John Craig over on the Sky News blog picks out that today’s Populus poll shows 61% of people think the Conservatives are tainted by financial sleaze, up from 51% in February (and even that was in a poll taken shortly after the Conway affair, so this is worse than then). It does appear that the stories are gradually associating the Tories once again with financial sleaze in the eyes of the public. Unfortunately John Craig concludes that this is “evidence, if it were needed, that sleaze is a monster vote loser for David Cameron and the Tories”.

This is rubbish – my guess is that an association with financial sleaze should be damaging for a party, but this poll certainly isn’t evidence to support the hypothesis: the poll shows the Tories up five points on 45% and with a record lead over Labour. The question this poll provokes should be why hasn’t financial sleaze been a monster vote loser for David Cameron and the Tories? One answer we can give now is that Labour are seen as worse – 68% thought they were tainted by financial sleaze (from 69% in February), and polls are pretty consistent now in showing that of those who don’t think they are all as bad as each other, people tend to think Labour are sleazier than the Tories.

Another possible factor is how well people think the parties and leaders react to financial sleaze – if both the main parties are seen as full of MPs on the take, the dividing line suddenly becomes what the party leaders are prepared to do to about it and who the public think is more likely to stand against it. From the top of my head, I can’t think of any polling evidence on that yet.

Finally, of course, there is the possibility that people don’t actually care that much when it is compared to other issues. Obviously no-one thinks it desirable to have corrupt MPs and if asked if it is important that politicians are not sleazy and corrupt they will agree… but put it alongside things like tax, the economy, immigration, crime and so on. MORI’s monthly question on what the most important issues facing the country classifies people who say things about sleaze under “morality/personal behaviour” – as you can see, it was at 7% in the last poll, and it was only one factor with the grab-bag of concerns MORI would have heard about the standards of behaviour in Britain today. That means at the very least it’s seen as less important than crime, defence, immigration, the economy, tax, drugs, education, housing, inflation and the NHS.

I think that probably underestimates its importance, because as well as the direct effect it also impacts on the image of a party, and whether that party is seen as in touch or out for itself, but the fact remains that its easy to overestimate how important sleaze actually is as an issue, especially when it is an issue where people do not see much, if any, of a dividing line between the parties.

31 Responses to “Good spot, wrong conclusion”

  1. It is difficult to argue with the MORI issues priorities.

    But perhaps it isn’t surprising-as you suggest Anthony-that in a list including the Economy, Crime etc, “sleaze” comes down the comparative pecking order.

    However, maybe things are changing.Guido Fawkes, blog suggested in February that internal Ashcroft Tory polling was picking up a sea change in attitudes to politicians-and they were very unfavourable.

    As inflation begins to hit the average family budget hard, surely the drip of revelations about the largesse with our money which MPs & MEPs allow themselves will not improve such opinions.

    That the expenses “rule books” written in Westminster & Brussels appear to invite lavish expenditure with little if any oversight is becoming more clear by the day. And any MP/MEP who then tries to circumvent even those lax rules is merely re-inforcing the impression that Politicians live in parallel universe of financial privilege, influence over which ,the taxpayer has been denied.

    I remain convinced that there are Polling Points to be won by the first leader to make a bold stand for transparancy & fairness at both Westminster & in Brussels.

    I am encouraged to hear Cameron suggesting that the Brussels expenses rules book should be ignored-and an internal set of rules which would be seen as “fair” imposed. If this is extended to Westminster, and allied to draconian treatment of rule breakers, I cannot see how this will fail to increase trust & confidence-and that equals votes.

  2. It could be that sleeze taints the governing party much worse than the opposition parties. Thus at approx score of 68% each (and that’s shocking) it’s the govrernment that suffers in the public eye more than the Tories. It’s almost as if they’re expected to set an example.

  3. I agree that Craig’s conclusions are wrong. Apparent sleaze is one thing, but people believe that the Government is hurting them financially through higer taxes, prices etc – that’s what changes votes. After all, on the run up to both 2001 and 2005 general elections there were a number of Labour sleaze stories that didn’t stop them being re-elected.

  4. If any political party said to the electorate ‘we can absolutely guarantee that we will reduce your energy and fuel bills’ and they were actually believed (which is pretty unlikely!) very few voters would care much about the odd case of dodgy expenses. I’m much more interested in how the electorate will react if and when they realise that no political party can protect them from the impact of globalisation.

  5. I also think the terminology ‘tainted’ by sleave is the wrong word. That would imply to me that they were asking for a positive responce even if I (as the interviewee) thought there was just a bit of corruption somewhere- by somebody. And in big political parties, surely a bit of that is inevitable at some level. A more sensible question would have been ‘Do you agree that x party suffers from a significant level of sleaze?’

  6. Labour gained an advantage from allegations of what became known as ‘sleaze’ in the 1990s. However, a steady stream of stories – both sexual and financial – associated with the Labour Party effectively neutralised the issue for voters. All politicians for many voters(how many times have we heard this on the dodorstep) are selfish, money-grubbing and sleazy regardless of party.

    I think DC has handled the problems relatively well but the levels of distrust of politicians is a serious drag on our political system. However, as a nation we are pretty dodgy – more likely to buy fakes, more likely to fiddle insurance claims, more likely to lie about being ill and less likely to hand in found money (there was an academic study published I think in the Journal of Consumer Marketing that revealed this sad situation. Perhaps we get the politicians we deserve?

  7. “Perhaps we get the politicians we deserve?”

    Yes we do.

    We seem to put up with anything-in all aspects of our lives -with a resigned apathy.

  8. This links to an abstract for the article I mentioned above -anyone with access to a university library with an Emerald database link will be able to see the full article (you you could pay!);jsessionid=E78EA200CC5292D3DFAEA885D16F4FCC?contentType=Article&contentId=856503

  9. I think anything which implies hypocrisy is damaging to a party. This would perhaps not be quite as damaging had not there been a long campaign to attack the labour party on contributions.

    Accepting contributions to the party from someone that you shouldn’t is one thing. Actual active fiddling expenses – to the tune of millions of pounds – to your own personal advantage, is entirely another.

  10. it’s clear that sky news dose not know which way to turn yet but thay are still with big dave at the moment.

  11. “I think anything which implies hypocrisy is damaging to a party.”

    “A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy.”
    Benjamin Disraeli

  12. This is not a hypocrisy, it’s a parliamentary hypocrisy.

  13. It is john-both at Westminster & in Brussels.

    It took a private citizen armed with the Freedom of Information Act to expose the John Lewis List,the Mortgage scam & the rest of it.This was in the teeth of resistance from the “Westminster Authorities”-ie Speaker Martin -guardian of the trough.

    It is one lone brave Lib Dem MEP who is trying to expose the expenses & pension scam in the European Parliament, in the teeth of resistance by MEPs to any suggestion that the taxpayers should have access to the facts.

    And these people call themselves Democrats.

    A piece in The Times today says Cameron’s compliance officer met with great resistance to greater transparancy from the Tory MEPs. I hope these people get cleared out , and replaced by people who actually believe in democracy.

  14. Many of the above comments simply amount to the fact that there is no disadvantage in Conservatives being dishonest because Labour are too.

    I think that shows how deeply embedded two-party thinking is.

    If, especially at such a critical time, a financial scandal should break concerning the SNP,I think you would see some of what Colin describes as “draconian treatment of rule breakers.”

    FPTP Government by alternate political elites is a conspiracy against democracy.

  15. It was a little play on words – we live in a parliamentary democracy, not a democracy. The words are interchangeable. The voters are all hypocrites themselves anyway, so of course we deserve the hypocrites we elect. Banging on about the poor whilst announcing tax cuts for the rich. Whoever looks best on telly gets in.

    I have no doubt that the “lone brave” MPs of whichever stripe have their own agenda.

    At least the Freedom of Information Act is progress from what we had before, ie nothing. MPs don’t seem to get it at all. If I incur an expense of more than 1p, I have to justify it and claim ut back. Why is it different? It isn’t as though there’s any resistance towards bureaucracy.

  16. “Many of the above comments simply amount to the fact that there is no disadvantage in Conservatives being dishonest because Labour are too.

    I think that shows how deeply embedded two-party thinking is.”

    The problem is the absence of clear & unequivocal rules,the absence of effective ( or any) audit , and the resistance to transparancy.

    If all these are corrected,then public acceptance is assured & emezzlement of taxpayers money by MPs is not possible.Party advantage or disadvantage doesn’t come into it-nor should it.

    I believe there is a chance of moving in that direction at Westminster.

    In the European Parliament there is absolutely no chance whatsoever. So it falls to Parties to impose their own rules,scrutiny,and transparancy.
    Any party which does this effectively will gain electoral advantage with a cynical & alienated electorate.

    They will deserve such an advantage.

  17. If fiddling expenses was something exclusive to Labour and Conservative members some of these points might be valid. But the Lib Dems are at it too – using their allowances to prop up local parties. More significantly, most people out there with an expense account are up to it as well – public sector and private sector.

    We are the hypocrites by seeming to insist that politicians should adhere to a set of standards we would not agree to. How many of those posting have knowingly bought a fake, have downloaded software illegally, have chipped their kids’ playstation, have puffed up an insurance claim, have not owned up when given too much change, have lied in a job application/mortgage application, have dodged a train or bus fare…do I have to go on? It is this culture that we live in the creates the figures.

    On the Chorley thread Anthony referred to Matt 7:5 – it really does apply here – especially to journalists.

  18. Simon-
    There are very few “expense accounts” out there. Almost all of us have to justify every last penny, travel economy and bear down on costs. Somehow, M(E)Ps are immune. The first group to say “we won’t claim anything without a published justification” would win my vote if I thought there wasn’t much between them on policies.

  19. But I agree we’re a country of selfish hypocrites.

  20. The Scottish Parliament is streets ahead of Westminster & Brussels:-

    Transparency is superb. I haven’t trawled the rules to see if I think Allowances are fair & reasonable, or if Audit/Surveilance is adequate-but Scottish voters have not been deliberately deprived of the information they need to make these judgements.

    One up to Holyrood.

  21. Or it could be that there is a time lag on how an association with sleaze filters into poll ratings.

    Additionally, poll ratings only reflect relative popularity with DKs weighted accordingly, not the real level of populatity.

    This statistical anomoly necessarily favours the poll leader, so since the proportion of DKs most likely increases with sleaze allegations the method of weighting and the proportionate difference between the parties therefore becomes increasingly unreliable, which would seem to reflect the tendency for poll volatility.

  22. Thomas,

    That was a thoughtful comment, are you sure your on the right blog…..

    I think you can make a case for the relative drop in the percentage of the vote commanded by the two main parties has gone hand in hand with disenchantment with politics in general.


  23. Colin:

    “The Scottish Parliament is streets ahead of Westminster & Brussels:-”

    More than half a century ago Donald Dewar said to me “and a Home Rule parliament would have principles.”

    “Such as?” I asked him

    “Openness” said Donald.

    Openness in one of the Scottish Parliament’s Founding Principles.

  24. There is a way of differentiating between the parties – well the main two parties anyway – one has institutionalised corruption as it’s bedrock the other has the odd personal bending of the rules – your choice as to which i refer to.

  25. John B Dick

    Indeed so-you are to be congratulated . Compared to which, evasion of public scrutiny to facilitate exploitation is the modus operandi of MPs & MEPs.

    As I watch Sarkozy, Merkel & Barroso affirm their intention to ignore the will of the people in the governance of EU,it confirms my belief that that institution and all it’s mechanism’s is the antithesis of “openness”-and democracy itself.

    I have a little more faith that Westminster can be reformed-but not until the change in government occurrs.

  26. That should read ” Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown & Barroso”

  27. Cllr Peter Cairns – except the relative popularity of the two main parties has remained steady around 70% for several years, so I think it is safer and more accurate to make the case that disenchantment leads to greater poll volatility.

    Even the SNP has benefited from promoting itself as the repository of negative feeling, such as towards union, rather than standing up for positive choices – which you can’t because independence is a sham, since interdependence is locked in and integration can’t be reversed, UK or Europe-wide.

    Negative campaigning is by definition reactionary and by implication conditional, so if we consider where we are it really shouldn’t be any surprise to see more poll surprises going forward.

    We could ask what this volatility means regarding policy platforms, but I think this is something on which we should keep a watching brief.

    The current spate of by-elections is forcing the parties to evolve as they deal with realigning terms of debate under this unravelling premiership, and whether they can maintain any coherent unity as internal friction increases will determine the outcome of the next GE.

    The fight is on.

  28. Thomas,

    “except the relative popularity of the two main parties has remained steady around 70% for several years”

    I meant the long term. As we have gone from 90% split between the Tories and Labour in the sixties to 70% now so two cynicism has risen.


  29. Surely the big change is not disenchantment with the alternate governing parties, or the political process, but the absence of tribal class-based party loyalty except in Glasgow and small prosperous rural English communities.

  30. John B,

    Certainly changes in society can’t be ignored.

    We have moved from a heavily industrialised unionised male moderately educated full time workforce to a service orientated small business mixed sex half part time largely ununionised more educated one.

    We have gone from 75%+ social housing to 70% owner occupier, we have moved from socialising with our immediate neighbours in our homes to social contact mainly through work and out-with the home.

    We have proportionately fewer children and more old people and even though they are both much maligned we have had a generation of comprehensive education and BBC News.

    Those last two have meant along with the huge increase in post school education that the gulf in education and knowledge between public and politicians has narrowed considerably.

    I watched the rerun of “The Road to Finchley” ( I didn’t think it was that good) and what it showed quite well was that the kind of politician we had in the fifties wouldn’t last five minutes today because people just wouldn’t accept the bluff statements and the lack of detail.

    Look at Question Time where it’s pretty much routine for members of the audience not just to challenge politicians but to actually put forward arguments that are every bit as strong.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, but it gets harder as more of them get better educated and informed. Believe me I’ve chaired local meetings where their are people in the audience who know more about it that me or Council officials supposed to de dealing with it. ( okay the knowing more than me probably isn’t a surprise).


  31. Peter:

    I don’t have television so don’t see Question Time. I think the interesting thing about the audience is that while they will listen respectfully to speakers on the far left whom they wouldn’t ever dream of voting for, and may be angered at a robust exposition of a liberal position on anything from the EU to hanging,the most significant reaction is when they laugh at party-line spin fron one of the two alternate governing parties.

    Usually it is the party in Government which resorts to the more unbelievable spin or evasion.

    It doesn’t matter what the polls show. If you hear the Question Time audience laughing at a government spokesman, a change of government is on the way.