The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is up on the website here, topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%. Tabs are here

A large part of the poll covered perceptions of Ed Miliband, something that we’ve seen in other polls lately and seen covered a lot in the media. There is nothing particularly new in the Ed Miliband figures in this poll – a majority (51%) think he’s weak leader, 56% think he’s out of touch with ordinary people, 60% think he wouldn’t be up to the job of PM. Nothing here we didn’t already know, though they are still worth asking to see if opinion changes. At this point though I doubt they will unless Ed Miliband actually becomes Prime Minister. Once the public have taken against a politician, whether that perception is fair or unfair, it’s mighty hard for them to shift(the exception tends to be when they actually become PM, then people can see them in a new light.)

The Ed Miliband paradox is something I’ve come back to several times here, partly because it’s one of those things that I think has the potential to make a difference at the next election, partly because I see such partisan idiocy written about it. I see some people writing about it as if a popular or unpopular leader is the utter be-all and end-all of politics, a guarantee or victory or defeat, and see others writing as if it’s a total irrelevance. Both are utter nonsense.

I wrote about it at length here and while the figures have changed, the essential situation hasn’t, in summary:

  • People’s perceptions of party leaders ARE an important factor, the key driver analysis of British Election Study data at recent elections demonstrates it, some respondents will consciously say it is that a primary concern, many others it will be a factor in the mix. It would be almost perverse if the main public face of a party and its policies and principles was not a factor.
  • But it is by no means the ONLY factor. Perceptions of party competence on the issues people consider important are of critical importance, so are party identities. By extension (since they drive those factors) government performance and wider perceptions of the parties and their values are also extremely important. Hence it is perfectly possible for a party with a duff leader to win if it is outweighed by other factors like competence and party identity. Thatcher won in 1979 despite trailing badly to Jim Callaghan, presumably because other factors outweighed the minus of her leadership.
  • Labour have been in the lead in the polls for a couple of years, despite the public being well aware of Ed Miliband and having a negative view of him. That does NOT mean that he is not a drag on Labour’s support (we don’t how whether Labour’s lead would be larger under a different leader), but it does mean that his negative ratings are already “priced into the market”.
  • The questions is whether the importance of the opposition leader grows in the immediate run up to an election. There is the potential for people’s opinions to be driven mainly by unhappiness and disapproval of the government mid-term, but to view it increasingly as a choice between two alternative governments and Prime Ministers as the election actually approaches (thus contributing to the familiar pattern of “mid term blues”). That brings the potential for the “Miliband issue” to matter more as we get closer and closer to the election… but it is impossible to reliably test.
  • In short – are Miliband’s ratings bad? Yes. Is it damaging Labour? Probably. Is it preventing Labour being ahead in the polls? No – even if it is a factor, others are outweighing it. Will it increase in importance come the actual election? We can’t tell.

Anyway, looking at the rest of the poll, since we touched on party image and competence as other big issues further up, YouGov re-asked a question from last February essentially exploring the contrast between parties being “nice” and being “effective”. They asked if parties were seen as “nice but dim”, “mean but smart”, “mean and dim” or “nice and smart”. The Conservatives clearly still have “nasty party” issues – 40% think they are smart, but only 26% think they are nice. For Labour it’s the other way around “their heart is in the right place, but…”; 48% think they are nice, but only 20% think they are smart. It might get less attention than Miliband, but right there you’ve got two big issues for the two main parties: people still don’t think the Tories’ hearts are in the right place, and still doubt Labour’s competence in government.

The poll also had a batch of questions about education in England – essentially showing appetite for reform in general, but opposition to the specifics of Michael Gove’s reforms. 43% think schools are doing well, 46% badly and people tend to think they provide worse education than in comparable European countries. 64% think schools need reforming to a large or moderate degree. Asked about Michael Gove though 55% think he’s doing badly as education secretary, people are opposed by 41% to 31% to schools becoming academies and by 53% to 23% to the idea of free schools.

197 Responses to “YouGov/Sunday Times – CON 32, LAB 38, LD 8, UKIP 14”

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  1. @ The Other Howard

    “I suggest ten votes for the over 70?s.”

    I think 10 votes for all of them — i.e. one per million — would be a bit stingy.
    Though if we do leave the EU it will be because people over 65 will have voted for something that the majority of those under 40 oppose.

    PS. 70’s does not need an apostrophe. As they say, it’s never too late to learn.

  2. I’m going to walk the middle ground here. In my view, the idea that Etonians and the like can’t speak on issues affecting those socially beneath them is the same attitude that you find online, where men are shouted down for speaking on gender issues and white people are harassed for speaking about race (see Tumblr for more hilarity). The most important thing to me is not whether a representative can understand their constituents through life experience but that they understand somehow – through living in their community or being active in similar places and talking to people.

    However, there is a problem of educational representativeness in Parliament. I’m perhaps an exception since I’m politically engaged, state educated and not rich (in the third decile, bottom 30%, according to the Treasury: but it remains true that a private education does help disproportionately to get ahead in politics. That’s not the fault of the people themselves, but the education system in which they exist. What critics sometimes get wrong is playing the man rather than the ball of educational privilege. It’s not the MPs’ fault, but at the same time it should be able to be discussed without one side crying prejudice.

    Not all of that “getting ahead in politics” is down to a better education either – I did better in my GCSEs and A Levels than both privately educated cousins, who had another statistical advantage in being girls – it’s the provision of contacts etc. I think a few things need to happen to fix this.

    Firstly, the way citizenship is taught in schools needs to change. Having never taken it and being put into Critical Thinking AS Level instead of a Citizenship GCSE, I can’t speak from first hand experience but I heard it was nothing but dull discussion of things nobody cared about. It ought to be taught earlier and a way of teaching children about the dominant belief systems, issues and parties in our society. Contrary to popular belief, young people are interested in ideas, but they need to be taught in an engaging way.

    Secondly, the parties need to work on establishing themselves in communities so people of all classes can get involved in local events and be drawn into politics from there – if people want working class or state educated MPs they can select and vote for them, but they need to be party members to do much of that (although open primaries may help).

    Thirdly, House of Commons reform. Parliament is daunting and I sometimes wonder whether I’d cope as a lower middle class state schoolboy being shouted down by three hundred opposition MPs. I think private education does seem to instill a certain confidence, a sense of “I’m intelligent and capable, I can cope with abuse” which allows survival in the chamber. A much stricter speaker would be a start but a less adversarial nature is a difficult and slow process to start.

  3. @Shevii

    All Scottish accents? Surely you make some distinction between the various regions of Scotland. Do you have any favourite?

    I have a friend, some years older than I am, who grew up in the Stirling area. Her mother was a Highlander and she had inherited her mother’s soft lilt. When she went south to work in London during the 1950s many there refused to believe she was a Scot because she didn’t speak with a Glasgow accent.

    And do Orcadian and Shetland accents count?

  4. Speaking of Class War, that group is claiming to be the fifth largest party in the UK based on number of candidates adopted:

    Labour 372
    Conservative 214
    LDs 141
    UKIP 92
    Class War 28
    Green 27
    Plaid 25
    Pirate 2
    MK 2
    Justice 4 Men & Boys 2
    Health Concern 1
    TUSC 1
    SDLP 1
    NHAP 1

    Funny as that claim is, it actually answers my question of a couple of weeks ago as to how many Green candidates there are – not many. That may not include the Scottish Greens but even so 27 is a poor number of candidates to have ten months out from an election where they want to cause an upset – they’ll have trouble canvassing entire constituencies at this speed and many people may not find a candidate on their ballot paper.

    As for the other parties, Labour are doing well and we assume those 314 are in their best hope seats – ditto the Conservatives although apart from the two deselected MPs 302 of those are all but confirmed anyway. The Liberal Democrats have selected 141, including most of their held seats although frankly they’re probably not in too much of a hurry in the rest of the country.

    UKIP are challenging to win in 20 seats from what I last heard, and we must assume that’s where 20 of those candidates have been selected. It may cause them a depressed vote share if they can’t get faces out on the doorstep relatively soon.

    Good organisation on the part of Plaid Cymru although there doesn’t seem to be any SNP there – any Nats about to tell me whether they’ve just not selected yet or whether the data is missing?

  5. Populus:
    LAB 37 (+1)
    Con 32 (-2)
    LD 9 (+1)
    UKIP 13 (=)

    Okay, seems to be a widening Labour lead this week. Could this be a response to Ed’s youth training policy, his hammering by the press eliciting the “don’t bully him” response or people getting their passports late?

  6. @ MrNameless

    Yes- agree with your post. My post was more outlining some of the reasons why it is relevant rather than some people saying it doesn’t matter at all. Clearly whatever the background they have to be good at the job.

    I think this debate is about parliament as a whole and not just a “Tory toffs” one- I personally felt that a lot of legislation from the last labour government was also very middle class centric.

    @ John B

    Don’t get me started- Anything from broad Glaswegian to posh Edinburgh is fine by me- not been to Scotland enough to differentiate the regions or Islands. Will have to check with the wife whether Rab C and Ewan McGregor have the same appeal.
    In my defence I’m sure I saw a poll sometime which said Scots accents were preferred in telesales above all others-something along the lines of more classless, more pleasant and more believable.

  7. MrN

    […]there doesn’t seem to be any SNP there – any Nats about to tell me whether they’ve just not selected yet or whether the data is missing?

    According to the excellent dataset maintained by AndyJS:

    “No [SNP] candidates to be selected until after 2014 referendum”. I have to say this seems slightly odd to me because even if Yes wins, Independence won’t take place till after May 2015 and presumably a lot of the negotiation and most of the legislation will happen after that.

    It may be in those circumstances the SNP might want to send more high-powered people to Westminster than they would otherwise and not worry about ‘double-jobbing’.

  8. When one of the ‘others’ is bigger than one of the prompted for parties it’s time to change the methodology.

  9. Considering the debate we’re currently having, the views of Alan Bennett on private school education might prove interesting to some, although I fully accept it’s a polemical piece and open to argument. See link below: –

    It’s a subject close to my heart because I was privately educated myself, attending Catholic boarding schools from the age of 8 to 17. Despite valuing the education I received, and enjoying most of it, I do tend to subscribe to Bennett’s view.

    As you will see when, or if, you read Bennett’s piece, he strays off his subject a little in his endearing and typically rambling way. I quite liked his description of people who move steadily rightwards as they get older and although he says he’s not particularly left wing himself, he’s “happy never to have trod that dreary safari from left to right which generally comes with age, a trip writers in particular seem drawn to, Amis, Osborne, Larkin, Iris Murdoch all ending up at the spectrum’s crusty and cliched end”.

    I would have added George Orwell to that list too (and yes, Roger Rebel, I did read the Orwell piece on sport that you provided a link to. Suffice to say that I disagreed with just about every word of it. It seemed very killjoy to me. Maybe Orwell had some unfortunate experiences at Eton. Muddied Oafs and Flannelled Fools indeed! :-)

    Argue with Bennett’s views all you like, and many will, but he’s a spell bindingly beautiful writer, don’t you think? I remain in awe of people who can write like he can.

  10. “I go weak at the knees when I hear a Scottish accent”

    I know what you mean. I find wearing ear muffs protects me from the worst of it but it is still pretty abrasive.

  11. @Mr Nameless

    Your post about the way Parliament works was good.

    In the Commons the shouting and baying of one side as the other tries to be heard is really terrible. It’s juvenile behaviour and is very off putting. If MPs behaved like that in a work place, they would be in trouble. I rather like the listening to the Lords as it’s more civilised, less tribal and more conducive to exploring issues from various angles.

    The Commons is very male in bad way, and no wonder many women don’t enjoy it. I am a fairly quiet person, and there is no way that I could stand the Commons atmosphere either.

    As for the Green PPCs, just because there isn’t a named Candidate doesn’t indicate canvassing isn’t going one. We will start canvassing well in advance of naming our Candidate. Local Green parties are quite informal, so many will stand a Candidate but probably haven’t formally done so. Most will already know who that person will be – it just hasn’t been announced officially.

    I confidently predict the number of Green Party Candidates in the 2015 GE will be many, many time more than 27…

  12. @CMJ

    As a fairly new Lab activist, I have found that having a real person defined as the candidate – someone who I find personally inspiring and who provides a kind of rallying point for the campaign and for fundraising – has made a real difference to my level of enthusiasm and prised a few quid from my pocket which would otherwise have remained rooted there.

    I’m sympathetic to the Greens and would like them to do well so I’d say -get your nominations sorted pronto!

  13. Strangely it is routine to submit one’s educational background as well as other experience when applying for many jobs, and indeed may be questioned on it in interview…


    “I think the best and easiest way to a good representation is a very large random sample, let’s say 30% + of the electorate.

    It might just work.”


    Sounds fantastic. Unfortunately under the system I live under, you get a vote but what with parachuting and all that the choice of who or what to vote for in practice is decidedly limited.

    (Like, in theory when gets to choose between energy providers. Whoopee!!!….)

  15. when/one

  16. @RMJ1

    “@BCROMBIE It is not at all surprising that Public schools are overrepresented in politics. Public schools teach people to speak in public and follow a reasoned debate. Most grammar schools also used to include imparting this skill as part of their job. Unfortunately Comprehensives are less successful in passing on such skills and many do not see it as part of their remit.”


    People keep saying about getting training in debate and public speaking at public school but we didn’t at mine. Anyone else here who went to public school get training in it?

    Also, these days it is perhaps more common in mainstream education to have to do presentations and stuff…

  17. “Anyone else here who went to public school get training in it?”

    Nope. I think there was a debating society but if I ever went I have forgotten. There was certainly no training.

  18. Britain’s Number 1 cruises through to the next round. No sweat.

  19. “Anyone else here who went to public school get training in it?”

    There were lots of discussions in class, not as structured as ‘debating’ but arguably more relevant and useful in the ‘real world’.

    Thanks for you reply-I agree entirely.


    If you have dyslexia, as I have, it is too late to learn. I have never been able to put apostrophes in the correct place, no matter how many times I am told, and my spelling is awful as well. Thank goodness for secretaries and spell checkers. In the past I have tried I used ignore apostrophes altogether, but whatever I do I get criticized as I have many times on here.

    Fortunately it has never had any real effect on my life. I got my degree despite it and I did very well in business and have had a long and wonderfully rewarding retirement (in my 23 year of retirement).

    Of course the point I was making was ten votes for each retired person over 70 and I would add 5 for those over 60.

  22. Well discussions aren’t really the same thing, but can’t say we had much of that either, but then when specialising in studying science, it doesn’t easily admit of much discussion unless one is of the calibre to pick holes in what Einstein came up with. Or even to understand it…

    To be fair, in English we were sometimes asked our opinion on a book, but I usually hadn’t read it…

  23. “I think there was a debating society but if I ever went I have forgotten.”


    Yes, it wasn’t the sort of thing your average teenage lad at boarding school yearned to do. Learning guitar solos was more fun. (Still is…)

  24. Carefree

    Well I went to a Grammar School that became a Comp and we had a debating club and we had competitions with other schools , including public schools.
    Mind you we also used to play rugby against one public school where at least two of their team were in their twenties , draft dodging from the Shah of lran’s army .

  25. @Ewen

    Yes, as Guymonde pointed out, schools might have had a debating society, for which a handful might volunteer, much as they had a chess club. But hardly any chose to participate and there wasn’t general instruction in public speaking and debating etc.

  26. “Mind you we also used to play rugby against one public school where at least two of their team were in their twenties , draft dodging from the Shah of lran’s army .”

    None of those at my school. Damn foreign Johnnies by the sound of it and probably not even, ahem, Nordic

  27. Ashcroft:

    LAB – 33% (-2)
    CON – 29% (-1)
    UKIP – 17% (+2)
    LDEM – 9% (+1)
    GRN – 7% (+1)

    Out of line with YouGov – we’ll see soon!

  28. Ashcroft:

    CON 28%, LAB 33%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 17%.

  29. Hang on that’s Mike Smithson messing up the tweet. 28 for the Cons which must be their lowest in a while?

  30. And we had a two hour and ten minutes lunch break from Noon until ten past two , and then lessons until 4.30.
    That mega lunch break meant you could fit in lots of clubs and get stuff done, not like the last school l taught at where the lunch break was 25 minutes.

  31. @All re “Debating Soc”
    This was quite a big deal at my Grammar School in the ’60s, as was “debating” – which was treated as a subset of English. I’d not thought about this till now, but as all the English teachers did it there must have been a “plan” – I refer here to Alan Bennett’s History Boys.

    Whether this plan was worthwhile I don’t know. What strikes me as unlikely is that reintroducing it into “the curriculum” and getting today’s teachers to “deliver” the curriculum is probably not the same thing.

  32. Re: Ashcroft

    Are we sure he’s spending the money on actual polling, and not just picking the numbers out of a hat?

  33. Interesting Ashcroft snippet:

    “Labour supporters (63 per cent) and Conservatives (59 per cent) were the most likely to be certain how they will vote. Those who said they would vote UKIP were evenly divided as to whether they were certain to stay with the party (51 per cent said they would definitely vote that way, 49 per cent that they may end up voting differently), and 63 per cent of Lib Dems said they may switch.”

    How can it possibly get worse for the Lib Dems? Not only are they sitting on 7% in the polls (down from 10% which we thought was their lowest), two thirds of their supporters aren’t sure about how they’ll vote. I was sure they’d have 7% but with a 90% retention by now – are the hardcore Liberals really only 2.6% of the population?

    Outwith the Lib Dems, it’s quite good news for Labour that they have highest retention, ditto the Conservatives although their low headline score marrs that a bit. I think UKIP would be happy to get 10% if they hold the 8.5% certain to vote UKIP and the odd protestor. Need to check the data to find out about Greens but I have a certain suspicion that they’ll state high retention but start to drift back regardless.


    “And we had a two hour and ten minutes lunch break from Noon until ten past two , and then lessons until 4.30. That mega lunch break meant you could fit in lots of clubs and get stuff done, not like the last school l taught at where the lunch break was 25 minutes.”


    Yes, at boarding school we had a break in the afternoon too, and there were many clubs, from wargaming or electronics to astronomy and model trains, though the afternoons were mostly used for sport…

  35. I did go to public school, and we did have a debating society, but more than that we had things like the parliamentary society, politics society, philosophy society, etc. It was interesting, but I wouldn’t claim in set me up for a lifetime of public speaking.

    The question of public schools at the top of govt, the professions, media, etc. is not so much because the schoolkids are terrifically better than anyone else, but because the public schools are in essence an early years networking group. I peruse my old boys’ magazine when I get it, and in my year group we have MPs, captains of industry, CEOs, armed forces, clergy (a couple of bishops), academics, civil servants, and the occasional guy who went to Bolivia after university and just stayed there. What they (we) all have in common is formative years together. It gives us access to each other in ways that the ordinary person does not have, and thus we have access to influential people through informal channels.

    MPs are no less susceptible to networks than others, and gven their jobs it is arguable that they often trust their schoolfriends many years later. My issue with the preponderance of a small group of limited experience at the top is that they (we) often do not use their (our) good fortune to develop empathy or sympathy for people unlike them(our)selves.

  36. I won’t say ‘Happy Days’ because they didn’t seem so at the time, and we must never get deluded into thinking the past was a Golden Age.

  37. How many of you went to public school? I must say this website seems very unrepresentative ;)

  38. Not me Nameless, but I probably had a very good facsimile (or should that be pastiche ?) of a public school education, whilst being able to go home each night to my loving, supportive, working class family

  39. At my public school we didn’t have a debating society. But it was a very progressive school and the pupils pretty much ran it themselves, so (if you were into that sort of thing, which I was) there was a lot of opportunity to engage in real debate, rather than just practice it.

    By which I mean, rather than debating “Sassoon or Brooke: Who Most Accurately Captured The Essence Of The Great War?” we’d be having a discussion about “Should we extend the school day by an hour Monday-Thursday and set aside Fridays for non-curricular creative activities?”

  40. @MrNameless

    Yes, the public school Toff count on this board appears to be well over 50%, which perhaps says something about the relationship between politics and the education system in its own right…

  41. I wonder if there has been a significant change in how Party Leader Popularity has an effect on the election, when we now have televised debates.

    There is an apparent reducton in the conservative lead from the first debate and continuing through them. Prior to the debates, the conservatives were polling between 36% to 40%, after they were polling between 33% to 37%.

    I suggest this reaction was due to Cameron not living up to inflated expectations. If so, this does significantly change the situation, as leader popularity’s significant role is if the leader exceeds expectations during the debate.

    Clegg managed to exceed expectations, and gained a significant boost. Going from between 16% and 20% to between 26% and 29%. He didn’t retain all that boost, but his party still crossed the finish line 3 points higher than the top end of his party’s polling before the debates.

    Artificially lowered expectations for Ed Miliband could well be a blessing in disguise, depending on how well he does in debate.

  42. The other huge advantage that public school provides is access to Oxford and Cambridge – still running at about 50% despite years of trying to change through non-quota approaches. That is where the real networking goes on. Even with my pathetic networking and weak College, in my immediate circle of friends I have: BBC reporter, top lawyer, senior civil servant, authors, senior charity people etc…

  43. UKPR,
    “Toff’s Debating Society.”

  44. Worth remembering that how well a child does at school is home background – many, many academic studies support this. Yes, it’s not that private schools are great at their job – it’s just that they get kids from enriched home backgrounds who will succeed.

    Schools are merely about making students jump through artificial curriculum hoops – its the education from the home (literacy, discussion, films, watched, Galleries seen etc) which determines how well a child does at school.

    And this applies throughout the western world.

  45. Regarding education and reasoning power, especially in the sciences, I once knew a young man with an M.Sc who tried to unscrew the meter from the top of a full oxygen cylinder, using a spanner. He was restrained by a 15 stone lab assistant with O levels.

  46. Re: PM debates

    Occurs to me that IIRC one of the reasons PMs in the past have resisted debates is that their record would be exposed, whereas the opposition didn’t have any record. [As I suppose is the case with most govts] there is plenty in this govt’s record which will take some defending, even if attacks on it thus far have been pretty cursory.

    Re: toffs

    Public school alone does not a toff make (I put myself forward as a shining example) It helps, as does Oxbridge, the ‘right’ background (EG tracing family back to Willy the Conk or owning 17% of Herefordshire), not having to buy your own furniture, and most importantly, wishing to be a toff.

  47. “Yes, it’s not that private schools are great at their job – it’s just that they get kids from enriched home backgrounds who will succeed.”


    The irony is, of course, that if you go to boarding school from a young age, you don’t get to spend so much time with your parents…

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