Having been disappointed by its absense from the main report of the Times’ monthly Populus poll, I find they did include questions on Damian Green after all. We’ll have to have a proper look when the actual wording of the question is out, but on the face of it the public’s verdict seems to be a resounding Sorry, I couldn’t actually be bothered to read about it – what was it again?.

56% of people said they had not followed the Damian Green story close enough to express a view, though the minority who had followed it split in favour of Damian Green. 29% thought it was right for the civil servant to leak information, with 13% thinking it wrong. 26% thought it was right for opposition MPs to release such information when it is leaked to them, 16% disagreed. 30% thought Jacqui Smith had handled things badly, only 12% thought she had done well.

Overall 39% thought it was right MPs were paying the affair so much attention, but 45% thought it was a “typical Westminster argument that bears no relation to the lives of ordinary people.” In this context the Conservative drop in support doesn’t seem particularly surprising – they’ve switched from attacking the government over huge levels of debt and mishandling the economy, to battering away over an issue which apparently has barely any salience with the general public.


87 Responses to “Most people really don’t care about Damian Green”

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  1. It’s frightening that issues relating to civil liberties seem to have so little resonance with large sections of the public.

  2. Not having an opinion is not the same thing as not caring.

    This looks more like a classic example of how people don’t associate news events with the changes that affect our lives.

    This political disconnect does much to explain why our leaders remain popular long after they been shown to get things wrong.

    Incompetence or incoherence? it doesn’t seem to matter if they can obfuscate or prevaricate long enough to make us have second thoughts. But as the different strands of our governments’ policy agenda are gradually pulled together and the longer-term consequences become more visible the battle-lines begin to reemerge.

    The Damien Green saga may not be making waves yet, but as it is tied into the wider civil liberties debate it adds to the police state narrative which is proving a sever drag on Brown’s latest poll relaunch.

    Just as Major became tarred by the cumulative effect of a series of sleaze stories (any of which could have been brushed off had they happened in isolation), the image of Labour is becoming infused with the spectre of authoritarianism.

    When the next scandal occurs and the list of grievances lengthens again (tanks at Heathrow, the De Menezes shooting etc), this theme of Brown’s regime will become more closely defined in the public eye – I suspect we will start recounting this list more frequently over the coming months.

    On the opposite side I don’t think it helps Cameron to ‘own’ this subject by continuing to have his most credible figure (David Davies) isolated from the picture, especially when this is natural territory for the LibDems.

  3. The above two posts veer dangerously lose to the old state communist line of ‘you don’t understand so we will have to educate you’. It is quite simple – people think there has been an over reaction and Tory bluster is over the top. There are more important issues to get stuck into, MPs are not above the law, etc etc. If I handle leaked documents I expect to be brought before the law, however that works. I would still do it if I thouhgt it worthwhile. Don’t complain if you get caught.

  4. Anthony, is that 45% of *everybody* who think that it’s purely a Westminster Village argument, or 45% of the 56% who know enough about the topic to express an opinion? If the former I’d argue that it’s pretty spurious as the majority of those people probably fall in the “no opinion” category.

    Also: have any pollsters recently done a question around “I follow politics on the TV news and in the press”? It’s probably a bit more at the moment, due to the economic situation, but it occurs to me that on these non-voting-intention questions, pollsters are asking questions of people who actually have no real interest in politics between elections and make their mind up during the campaign. People may be able to give a reasonably accurate idea on who they’ll vote for, but are the other questions really well thought out opinions?

  5. Phil – sadly, unless Populus have put the tables up since I last checked, I don’t know the structure of the questions yet.

    Polls always include the opinions of people who don’t know squat… and so they should. Polls aren’t an attempt to measure the truth, they are an attempt to measure public opinion however wrong-headed or ill-informed it may be.

  6. Alec,
    enough of your ad hominems!

  7. Alec – you’d have a point if the police had also arrested Gordon Brown, who has on many occasions made use of leaked documents. I’m not maligning Brown for that – it’s long been standard practice, across all parties. But now, suddenly, we have the police wading in and arresting an MP for it. This ought to be of more concern to more people and the poll’s evidence of general unconcern is deeply worrying. The analogy of frogs in a slowly heating saucepanful of water springs to mind.

  8. Given that voters didn’t seem to care about Derek Conway stealing from them – at least according to ther opinion polls – it seems unlikely that the arrest of a member of the shadow cabinet most voters had never even heard of would stir up much resentment

    At the current time people have more important things to worry about – and I wouldn’t have thought that outside Parliament there’s no a great deal of sympathy for an arrested MP – despite the groundless nature of that arrest

  9. It’s surprising that so many people seem not to be interested in the Damian Green affair because it was the first item on all the news channels for a number of days.

  10. To state what I think is obvious; am I more interested (the average voter) in whether I can pay my bills and / or still have a job or more interested in some thing some a politician may or may not have done ?

    Seems an obvious hierarchy of concern to me; the initial concerns above seem divorced from people’s needs.

  11. So 45% think that the arrest of opposition members of parliament by the government is a “typical Westminster argument that bears no relation to the lives of ordinary people.”
    And 44% didn’t even bother to follow the story?

    What hope is there for a democratic system where public opinion is our ruler, if the public are as complacent and stupid as this?

    When the public say things like this, does one begin to doubt the wisdom of universal suffrage?

  12. opps, even worse, 56% didn’t follow the story

  13. Lukw,

    He wasn’t arrested by the Government it was the police and attempts to pin this on Labour are looking increasingly silly. Labour and the speaker may be culpable due to ineptitude but that doesn’t make them the Stasi.

    The public see this as just another Westminster village tiff, which is really what it is despite attempts by some to make it into the biggest threat to Magna Carta since the last supposed big threat to Magna Carta.

    The media have made an equally big fuss about this because like MP’s they like getting leaked information and don’t like the idea of losing access to it.

    Peter.

  14. Lukw

    We anxiously await your preferred alternative to democracy and universal suffrage… will you, perhaps, be suggesting that the right to vote should in future be restricted to highly educated conservatives, for example?

    On this matter (at least :) ), Cllr Peter Cairns makes complete sense.

  15. LukW

    The problems of universal suffrage are neatly summed up in this saying.

    ‘I reject any form of government in which the opinion of the village idiot is given the same weight as the opinion of Aristotle’

    It’s also practically the same argument that Anthony gives against using WMA as an election indicator. Using more polls simply dilutes the quality of the best ones. Similarly, giving more people votes dilutes the quality of best ones.

  16. The key issue to remember is that Green wasn’t investigated under the Official Secrets act – ie his handling of ‘secret’ documents was not the issue. The offence investigated was one of conspiracy, so clearly the police felt there was a possible case of Green conspiring to persuade someone to breach the Official Secrets Act, which would be a totally different thing to inoccently recieving leaked documents from a whislte blower.
    There are issues about the balance of the law between police and Parliament, but this case really is a storm in a teacup.
    I would be more sympathetic to the opinions of the protestors if they also condemned Boris Johnsons’s attempts to divert the police from this course of action. We seem to have a pretty clear case here of a clumsy attempt at politicians interefering with operational police matters – after his ousting of the Met Police chief a pattern may be emerging that should cause grave disquiet about anyone who really cares about civil rights and the democratic and judicial process, rather than just party politics.

  17. I don’t often agree with Peter Cairns but i thought his analysis was spot-on (sorry Peter to damage your reputation). Broadly speaking we split into two camps on this:
    Those of us who revere English parliamentary history
    Those of us who don’t.
    I specifically chose the phrase English because so much of this debate has descended into a comparison with something that happened in 1640. For us Celts, this is not a precedent that we get excited about.
    Simply put, if you think that David Davis is a people’s champion, then you are outraged by the police.
    If you think David Davis had his priorities wrong, then you are switched off by this story.

  18. The key figure in polls, in my view, is the opposition support. Very low Labour numbers were when even some of their own virtually certain support became cross for a while and answered polsters accordingly (It happened to Thatcher and Major as well). We now have 2 polls in a row with Conservative support below 40%. The previous one @ 37% was probably an understatement at the extreme of the margin of error but this one confirms the pre PBR trend of dip in Tory support to around 40% no where near enough enough to be on course for an outright win. The slight upturn following the negative inital PBR coverage now seems to have been contrary to trend. Lib Dem support now somewhere more realistic suggesting they are on course for 20-25% due to their campaign coverage related lift. What price a hung parliament with the lagest party depending on 20-30 marginals and tactical voting?
    Next Chancellor Vince Cable?
    (Me not a Lib Dem by the way)

  19. Oops wrong place for my comments above!!
    FWIW – I have asked a cross section of friends and colleagues of all political pursuasions but not activists and none were bothered about Green. For those that were aware it played bit like the NHS in that vtories not really trusted whatever thay say and do.They still have an authoritian image (back toThatcher again) and whilst they thought what happened may have been wrong they find Tory indignation exagerrrated and opportunistic. Maybe impct poll wise slightly negaitive as reminds public of ‘Nasty’ Tories and ‘snobby’ Tories for attack on Gorbals Martin.

  20. “so clearly the police felt there was a possible case of Green conspiring to persuade someone to breach the Official Secrets Act”

    I think that is nonsense Alec.
    Green read out his charge sheet in HoC-refuting your assertion , which was also made by the Home Sec.

    Sir Paul Stephenson said that the Metropolitan Police Service was called in by the Cabinet Office

    “to investigate suspected criminal offences in relation to a substantial series of leaks from the Home Office potentially involving national security and the impeding of the efficient and effective conduct of government.”

    ie-it was a “fishing expidition” .
    It was pointed out in the Parliamentary debate that
    “impeding the efficient and effective conduct of government” is not a criminal offence.

    But it is of course the reason for hounding Green, because his source exposed the complete absence of “efficient and effective conduct of government” in the Home Office…..not that any of us needs reminding of that fact.

    Pleased to see the Home Affairs Select Comittee is to mount an enquiry-I have no doubt that this is in response to the Government’s shameful destruction of The Speakers Comittee of wise men.

  21. On it’s own the Damien Green affair can be seen as a storm in a teacup, but we’ve had so many storms during successive teabreaks that we may look back at this as the last days brewing a herbally-infused hurricane before it finally hits home:

    ID cards, DNA storage, CCTV intrusion, data loss, chip and pin credit cards, self-certificated mortgages, extraordinary rendition, tanks at Heathrow, homegrown terrorism…
    …Damian Green, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Brian Haw, David Kelly!

    All these stories are connected, but Labour has yet to find their Neil Hamilton to provide the symbolic hook… will Speaker Martin try to hang on to the bitter end?

  22. “impeding the efficient and effective conduct of government” is not a criminal offence”.

    If it was the House of Commons could be converted in to a prison.

    Peter.

  23. I think most people, distracted by the need to stay afloat, reckon that MPs and PCs are of the same ilk and most ought to be locked up for one thing or another anyway.

    We all know leaking’s always gone on. To leak in order for the favour to be returned in the form of a job, or a brown envcelope, or an invite to the FA Cup final is perhaps frowned on by the public, but no-one’s horrified or sees a connection with self-cert mortgages for H’s sake!

    And no-one cares much if some-one who’s suspected of nicking stationery gets their bag searched by the doormen on “sus” either.

    Sorry, Peter’s right about the journo’s being the ones who are most offended.

    The portrayal of “authoritatrianism” as equivalent to “sleaze” doesn’t really stick together at all.

    The best weapons against Labour are the “incompetence” based ones.

  24. I agree with John TT. It’s not nice, but it has to be said – its not a patch on the sleaze of the 80s & 90s. We had Matrix Churchil, where government ministers were prepared to suppress evidence and let innocent people go to prison to avoid embarrasing HMG, cash for questions, £1m donations from businessmen who stole the money from their companies, (and where the party refused to give it back – compare Ecclestone affair), paying off prostitutes, getting MPs daughters to commit perjury, some really good sex scandals, (secretaries, other MPs, rent boys) not one but two ex ministers imprisoned for lying, etc etc.
    Maybe its my age, but I often find mysel longing for some good old fashioned sleaze like the old days.

  25. It’s frightening that issues relating to civil liberties seem to have so little resonance with large sections of the public.

    ————

    A good deal of the public have lived with their own loss of civil liberties – slowly but surely – over the last 30 years.

    That is why they don’t care about the arrest of one Conservative MP or the 42 day detention saga.

    To most people, these things are everyday occurrences.

  26. I’m not saying that I approve of 42 day detention, but an alternative view is that, on the whole, most people trust the state to ‘get it right’ and aren’t as frightened/cynical as many ‘civil libertarians’. Many view 42 day detention for example, as a good way to deal with people who want to blow us up. In their view, that’s a fair trade off between individual and societal liberties. They trust the state to detain the right people for up to 42 days, and if they get it wrong, it is probably a fair mistake and not sinister plot making. I personally think there are better ways to protect society than 42 days and ID cards, but I won’t criticise those who disagree with me as not caring, or not understanding, or not knowing their history, or any of the other somewhat self righteous guff that you often hear on this issue. They have an opinion, and they’ve made their own judgement.

  27. I don’t know which is the most worrying;

    All these people agreeing with me, or all these people saying” Sorry” because they agree with me.

    Still, I am sure it won’t last for long………

    Peter.

  28. Just goes to show that people can be very stupid, as well as politicians – who are after all, people.

    I doubt political issues even enter the heads of some folk. It wasn’t so long ago that I mentioned Tony Blair to someone, some young blonde, and she didn’t seem to know WHAT a Prime Minister was, let alone who it was.

  29. Andy,

    “It wasn’t so long ago that I mentioned Tony Blair to someone, some young blonde, and she didn’t seem to know WHAT a Prime Minister was, let alone who it was.”

    Alternatively the young blonde just didn’t want to talk to you.
    And they say blondes are thick…….

    Peter.

  30. I think this is an issue (combined with things like ID cards and 42 Days) that while not of importance to many people is of prime importance to a minority. In particular perhaps to an ‘intellectual/political’ type.

    I think it’s likely that it’s lost Labour a few thousand middle class voters to the LibDems.

  31. Thank goodness the “intellectual/political” types aren’t as politically significant as they like to think they are.

    Peter.

  32. Peter

    Surely that should be …..aren’t as politically significant as WE like to think WE are ;-)

  33. How I envisage how it would go on most High Streets in the country…..Interviewer to Joe Public “Joe, the world is in economic recession, you may lose your job, your bank is ripping you off,you have Christmas to pay for and you are struggling to make ends meet” “How interested are you about the Conservative MP being arrested for leaking documents to the opposition?”
    Joe” Are you taking the piss?”…..or something with more expletives.

  34. I am in favour of plural voting with more votes for the highly educated or those who achieve impressive feats in life, as per John Stuart Mill’s Considerations on Representative Government. It is important to not take away the vote of the village idiot, just to try to ensure political power is fairly distributed in portion with the ability to wield it wisely.

    Such a system would lead to a more informed electorate, a higher standard of public debate, better accountability, and a better government that represented ability and intelligence instead simply of weight of mass ignorance.

  35. I’m with Luke W – considering that the Conservatives were in power for most of the last century, that proves his weight of mass ignorance theory.

  36. Absolutely.
    I think the quality of the personel in the Commons and the standard of debate in Parliament was clearly better in the nineteenth century in the days when mass-ignorance did not have tyranical power. I would prefer votes to be distributed according to intelligence rather than property value (as it was for most of the nineteenth century) but the functionality was still there.

  37. @ LukeW – I used to think like that too until I worked in academia. The ‘highly educated’ are often grievously out of touch and have a strong tendency to tie themselves in knots over even the most basic issues. Over-thinking matters often doesn’t produce workable leadership or policies or sensible decision-making. It often results in weak prevarications, where everything is endlessly qualified to the point of nullity.

    I might support a policy whereby people only get the vote after having paid over a certain amount of tax, but I can see there would be some problems with that too.

  38. @ Richard – “I think this is an issue (combined with things like ID cards and 42 Days) that while not of importance to many people is of prime importance to a minority.”

    I think that’s probably right – until people find themselves on the receiving end of these things. 42 days, for example, doesn’t raise as much opposition as it should because most people seem to think along the lines of “It will only affect Muslims, and only the nasty shouty thick-bearded ones at that”. Which is all very well so long as a) you’re not a Muslim and b) you feel absolutely confident that some future government won’t start applying the laws more widely. The use of part of the Terrorism Act to seize Icelandic assets was a worrying indication of how these laws can potentially be applied to all sorts of non-terrorism related things but a lot of people just seem not to grasp it.

    Something I’ve also noticed, and which seems peculiarly British, is almost an enthusiasm to ban things that other people do, even when those things have little or no affect on others.

  39. I think a lot of the talk about civil liberties is pretty over-blown. CCTV cameras are the prime example. Nobody is bothered about that fact that anyone can see them in a public place, but if the observer is looking at a monitor connected to a CCTV camera it suddenly becomes a civil liberties issue. That’s a bit like saying it would be a civil liberties issue if the police started using binoculars while out on the beat.

    Lukw, I think the decline in the standard of debate has a lot more to do with the media than universal suffrage. As long as they are obsessed with trivial sensationalism and sound bites, cynical lightweights like Blair and Cameron will prosper.

  40. James Ludlow, the stuff about anti-terror laws being used against Iceland is a silly piece of media nonsense. The powers used were granted by the Crime and Terrorism Act – in the “crime” section.

    I suspect that is true of a lot of these stories about anti-terrorism laws supposedly being used in inappropriate situations.

  41. Oh dear. We’re back to ‘more votes for the clever because ordinary folk don’t understand these things’.
    Funny isn’t it how the liberal elite scream blue murder when someone suggests the abandoning of jury trials because er, ordinary folk don’t understand these things?
    In the 19th century it used to be votes for property owners, but fortunately we’ve progressed from there. Imagine the scene when we’re deciding how many votes to give those poor ‘uneducated’ people. Does Madonna get 3 for earning piles of cash? What about 2 votes for olympic rowers, becasue they’re nice people, but only 1 for darts champions becasue they’re fat? Some of the dimmest people I know went to Oxford, but give em 2 votes anyway because they’re nice middle class boys.
    As Anthony implies, polls (and real votes) might not deliver the result you expect. To say that people ‘don’t understand’ is just the line that Stalin and Pol Pot took, and is extremely arrogant. Maybe you don’t ‘understand’.
    Democracy isn’t perfect. Get over it.

  42. @ Jakob – actually it’s the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 – an act specifically introduced as a piece of anti-terrorism legislation, as its title indicates, and which makes full use of the woolliness that this government likes to use in its legislation precisely because it can then be applied to all sorts of things that the public-at-large, and even many MPs, never dreamed it would be applied to when it was first drafted.

  43. It is an elitist position and it is an arrogant one, but that doesn’t mean its wrong. It isn’t the line of Stalin or Pol Pot- these individuals didn’t let anyone vote or enter the debate, and often executed them if they did. I am not propising to take votes away from anyone, just give some of the people who can contribute more to a representative democracy a greater stake in the power.

    I think when polls produce such reusults as the above, or when they produce figures that show 66% say they have ‘little or no understanding of Westminster politics’ (A MORI poll a year ago on engagement with politics produced figures like this) or when they show almost the same number of people vote in Pop Idol than in the 2001 general election, then we are shown the inherent misguidedness of placing our faith in the majority and public opinion alone to run a political system. It’s like putting a blind drunk instead of a qualified pilot in charge of a jumbo jet.

    I think that a majority rule weight of number system as we have now only works when the public can understand issues. When they are things like complex issues of civil liberties, difficult-to-grasp economic reforms, or a long pedantic document like the European Constitution, the vast majority have no idea. So then the media steps in and invents some ridicuous partisan narrative that dictates people’s views on critical subjects they are unable or unwilling to understand, giving it a demogogic influence.

    I contend that in order for an electorate to select the governers of a democracy properly, and hold them to account, they need to be able to understand important political issues properly. I recognise there is an inherent good in universal suffrage in terms of representing all groups in society and not excluding them, but plural voting permits this and rebalances our representative base in accordance with ability to govern.

    I quite acknowledge that how to decide who gets how many votes is deeply problematic, especially because such a system would value life experience and achievements as well as education. What I would suggest is a system where you get one vote automatically, and then can apply to get more (and submit a supporting statement) and that decision will be made by a special committee. This does mean that people who want more votes will be the ones who get them- but willingness to be involved in politics and engage with it is exactly what I want.

  44. LukeW – very erudite, but you’ve completely missed the point. You are deciding who understands issues or not, so those who get extra votes will presumably pass your own ‘fit to govern’ test. For example, yesterday Cameron argued that Brown doesn’t understand the economic issues, so he wouldn’t get an extra vote. Brown says the same thing about Osbourne, so no multiple votes there. Get the point?
    You quote poll figures for the number of people disengaged from politics, and then proceed to blame them for their failure to understand. Wrong again. Its Westminster and Brussels ( and local council chambers) that fail to understand. The Green affair is a classic case of this, and you and many other politicos proceed to blame the plebians for ‘not understanding’ rather than realise you are not addressing real concerns of real people.
    Why is the European Constitution a ‘long pedantic document’? As with all legislation its written not to be understood by normal people -its how the political classes protect themselves. Again, utterly the fault of ‘clever’ politicians, who then blame the rest of the population for ‘not understanding’.
    Its completely pointless to argue that democracy would function ‘better’ if the ‘right’ people got more votes than the rest. This would be the elected deciding who to choose to re elect themselves. Its not democracy. If you want to know what your kind of system would look like, rewind to the days when we had just such a system, when only the people (men)of ‘good standing’ could vote. Look carefully at how the other 95% of the population lived and then tell me that universal suffrage isn’t the best option we’ve got.

  45. Some of us posted on this site (e.g. in relation to the Ashford seat) about people’s limited interest in Green affair when it first happened. It is sad that it should be so.

    Even if it was against their short-term interest in terms of political popularity, the Conservatives (and Liberal Democrats) were and are right to pursue this matter. Things will have moved on before the election, and it is important to uphold fundamental principles. I doubt if the Green affair will, put the other way round, cost the Tories votes by the time of the next election.

    I think the democratic answer should be to point out the link between excessive interference with human freedom and economic failure – look at the Svoiet Union, East Germany, North Korea, Zimbabwe etc. etc. Prosperity depends upon people being happy and motivated to work and develop ideas for the common good. None of which will happen in a country where police abuse their authority. To be fair, I think most senior police appreciate this: the problem is that the system in the UK at both political and executive level appears to lack checks and balances to prevent people taking pragmatic short-cuts that bite back later with a vengence in the form of subsequent problems.

  46. ‘Some of the dimmest people I know went to Oxford, but give em 2 votes anyway because they’re nice middle class boys.’

    For a little piece of history–I think I’m right in saying Oxbridge boys did have two votes up to and including the 1948 election? If so, funny to think we have had one man one vote for just on 60 years (and that’s only for the lower house of course…)

  47. Frederic – I agree with the broad thrust of what you say, but it does need pointing out that there is no evidence to suggest that the police in the Green affair abused their authority. Police can search without a warrant, if the owner gives consent. The police did nothing wrong.

  48. “Alternatively the young blonde just didn’t want to talk to you.
    And they say blondes are thick…….

    Peter.”

    I beg your pardon?

  49. Clearly the best democratic system would be one where only the people I really trust to do the right thing would have a vote.

    So just me. One Man One Vote.

    I’d ask you to support me in this democratic change, but I suspect all of you would disagree that I am uniquely placed to decide the next Government. (However, that would simply prove my point that I am the ONLY one able to see the true picture).

  50. Jack – ” I’m right in saying Oxbridge boys did have two votes up to and including the 1948 election? If so, funny to think we have had one man one vote for just on 60 years (and that’s only for the lower house of course…)”

    Apart from there being a 1948 election, which there wasn’t, you are indeed. Until they were abolished for the 1950 election there were 7 university constituencies, who between them returned 12 MPs to the Commons.

    Oxford graduates returned 2 MPs
    Cambridge graduates returned 2 MPs
    Combined Scottish Universities returned 3 MPs
    Queens University Belfast returned 1 MP
    University of Wales returned 1 MP
    London University returned 1 MP
    Combinued English Universites (covering everything in England that wasn’t Oxbridge or London) returned 2 MPs

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