling by Lynton Crosby’s firm that the party had commissioned. This indicated that only four or so of the seats taken from the Lib Dems two years ago would remain Conservative if by-elections had to be held.

There was a risk that Mrs May could have lost her majority.

Mike Smithson


Tories take a 24% lead with YouGov. Can they poll 50% and above?

April 19th, 2017

As Labour head for the mother and father of all shellackings, if Corbyn had any honour or love for Labour he’d stand down now but


Defection confirmed



Which means this tweet from 2011 by Corbyn is in no way funny


Why the Conservatives may fall short of their hopes

April 19th, 2017


A guest slot by Harry Spencer

Calling an early General Election is, by definition, something usually undertaken by a government confident of winning. And with opinion poll leads well in double figures, and an utterly hapless opposition this is certainly a pretty fair assessment.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea the Conservatives will win a much-expanded majority, but precedent for snap General Elections is…mixed.

Defining snap elections as early elections voluntarily undertaken by a government which already has a majority, the recent precedent is as such:

If one were to expand this out to other countries there is a similarly mixed record – parties which voluntarily held elections anticipating they would strengthen their position have been mistaken not just in the UK in 1974, 1951 and 1923, but also in Australia in 1974, 1984, 1998, 2010 and in Canada in 1984 (spectacularly so) and 1997. Equally there have been plenty of occasions in which parties did strengthen their position in snap elections, although often by modest margins.

None of this means the Conservatives are necessarily making a mistake this time, and their polling position is probably stronger than in any of those precedents, but this is a reminder that politics is inherently unpredictable and plenty of astute politicians have misjudged the mood in the past.

In addition, there’s a few reasons why the Conservatives may undershoot expectations this time:

  • Election Fatigue. There is a body of literature which shows that voter turnout can suffer if elections take place too often (although the more important the elections, the less pronounced the drop-off is). Brenda from Bristol’s initial reaction of “oh for god’s sake” may well be shared by a large number of the population, which could drive down turnout. There is also some evidence that parties which call early elections are penalised. For instance, in snap elections within the UK, the change in the governing party’s share of the vote in polls over the course of the campaign has declined by more, on average, than in usual elections. This may be the case elsewhere too, but I have not been able to verify.
  • Violating a sense of Fair Play. One reason calling an early election might be penalised by the public is it can be perceived as being in the party’s interest, not the country’s. There are other events which risk contributing to such a perception in this case. For instance, the apparent refusal to take part in TV debates might create a perception that the Conservatives are not playing fair. Another story which could do so is the possible prosecution of a number of current Conservative MPs and agents over alleged election expenses fraud in 2015.
  • The Crushing of the Saboteurs. While the bulk of the Conservative vote is comprised of people who voted to Leave, roughly 15% of the electorate currently reports that they voted to remain in the EU but intend to vote Conservative. The Conservative campaign needs to be careful about not alienating these voters – if they do not turn out in the numbers expected, or switch to alternatives, then the Conservatives will not win a majority of the size they hope. More headlines like the Daily Mail’s today would be actively unhelpful for the Conservative campaign.
  • Brexit means Brexit? Calling an election campaign to secure a mandate for your approach to Brexit may make sense, but only if you actually have an approach to Brexit. There is an obvious risk that inviting scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plans may highlight the ephemeral nature of that strategy. The Prime Minister is seeking a mandate to manage the negotiations but on the basis of a dozen different priorities which may not be compatible.
  • The lack of any credible threat. The Conservative success in 2015 would not have been possible without the highly effective threat of a Labour government in coalition with the SNP and/or Liberal Democrats. This time, I don’t know a single person who thinks a Labour government is a credible possibility. Perversely that makes it easier for disaffected Labour voters to stick with the party, as it isn’t seen as risking Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, and also makes it easier for the Liberal Democrats to sell themselves to soft Tories, something they have decades of practice doing successfully.

None of this means I think the Conservatives will fail to win – but they may not get the margin they expect.

Harry Spencer is a consultant and Electoral Analyst at Edelman Public Affairs, he writes in a personal capacity


No one knows anything. What to do if/when Mrs May wins today’s vote

April 19th, 2017

In 2011, Ruth Ellen Brosseau was a bartender in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.  Some of her regulars were political activists for the New Democratic Party and when the federal election was looming, they twisted her arm to stand as a paper candidate in a no-hoper constituency in a heavily French-speaking area of Quebec.  She didn’t campaign (just as well, since her French wasn’t very good), she didn’t even visit the constituency.  During the election campaign she went on holiday in Vegas.

2011 was a breakthrough election for the New Democratic Party in Canada.  They supplanted the Liberals as the main opposition, taking 103 seats when they had previously held only 36.  Among those 103 MPs was a very surprised Ms Brosseau.

The 2017 general election in Britain also looks likely to be a mould-breaker.  The Conservatives currently look set to make sweeping gains. If so, uniform national swing (UNS) is going to be of limited value.  It works well when considering smallish movements in the polls.  The bigger the swings, the more unevenly distributed those swings will be.  In 2015, the swing from Labour to the SNP in Scotland was 23.9%, but the swing to the SNP reached 39.3% in Glasgow North East (and only 10.9% in Edinburgh South, which Labour held onto).

Even smaller swings are usually unevenly distributed. In 2015, Labour obtained a 0.4% swing from the Conservatives, but this concealed substantial variations – the Conservatives obtained a 3.9% swing towards themselves in Vale of Clwyd, while Labour benefited from a 6.4% swing in Ilford North.

As at 18 April, when Theresa May announced the election, three different polls found that the Conservatives had a 21% lead over Labour, representing a 7.5% swing from Labour to the Conservatives (though separately Opinium found only a 9% lead).  If that projected 7.5% swing to the Conservatives is replicated at the general election, we might easily see some seats with no swing to the Conservatives and others with a 15% swing.

Overlaying that, the EU referendum has upended previous loyalties.  The Prime Minister is seeking a mandate to deliver Brexit and the Lib Dems are seeking votes from opposing it.  Labour is seeking a policy on it.  It is likely that this will make the effects in different constituencies lumpier than usual, as some voters switch allegiances in order to back the party they judge will best deliver their preferred referendum outcome.

So the election will be wild.  The most obvious consequence is that no one will really be clear which seats are in play and which seats are foregone conclusions.  With the sort of leads that the Conservatives are enjoying, they will be looking to take seats in which their party membership is not strong and where they will not have the intensively-gathered information that they have accumulated in the seats vital for gaining power.

Meanwhile Labour need to decide where to try to construct a firewall.  A 7.5% adverse swing sees Labour lose 67 seats to the Conservatives.  Labour could not sensibly seek to defend all of these (and would be daft to try on current polling).  They will need to focus their efforts.

But they will also need to keep an eye on seats that fall to a greater than 7.5% swing.  135 Labour seats are vulnerable to a 15% swing to the Conservatives (some of these are vulnerable to other parties on smaller swings as well) and, as I note above, if some seats have a less than average swing, others will see a greater than average swing.

I haven’t begun to talk about the Conservative-held seats that Labour should be taking aim at.  Right now, those don’t look like a priority.

The risk in these circumstances is always that the defensive party is too optimistic.  It does Labour no good to keep the adverse swing down to 6% if the Conservatives only need a 3% swing to take a seat.  Meanwhile, if a seat that is safe up to an 8% swing gets a 10% swing, that’s two seats lost where one might have been saved.  But it is very hard to tell a sitting MP that he or she is not going to be supported. 

The Lib Dems were nearly wiped out in 2015 because they were too optimistic in such circumstances, despite being pretty disciplined about these calculations.  This stuff is hard, emotionally but also strategically. 

So Labour have some excruciating decisions to make about prioritising.  With a membership of hundreds of thousands, they have the troops to mount a campaign but they need to deploy them effectively.  This is going to take detached judgement, ruthlessness, discipline, focus and unity.  These are not qualities that Labour are currently noted for.  I expect Labour will either be far too optimistic or, perhaps more likely, that it will never get as far as drawing up a defensive strategy and leaving every constituency for itself.

My expectation, therefore, is that Labour will probably do significantly worse than uniform national swing suggests, as they fail to keep the seats that they are actively defending and see greater than average swings in some seats that they haven’t actively defended that could have been saved.  As to which seats those are, I don’t know either.  No one knows anything.

Alastair Meeks