What went wrong

In the fullness of time I am sure much more will be said about why the polls overestimated the level of Lib Dem support at the election, but there was an interesting nugget from Andrew Cooper of Populus on More or Less on Radio 4 earlier. Populus’s final poll, conducted on the Tuesday and Wednesday of election week, had the Lib Dems on 27%. However, according to Andrew in the fieldwork conducted on Tuesday the Lib Dems were in the high twenties, in the fieldwork conducted on the Wednesday they were on 24%. That looks like evidence of late swing – that the polls weren’t wrong, people just changed their mind right at the end.

However, there is also some evidence that casts doubt on late swing. Because they published in the Evening Standard on Thursday and had a later deadline Ipsos MORI’s final poll of the campaign had the latest fieldwork of all the pollsters – all their fieldwork was conducted on Wednesday… yet they still had the Lib Dems at 27%.

Also illustrative is Ipsos MORI’s post-election poll. Most companies use some form of past vote weighting, so their post-election polls will be calibrated to the new results and won’t really be directly comparable to pre-election polls. Ipsos MORI however don’t use any political weighting, so their post election polls should be conducted in exactly the same way as their pre-election polls. In their post-election poll for the News of the World MORI asked how people had voted in the election on May 6th, and found figures of CON 35%, LAB 31%, LDEM 28%. No sign there of a big drop off in Lib Dem support compared to pre-election polls.

Of course – we know all about the problems of false recall, there may be people claiming to have voted Lib Dem who didn’t actually do so, so this isn’t conclusive either, but it isn’t screaming out late swing.

410 Responses to “What went wrong”

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  1. Technically, ‘billions’ is ok. It’s the plural of ‘billion’. The same applies to ‘millions’.

  2. @Eoin,

    You are quite right, but you can be assured that if DM does become leader, he will have less power over policies than what you think. Most leaders are, to a large extent, mere figureheads rather than policy devisors.

  3. @ Anthony

    It was meant in a light-hearted way.

  4. @ Matt

    Most leaders are, to a large extent, mere figureheads rather than policy devisors.
    Actually, the Miliband brothers have the reputation of being policy ‘wonks’.

  5. Why are so many partisan comments allowed? This isn’t a place for discussing policies.

    If Colin’s contributions re the prudence of cutting ar allowed, then presumably I’m allowed to say that the principle of long-term saving has been abolished by the wilful attack on poor families’ children and the removal of one of the best playing-field levellers ever brought in.

    if he’d cut the CTF by 75%, fine, but to wipe it out completyely is disgraceful.

    Moderate away, but if Colin gets away with it…..

  6. I am very pleased to hear about the cuts that will now be going ahead. Not because I am a sadist, or have an ideological inclination towards cuts, but because I believe them to be completely necessary. £6 billion may not make great inroads into the debt, but it’s a start, and it is a reassuring message of intent.

  7. @Matt,

    To an extent you are correct. But there are more than one type of leader

    that would be the consensual/ pragmatic/ managerial type

    You could also have a conviction/ ideologue type…

    I favour the latter but I am guessing you prefer the former :)

  8. @Colin – Osborne has indeed got a £9.5b bonus, in terms of having to borrow substantialy less money than expected. In addition, last years deficit was forecast to be about 12.5%GDP and has in fact come in at nearer 10%, although part of this is due to the ‘snapshot’ effect of accounting for government owned bank assets that can down down as well as up.

    In this respect, todays cuts are clearly political, rather than an economic necessity. If they were economically essential Osborne would have had to start from a position of needing £15B. A secondary point is that he has initiated, but not completed, a full review of government spending and borrowing, implying that the current figures could be wrong.

    This raises the question as to why he has decided to cut this amount now? Given that tax receipts have been romping in much higher than forecast since October and spending is also below forecast, perhaps the OBR will concluded that the borrowing forecast is too high?

    Having said all that, I have few quibbles with the spending cuts themselves from what I have seen. [I only hope the 750 people working in departments that are being cut were informed of the decision according to good HR standards and didn’t find out they were being made redundant from the Sunday night news briefings]. There is also a valid political argument for sending a message to the markets with a relatively small and early headline of cuts. Equally however, one could argue that the message could have been that the forecast deficit figures were too high and the situation is better than previously thought. This is also true, but doesn’t suit the coalition needs.

    For what it’s worth, my view is that Darling was overly pessimistic and that the UK’s position is significantly better than most commentators though last year. Compared to a £200B deficit commonly predicted ib the City (and by Osborne) the £140B figure is a lot more managable. The bulk of the deficit was caused by the collapse in tax revenues, and these are already recovering much better than predicted, and while there is unpleasant work to be done to erase the long term structural deficit this will be easier than previously thought. I’ve always argued against those who claimed this was a good election to lose.

    The key uncertainty lies elsewhere, particularly Europe. Darling actually managed the crisis very well, and positioned the UK to benefit rapidly from a global upturn. If the upturn doesn’t come, it’s a different picture.

  9. @John TT,

    :) The acquisition of knowledge or the futherance of one’s understanding is not impeded by occasional encounterance with bluff and bluster. Meander through it like a small stream flowing ambiently and along the way some lilypads may yield truths not yet known. Seaweed and frogspawn are easily avoided :)

  10. DavidB – thanks for the Sutton Trust link.

    Matt – We’ve found something to agree on :-) I feel that a leadership candidate cannot afford the luxury of learning from too many mistakes. I would like to think that Miliband D has already learned lessons about the importance of loyalty, collective responsibility, reconciling party faction, and, from his expirience in high office will have a good appreciation of the complexity/ art of the possible in government. Perhaps I am catching some of your optimism. :)

    Mike N – Technically, G Brown was correct about many things. ;)

  11. Eoin Clarke – you sound like Fr Sean, my old parish priest :)

  12. I can see many votes (especially old-lib ones) in campaigning for the return of the great Liberating idea that all kids at 18 should have access to a bit of equity

    Not just the kids of the wealthy, and the kids who were fortunate to be born between 2002 and 2010.

  13. @ Alec, John TT

    IMO, the cuts are politically driven.

    The point is to brand all Labour’s flagship policies (like the child trust fund) as unaffordable – when they actually are not.

    I say again, Alistair Darling – much as I like him personally – cost Labour the election with his overly pessimistic ‘honesty’.

  14. One unavoidable problem for Labour is that while the candidates go through the post mortems and philosophical and policy debates for the future, they run the risk that no one is out there fighting to frame the legacy.

    The next 6 – 12 months is crucial in framing in the publics mind the long term judgment on the last government. In ’79 the Tories were brutally successful in swinging opinion towards their narrative, ignoring their role from 1970 – 74 and the impact of the oil crisis, to the extent that scare stories were still relevant in 1992 and tried again in 97 although unsuccessfully.

    In electoral terms Labour don’t have a huge mountain to climb to regain power. They have to ensure they don’t have a huge emotional mountain to climb, and they would be well advised to devote as much time and effort as they can to trying to promote the idea that while there were mistakes over their term in office, in the future the dry and rather emotionless analysis of economic historians is likely to conclude that, like it or not, when the crisis broke Brown as near as dammit really did save the world.

    People won’t necessarily feel like that, but even now we have the Eurozone belatedly copying Brown’s quantative easing programme. Given the worst global shock since 1929, and notwithstanding Brown’s culpability in the years prior to the crisis, there is a very strong case to be made that Labour played a key role in avoided a far more terrible fate.

  15. @Amber Star – I think you have a point about Darling’s pessimism, although to be fair, at the 2009 budget things really did look grim and virtually all other forecasters said the deficit would be much higher with Cameron accusing him of cloud cuckoo forecasts.

    The biggest problem we now have is that all three parties are led by people so similar in upbringing and background, and all share by and large the same beliefs as the conventional free market thinkers that have dominated economics and politics since the 1970s. No one was able to take the city myths head on and expose them as false, and as a result all parties to one extent or another have been dancing to the same tune.

    Someone needs to step aside and think through the consequences. From sub prime to sovereign debt, big finance banked the profits and handed the losses to the taxpayer. This is in effect what we will be paying for through the cuts programme, and we desperately need new leadership to find ways to ensure poor investment decisions are met with losses by the investors without the jeopardising the state.

  16. Having worked as a manager in Coca Cola c.2001-2003 as an efficiency savings manager, i would never under-estimate the amount that can be saved through an effiiciency drive….

    expense budget
    consultation fees

    You could literally write a book on it (I am sure many have).

    None of these cuts need cost jobs. I openly appluad any gov. who wants go give it a go sorting some of that out.

    I have worked in the public sector c.2003-2005. I would not doubt that some of my erstwhile colleagues could hvae been more prodiguous. Thus, I openly applaud any gov. trying to sort some of that out.

    On balance, blues always achieve more in these two catgories than reds will ever do.

    I will not say much of the other types of savings, (cutting programmes, sure start etc. ) here is not the place. :(

  17. @Eoin – my business specialises in energy conservation and renewables. I’m currently doing some work for schools in northern England, and I’m confident that given sufficient time I could save £6B by making sure everyone in government buildings turned off lights and shut the curtains at night.

    I found one school with a whole computer suite of 24 pcs left switched on throughout the summer holidays.

  18. Alec “fighting to frame the legacy”

    I agree with your comments.

    There is an ongoing attempt by the coalition to create a narrative. The £6bns in cuts are strictly unnecessary but conveys a narrative. The ’emergency’ Budget plays to the same theme.

    Lab IMO needs to get its act together fast otherwise it could find that the ConDems instil a mindset in the public which will harm it in the years to come.

  19. @Alec,

    i have no doubt of the veracity of your anecdote.

    Every articulated lorry that left Coca Cola Ireland depots until 2002 went out full and came back empty (having successfully delievered its load). It never once consdiered to pick up empty glass laong the way or import the raw materials on the free truck space. We paid millions to outside contractors to do that.

    Powerade we shipped from Milan on baby sized pallets that our forkflits were not specced to handle. We spent million repackaging them onto GKN ble chep pallets.

    Those pallets we spent years giving away to the tune of 3,000 per week. Not sensible when a pallet is c.£16.

  20. @ Alec

    Thank you for two excellent comments.

  21. @Alec,

    Load utilisation is key where schools are concerned. They are used 180 days of the year for about 10hours a day… that is less than 33% of the capacity of the buildings…

    AA awareness, Counselling, Churche services, night classes, thrid party training providers, etc. etc. There is probably an infinite amount of uses that space could be put to.

  22. @Eoin,

    True, but leaders often have to largely follow the party line, regardless of their own beliefs. That’s why leaders have their own advisers, speech writers etc.

    To win the next GE, the new Labour leader would, for instance, be unlikely to move the party further to the left. It would simply be too unpopular amongst the middle classes. He/she’d have to try to woo the middle class vote, and too much leftyism/socialism would be unlikely to do this. That’s probably partly why DM is strong favourite to win.

  23. @Matt,

    He is quite likely the favourite…

    Thatcher was an ideologue, she won many an election.

  24. That’s probably also why DM is favoured amongst Tories. He is closer to the right than any of the other contenders. TB was popular for the same reason.

    Personally speaking, I would prefer one of the other candidates to win. They are weaker than DM in charisma, leadership and image IMO.

  25. “Thatcher was an ideologue, she won many an election.”

    But Thatcher would never win in the 21st century. They all have to temper their policies nowadays, that’s why they are all closer to the centre ground.

  26. Even DC has realised that to woo the voters he had to renew the Tory image (i.e. bring them closer to the centre). The electorate simply would be unlikely to vote to the extremes of yesteryear (i.e. to people of extreme/strong policy views). That’s why it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the three party’s main policies!

  27. Matt

    “hard to distinguish between the three party’s main policies”.

    To an outsider it would be near nigh impossible – especially if DM wins ;) lol

  28. @Amber – Thankyou – I blush.

    @Eoin – I have lived for years in a very remote part of the country, where there have been continual debates about how to maintain services. I have long held that developing a collective sense of community assets while blurring the false divisions between public sector departments and the public/private divide would reap great financial and social dividends.

    We already have post offices in pubs, but why not evening restaurants in schools (they’ve got some great kitchens that are used for a fraction of the time) or part time surgeries in pubs etc.

    Your last but one post also reminds us of the myth Thatcher sold to us – namely that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector. Even apart from the profit element, I’ve never been able to divine any quantitative difference in wastage between the two in my work.

  29. @Alec,

    I absolutely agree. It is like pot calling kettle

  30. @ Éoin

    You did your job well, I am sure.

    It is interesting, though, to think it through, purely as an academic exercise.

    If the pallets were made by a small firm, if the outside hauliers were small contractors, then your efficiency savings actually took wealth out of the local economy & gave it to Coca Cola’s shareholders.

    But, on the other hand, a plant that does not deliver sufficient wealth to the shareholders will be marked for closure. This could be even more detrimental to the local economy.

    Or would a local company – making irn bru & red lemonade in 55 flavours – take over the plant & bring diversity of product & re-employment?

    Nobody really knows which is the optimum solution for the environment, the community & the wider economy. So, for now, it is all about maximising shareholder wealth.

  31. @MATT
    “They are weaker than DM in charisma, leadership and image IMO.”

    I hope this doesn’t sound partisan, but D Miliband strikes me as having all the charisma of a wet fish. If he’s the best Labour candidate, they will be out of power for many years.

    To try to balance things up, it would be like Ian Duncan Smith becoming leader of the Tories – oh, they’ve already done that haven’t they! :)

  32. @Amber,

    I wish I could say that were true.

    GKN is a french company with an annual turnover running itno the trillions.

    Our bottles were produced by Molino Group (Itlaian Based)

    Coke in fact run two diff franchises the one I worked in was the Hellenic Bottling company (greece)

    Our Pallets went south of the border tot he ROI.

    All in all it is was and will always be one of the most mesmerising ways of draining the nations wealth.

    To top it all off, they float on the NYSE. :(

  33. Amber,

    IRN BRU is an interesting one. Scotland is the only Eurpoean market they could not dominate. Your fetish for the orange stuff was beyond impeachment :)

  34. I wonder what will be the effect on the all important psychology of business/consumer confidence. D Laws sounded like a coroner/undertaker today.

    Ed Balls needs to stress that tax reciepts in a recovery would have a more positive effect on the deficit than these risky spending cuts.

  35. @Matt
    “Personally speaking, I would prefer one of the other candidates to win. They are weaker than DM in charisma, leadership and image IMO.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. I’ve seen Ed Miliband up close and he has far more charisma and charm than his brother.

  36. Amber,

    MY priority was ensuring no drivers lost their jobs. i always maintained efficiency did not mean job reduction. Full employment is eminently achievable. During my cost savings, our drivers wages increased considerably since I gave them bonus payments for carrying out the extra lifts on the way home from their deliveries.

  37. We need some polling on key issues between now and the emergency budget.

    We do know that low taxes are popular we also know that good publc services are also popular. What we don’t know is whether the public would favour a temporary income tax surcharge on the basic and 40% rate that would result in the reduction in the level of public spending cuts and mean that class sizes would not get bigger and NHS waiting lists get longer.

    It’s been suggested that the coalition is going for an 80% cuts/20% tax increases policy whilst a 2.5 pence income tax surcharge would make it more like 50/50.

    We need an informed debate around this and I hope we get one.

  38. @ Éoin,

    Like you & Alec, I always try to find a third way when looking at business cost savings.

    I have a track record of turning failing businesses around by including all the ‘stake-holders’ & identifying as many ‘win-win’ solutions as possible.

  39. @Amber

    ‘win-win’ I like that phrase. Some of the list of savings are not best described as such. Reminds me of the Atkins diet. Bad breath and heart problems sure to follow.

  40. @ DavidB

    Predictably there hasn’t been any data on income tax increase (what ? progressive taxation ??) but YouGov did a poll on 20% VAT a week ago which showed 31% support which I thought high give the usual bias against tax increases.

    It showed strong alignment with party (Con 51%, Lib Dem 28%, Lab 16% – warning sub-sample sizes 200-300) but I thought it was interesting that the public is more willing to consider tax increases as opposed to cuts than politicians might think.

  41. @Roger David,

    The public have shown themsleves for some time quite resilient to the idea of tax increases…

    consistently 30-40% of the voters back it. This is extraordinarily high given the unpalatable nature of the question.

    Of course it does not preclude a dip in support for thr governing coalition should they seek to implement it.

    Personally, though it matters not, they can tax me for all they are worth if it means jobs are saved.

  42. Amber,

    “win-win” works best in negotiatian situations.

    For “efficiency” gains the problem is two-fold:
    First you have to identify and evaluate non-financial costs and benefits.

    Second you have to get the “parties” – several of whom may not even be involved in the process – to agree on your quantification of the costs/benefits.

    Getting third parties accepted as stakeholders is much easier on a micro level than at macro level. This is as true for large corporations as it is for governments.

    Anotehr problem for Govt is getting the balance right between economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

    Historically, HMT has been focused entirely on cash quantifiable costs / benefits. When Governments talk about efficiency, they usually mean economy (i.e. “cuts”), and effectiveness is generally ignored altogether.

    To have a proper debate about efficiency, we need to understand what we want to achieve so taht we can measure effectiveness. This is what the CSR is supposed to do, but has never delivered due to the dead hand of HMT.

  43. I think it was DavidB’s idea (?) to have a time limited income tax rise (presumably with the cut off point prior to the next GE?) and I think this is probably quite politically acceptable to many people. It would need to be justified, explained, trusted in the sense that people would have to know for certain it would be reversed as promised, and seen to have a beneficial effect -ie reducing the deficit without harming services.

    On the downside, we have Colin’s point. Deficit corrections (city speak for savage cuts or tax rises) have generally been more successful historically when the brunt of the effort has been borne by spending cuts as these tend to have less negative impact on economic growth, although the picture isn’t as clear cut as many think.

    Essentially it comes down to the philosophical divide between free marketeers who want to see sharp reductions in spending effectively concentrating the pain on a smaller group for a shorter period, or the more Keynsian approach that argues for a burden more widely spread both in terms of timescales and numbers. Needless to say, the City prefers the former, possibly because spending cuts tend not to affect them too much.

    Of all the options, VAT would be just about the least equitable, and the Tories historic association with this tax is not a good sign of their egalitarian or reformist credentials.

  44. @ PAUL HJ

    I agree – hence my comment re: focus in the private sector being shareholder wealth.

    When private sector business models are imported, unchanged, into the public sector, they are almost certain to fail.

  45. @Eoin
    Atkins diet. Bad breath and heart problems sure to follow.

    Beg to diifer. Agree first consequence (ever smelled a carnivore’s breah?) disagree second. Losing weight helps heart problems -does noty matter how you do it.
    On topic, I think if the public perceive reduction of deficit achieved by not going forward with optional expense, as opposed to reducing services, with a few trite headline grabbing ‘inefficiences’ thrown in then it will work politically. On the last point, the number of people who think reducing MPs expenses would pay for the NHS was revealed by a recent poll during teh campagne.

    I am still ctching up and am surprised there appears to be not much comment on the wide variances from UNS predictions that took place (albeit the overall figure was roughly achieved). The differences bewteen LIb Dem /Lab marginals and Con / Lib Dem marginals was pronounced, as I scan the results. Does this account for the LD polling failure?

  46. ALEC

    Yes, it was my idea and I believe we’ve had time-limited tax surcharges before though I can’t remember when.

    Your comment is extremely germaine to the philosophical discussion around ths topic and I absolutely agree with you about the regressive nature of VAT increases.

    I’ve been in communication with a well known national newspaper journalist about this and I gather that the debate about cuts versus tax increases is about to surface in one or more broadsheets.

    I shall be interested to see how effectively the Labour Part gets involved in the debate

  47. £1.165bn this fiscal year from local government savings? This could get sticky.

  48. @DavidB – “Yes, it was my idea and I believe we’ve had time-limited tax surcharges before though I can’t remember when”

    From memory, income tax itself was a ‘time limited’ surcharge to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. Someone just forgot to cancell it I suppose.

  49. Alec “…income tax itself was a ‘time limited’ surcharge to pay for the Napoleonic Wars. Someone just forgot to cancell it I suppose.”

    Income tax is still a temporary tax! It requires an annual Finance Act to apply to the tax year.

  50. The other point to make is that unless Osborne tries to claim the deficit is much larger than previously admitted, according to Steph Flanders on the BBC, Darling’s previously announced tax rises that will remain in force alongside the already announced capital gains tax changes mean that Osborne has already got his 20% of taxation based fiscal tightening.

    In other words, there is no need for a VAT (or any other tax rise) if he keeps his word about spending cuts.

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