This morning the Communication Workers’ Union released a Survation constituency poll of Hartlepool, the first one we’ve seen (earlier in the campaign figures were released from a Focaldata MRP of the North, but you can’t really use MRP for a by-election – it doesn’t pick up the unique circumstances). Topline figures with changes from the last election were are CON 49%(+20), LAB 42%(+4), NIP 2%(+2), GRN 1%(+1), LD 1%(-3), ReformUK 1%(-25).

I should start by saying that constituency polling is difficult. It is mostly done by telephone and often has small sample sizes (in this case, the sample was 500, but the actual voting figures are based only 302 who gave a response). Its track record has sometimes been patchy. Nevertheless, it’s the best evidence of where the race stands that we are going to get. What can we tell?

The Conservatives are ahead (though the two main parties are within the margin of error for a sample of 302). Compared to the general election the poll suggests an 8 point lead from Lab to Con, significantly better than how the Conservatives are doing in national polls.

It would be extremely unusual for a governing party to gain a seat in a by-election. There have been only two instances in the last fifty years (Copeland in 2017 and Mitcham & Morden in 1982). Few governments poll ahead of their last election performance mid-term anyway, and if anything they do worse than that in by-elections.

The reason the Tories are doing better in Hartlepool than nationwide appears fairly straightforward, and doesn’t offer any obviously transferrable lessons. In Britain as a whole the Brexit party got 2% at the 2019 election. In Hartlepool they got a very healthy 26%. That vote has almost completely vanished, presumably to the benefit of the Conservatives.

As ever, by-elections are extremely unusual beasts that do not necessarily tell much about national politics. Maybe if the actual by-election turns out like this it will be a steer on how other seats with a high level of Brexit party support in 2019 may go… but then, come the actual by-election we’ll have a glut of other data from the local, Scottish, Welsh, Mayoral and London elections due to be held on the same day, so hopefully we won’t be trying to desperately read too much into one single by-election.

Also worth noting that – given this poll was commissioned by the CWU – it also asked about some of the issues that they are concerned about like broadband, Royal Mail privatisation, nurses pay. The answers in Hartlepool were as you’d expect from national polling (people like free stuff & nurses. They don’t like privatisations). It doesn’t tell us anything particularly useful about why Labour aren’t doing better. Don’t assume because the CWU chose to ask about those issues that they are necessarily ones that are driving support in Hartlepool. Maybe people in Hartlepool care more about Corona, or crime, or Brexit, or economic regeneration, or taxes…

Finally, before this poll there was also significant social media buzz about the Northern Independence party having an impact, not least because their candidate is Thelma Walker, a former Labour MP who resigned over the party’s refusal to re-admit Jeremy Corbyn. Realistically a party that hasn’t even been registered yet may be very pleased indeed if they manage to get third place, but nevertheless, the poll suggests they are not significant players here.

UPDATE: The tables for the Survation poll have appeared, and worth adding a further caveat. At the last election the Brexit party got 26% of the vote. Among people who took part in the poll, only 3% recalled voting for the Brexit party. This does not *necessarily* mean its a duff sample – there will undoubtedly be issues of false recall, of people re-aligning their past vote to match with present circumstances (especially since the Brexit party has rebranded itself into ReformUK and no longer exists in its old form), but it should be an extra reason for caution.


There were two Scottish Parliament voting intention over the weekend, one from Panelbase, one from Survation. Topline figures are that both show the SNP continuing to cruise towards victory and on the edge of winning a majority. Both show a tight race for second place between the Conservatives and Labour.

However, these were also the first two to measure support for Alex Salmond’s new list only party, Alba. The Panelbase poll showed them at 6%, the Survation poll showed them at 3%. To understand the significance of these we need to explore the nuances of the Scottish Parliament electoral system.

The Scottish Parliament elects members using an additional member system. 73 MSPs are elected in constituencies using first past the post, a further 56 are elected on a proportional regional list system. The regional list seats effectively operate as a “top-up” to the constituency seats already won, so that overall the seats won should be proportional to the list vote. For example, if party A won 6 constituency seats, but got 10% of the list vote, they’d be awarded another 7 list seats so they had 10% of the total seats. It’s more complicated than that because it’s done by region, meaning there is an effective threshold to get any seats at all, but we’ll come to that.

Crucially people cast two votes – you don’t have to cast your constituency vote in the same way as your list vote, you can vote for different parties.

The SNP did extremely well at winning constituencies at the last election (59 out of 73). This meant that that despite winning 42% of the list vote, they didn’t receive many list seats, because they had already won almost their fair share through constituency seats. Compare this to the Scottish Greens – they don’t win any constituency seats (they barely stand), so there is nothing to set against their list vote and their list vote of 7% translates into 6 seats.

Therefore, the Alba argument goes, SNP votes on the regional list are “wasted” votes, that are unlikely to return MSPs. If a significant chunk of SNP voters voted Alba instead, it would return more pro-independence MSPs.

So far, so good. However, because the Scottish system uses regional lists, there’s an effective threshold to get any seats at all (about 5-6%). There is also already a second pro-independence party, the Scottish Greens. That means in practice Alba could have a positive or negative impact on the number of pro-Independence MSPs elected. If they get over 5% in a substantial number of regions, and do so by taking SNP second preferences, rather than taking votes who would otherwise back the Greens, they will increase the next number of pro-independence MSPs. If they get under 6% in most regions, they are unlikely to win any MSPs at all. If they get under 6%, but in doing so, take votes from the Scottish Greens, they could even reduce the the number of pro-independence MSPs.

Hence, in judging the impact of Alba, the thing to look at is the level of Alba and the Scottish Greens in the list vote, and whether each is above or below that threshold of around 5-6%. The two polls so far paint contrasting pictures – in the Survation poll, Alba were at 3% and the Scottish Greens were unchanged at 11%. In the Panelbase poll Alba were at 6%, the Scottish Greens at 8%, again comparable to their showing in previous Panelbase polls.

So in neither case was there any evidence that Alba were cannibalising the pro-independence list vote by taking support from the Greens, but the evidence on whether they’ll actually win seats of their own is unclear. On the Panelbase figures they may well do (John Curtice tentatively projects 6 Alba seats, with a total of 79 pro-Independence MSPs). On the Survation figures they probably wouldn’t, but the SNP and Greens would get 77 pro-Independence MSPs between them anyway.

And that, in itself, maybe underlines the extent to which this matters. As things stand most polls show the SNP getting a majority or getting close to one. Taking the SNP & Scottish Greens together, there will very likely be a majority of pro-Independence MSPs anyway. Whether Alba manage to scramble over the threshold to win some seats or not doesn’t look likely to change that given their present level of support.

1,776 Responses to “Polling on Hartlepool and the impact of Alba”

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  1. PPS Khan’s approval change ‘decreased slightly’ is +21 (-4)

    For some bizarre reason R&W don’t show ‘Final Round’ even though they clearly would have the data to do so assuming Khan v Bailey (which they could state as the caveat for the pedants)

  2. It’s a sure sign of a struggling PM when they feel the need to create a delivery unit to replace an existing implementation unit:

  3. Can anyone supply a link proving that Dyson is Boris’s ‘chum’? Of course they spoke during the course of this deal, but did they have any prior relationship?

  4. According to reports, Hartlepool voters are attracted to Conservatives on the argument their town will be in line for leveling up money if they do.

  5. Pete b, if not personally chummy with Boris, Dyson does seem to be a darling of the party…

    “Dyson is no stranger to the Conservative Party. In 2009, the Conservative Party appointed Dyson as the UK’s technology tsar. The same year, he spoke at the opening day of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

    In 2010, Dyson authored a report titled Ingenious Britain for then-prime minister David Cameron which, as Forbes reported, suggested “lowering the tax on income from patented products to half of the U.K.’s corporate rate”.

    Forbes reported that Dyson was a “longtime Conservative Party member”. After the 2019 general election, Dyson was among 16 British billionaires to add “around $2.8 billion to their combined net worth”, according to the National.

    Meanwhile, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests as of 21 January 2019, the James Dyson Foundation also donated to Conservative MP Michelle Donelan’s Wiltshire Festival of Engineering and Manufacturing.”

  6. @PeteB

    Nothing conclusive on a quick glance but there have been rumours before – see number 8 in this admittedly bias list:

  7. @ TW

    Is that confirmed they didn’t list all names or just an assumption from the tables? (Or does a “table” mean they have to publish all data). Not that great if they didn’t ask all names especially with the youtube “influencer” showing up at 5% in the Comres.

    Not that any of it matters- much prefer some more polls on other mayoral elections or Hartlepool or maybe a national yougov asking specifically about local elections to judge turnout.

    Good Evening.
    I am not sure that with a poll lead that he has he can be seen as struggling in terms of the politics of the elections next month and then looking towards a GE.

  9. @ SHEVII – At bottom of the R&W link[1] you can open up ‘data tables’. Final table in ‘London Mayor 1st Pref’ (ie incorporates LTV, excludes DK) gives

    Khan (LAB): 47%
    Bailey (CON): 26%
    Porritt (LDEM): 9%
    Berry (Green): 6%
    Gammons (UKIP): 3%
    Reid (WEP): 4%
    Other: 6%

    I’d agree with your comment “Not that great if they didn’t ask all names especially with the youtube “influencer” showing up at 5% in the Comres”

    there will be some interest in the %s (1st Pref and Final round, assuming there is one) and CON types might mention R&W’s final question (Bailey is not a great candidate so definite+maybe CON in future is higher than expected) but being too lazy to list all the candidates and not bovvering to post 2nd prefs of final 2 is a bit sloppy from R&W.

    I would also agree your final para. Other than London (Khan 99% certain to win) and the one West Midlands Mayor poll you posted (close call) then I don’t think we’ve seen any Mayor polling.

    [1] Repost:

  10. PS Also if a pollster is making the effort to ask for London Mayor polling then it wouldn’t be much additional effort to ask for GLA polling (constituency and list)

    OK, as I posted t’other day then it’s not going to make a big difference but it’s plausible LAB win a majority in GLA and some folks would be interested to see GLA polling (eg how many UKIP’17 have moved to CON VI (which will help CON keep ‘marginals’ and might be an indicator to Westminster seats such as Dagenham and Rainham which CON should have won in GE’19 or IDS’s seat which he held onto due to LDEM splitting the ABCON vote)

  11. @ Pete 4.26 pm

    We saw very few daffodil pickers at work today in the Mearns, and from the advanced state of flowering in some fields, it seems our local labour force has been inadequate.

    The day was fine, ideal to tempt local ladies out, but teenagers are back in schools.

    The wide flat fields being bright yellow gave some spectacular sights, as at Fettercairn with the Royal Arch centre of the view on the straight approach road and daffs being the entire foreground.

    Around Spalding the bulb fields draw in crowds, but I doubt if there have been any tourists seeing them up here recently.

  12. @ Pete 4.26 pm

    We saw very few daffodil pickers at work today in the Mearns, and from the advanced state of flowering in some fields, it seems our local labour force has been inadequate.

    The day was fine, ideal to tempt local ladies out, but teenagers are back in schools.

    The wide flat fields being bright yellow gave some spectacular sights, as at Fettercairn with the Royal Arch centre of the view on the straight approach road and daffs being the entire foreground.

    Around Spalding the bulb fields draw in crowds, but I doubt if there have been any tourists seeing them up here recently.

  13. Yes- I already saw it wasn’t included in the tables but wonder if those tables just summarised as others but that they had a breakdown themselves. It’s quite a selective list of names and probably not going to end up being the top ones in the end.

  14. @ SHEVII – Apologies for not answering specifically. You have the same info as me.

    In ComRes tables[1] they do list every candidate (hence the Count Binface[2] tied with Laurance Fox banter in the twitterverse)

    I would ‘assume’ the tables reflect the actual options asked but you know what they say about ‘assumptions’!

    However, I’d be as near as certain as can be that Khan (LAB) and Bailey (CON) are top two – assuming we need a final round.

    [1] Repost of that one:

    [2] Should have stuck with Lord Buckethead for the name recognition IMO, could have got him/her/they to 2% ;)

  15. Whether No 19 in Count Binface’s manifesto is within the power of the London Mayor, I don’t know – but there are some sensible ideas in there.

  16. @Shevii, Frosty

    Hewison is the Rejoin EU candidate, which is associated with the pan-EU Volt party (I don’t know if Volt have registered with the Electoral Commission).

    Since voters have two votes in the mayoral election, Labour Remainers could vote Hewison 1st and Khan 2nd, but it looks like very few of them are interested in sending this signal to Starmer. We shall see if the polling changes closer to election day.

    It seems like a case of nominative determinism that UKIP’s candidate has the surname Gammons.

    Extinction Rebellion seem to be determined to split the Green vote by standing a candidate (Valerie Brown) and calling themselves The Burning Pink Party (I don’t know why they call themselves this).

    There is also an Animal Welfare Party candidate (Vanessa Hudson). This Party stood in the 2014 and 2019 Euro-elections for London and got ~1% both times so would probably poll similarly in the Mayoral election (perhaps higher if voters use their first vote tactically).

  17. Another government announcement or report that has been quietly put out in the last few days was Network Rail`s findings on the Stonehaven derailment.

    The culprit was a drain installed up the cutting bank to stop water pouring down onto the rail tracks. Its entrance was completely choked with sediment, and it hadn`t been inspected since it was installed 8 years before the derailment.

    I haven`t seen any apology from Grant Shapps – he will doubtless blame NR staff as being incompetent or lazy. Whereas neutral observers will blame Osborne`s austerity, staff shortages, and NR/Tory government not preparing adequately for the ongoing increase in severe rainfall bouts.

  18. Markw & Bardin1
    Thanks for the info about Dyson.
    How is crop-picking managed in the States? Is it more mechanised or are different crops grown, or what?

  19. @Davwel

    I find that I agree with your post.

    In line with other public bodies, Network Rail appears to be a well resourced body. Unfortunately, much of the income from Government is wasted on expensive consultants and “capital” projects.

    No actual public sector staff too look after the said “capital” asset.

    Roads, railways, flood defences… Same old story. [email protected] Lib$

  20. Davwel

    I haven’t seen the report on the failures that led to the derailment, but some things would seem to be obvious.

    1. Regular inspection of the safety infrastructure should be part of normal operating procedure. If no such inspection has ever taken place, then that is a clear failure (and potentially corporate culpable homicide) by Network Rail.

    2. If NR made no such plans for regular inspection, then, it is directly responsible for the derailment. If it did have such plans, but the maintenance schedule was ignored at a lower level of management, then it remains responsible due to having inadequate levels of compliance procedures, that should have detected the failure.

    3. If NR felt itself unable to carry out its statutory functions under H&S, due to government instructions, then there should be a clear trail of communications with UKGov indicating that it was highlighting the inevitable consequences to them, and what the UKGov response was.

    4. The direct responsibility for the derailment must lie somewhere, and should be identifiable.

  21. @DANNY

    On India – I think the reason it’s getting attention is that cases have risen 10-fold in a month whilst test positivity continues to soar too, suggesting that, far from inflating the severity of the current wave their testing may be understating it.

    Also, this is hardly an evenly spread and concurrent outbreak across the country, so averaging over the vast and disparate population (and in your case throwing in the rest of the year when there wasn’t a crisis) is inevitably going to dilute the severity of what is actually happening.

    That said, I too find it frustrating that, as with the US previously and Brazil more recently, some very silly/misleading comparisons are being made to other countries where the difference in scale of the affected areas is so vast that it makes for meaningless “global record” stats. Lazy/ignorant at best, deliberately sensationalist at worst.

  22. @Oldnat

    Interesting analysis.But be careful.

    Forensic analysis of the situation may lay the blame at somewhere other than Westminster, particularly if Holyrood has demanded priorities like reopening closed routes are delivered with limited budgets.


    Agree with you that the PM showed good touch in regard to the football story.

    Recognising it as a very high profile confrontation with one side that was hugely popular and very likely to win, and which could be backed without any risk, probably made it the easiest position he’s ever taken. But he/they recognised it as such and jumped in whilst it was still a raging controversy.

    I imagine he will have been nothing short of delighted to have been scathingly blamed by the President of Juventus for ruining the project to further the cause of Brexit!

    I don’t imagine it’ll have any lasting relevance at all in itself, but as @ALEC has rightly pointed out on other subjects, impressions build and impressions matter. Simply being seen as a guy who “gets it” on a story like this can be a little useful.

  24. @JIB

    Forensic analysis of the situation may lay the blame at somewhere other than Westminster, particularly if Holyrood has demanded priorities like reopening closed routes are delivered with limited budgets.

    If that were to be the case, @OLDNAT for one would not be shy in saying so.

  25. JiB

    I wasn’t stating that the fault lies at Westminster – merely that wherever it does, that should be identifiable.

    As to your “if Holyrood has demanded priorities like reopening closed routes are delivered with limited budgets”, is that supposed to be a reference to the reopening of the Borders Railway, which was funded by Transport Scotland?

    I am unaware of other “demands” by “Holyrood” that have forced NR to increase their costs, and to sacrifice their normal maintenance budget. I suspect that you are equally unaware of anything to that effect.

    However, if your speculation is somehow based on facts, then such concerns should be equally demonstrable.

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