Today’s Observer has, inevitably, news of someone else who wants to set up a New Centrist Party (NCP). Hence, to save some of the phone calls I’ll get tomorrow asking whether the polls suggest a NCP would actually do well, here’s my answer.

First, one should not assume that there is actually a big appetite for a new party in the place some in the commentariat seem to think there is. While most of the public consider themselves to be at or around the political centre, this does not mean there is a consensus about what that centre is, or that those people who consider themselves to be in the “centre” necessarily share their views with what the Westminster/media think the “centre” means. Public opinion tends to the left on economics, and is quite right-wing on more cultural issues like immigration and crime. There may well be a gap for a political party putting forward that combination of views, but it doesn’t seem to be the same gap that most of the proposed centrist parties are seeking to fill, which often seem to be aimed at a far more liberal worldview.

Even assuming there is a gap to be filled, can we tell how well it would do? Could you do a poll asking how many people would support a new party is one of the most depressing questions I get asked. It is one of those things that opinion polling simply can’t do very well. If you were setting up a NCP there is certainly lots of useful things market research could tell you about which demographic groups are most open to considering it, which messages would chime, what obstacles it would face – but in terms of predicting how well it would actually do? No, it can’t be done in any sort of useful way.

Imagine someone set up a new NCP in the UK. How would you ask a question measuring its support? Well, you can’t just say would you vote Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem or NCP, as no one would know what the hell NCP was or what it stood for. But if you tell people in the question all about this new party, then you are essentially giving it a little advert, pushing all its positive attributes in the question and putting it at the forefront of people’s minds, so that would be hideously leading. Also, what about all the other things that drive voting intention apart from policies? What about existing party loyalties? Who the party leader is? What about about how seriously the media take it? What about whether your friends and collegues are all talking about it, or have never heard of it? What about whether it is seen as a serious contender, or as a wasted vote in a tight Con -vs- Lab battle? Whether people would vote for a new party is dependent on so many unknown hypothetical questions it is impossible to expect people to give any sort of useful answer.

Today’s Observer has a news story about another NCP that may or may not be launched. Except, wasn’t there another one of those a month or two ago? And another one a few months before that? Didn’t George Osborne’s old Spad set one up? If you look throught the Electoral Commission’s list of registered parties there are a fair few examples of people setting up new Centrist, pro-European parties over the last couple of years, none of which have made any impact at all. This is not because of their political positioning (I expect all have espoused very similar views), but because no one really noticed them or considered them a serious electoral contender.

A party with £50 million to spend on publicity should at least get noticed, but a lot more will depend on how seriously it is taken. Do established MPs who bring credibility and a voice in Parliament defect to it? Is it reported along the main parties in media? Does it make a leader who is known to the public and seen as a viable, potential Prime Minister? How, under FPTP, does it propose to deal with the Liberal Democrats who are fishing for the same vote? Those are the actual obstacles facing a new party getting off the starting line (let alone actually being a success at elections), and opinion polls can’t predict how well they’d deal with them.

683 Responses to “On how well a New Centrist Party would do”

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  1. We should have our own party really. How hard can it be?

  2. In a word: badly.

  3. CB Crofty
    I once came up with a cartoon strip idea for Viz called ‘Tyranosaurus Rex Hunt’
    which was about a T-Rex who hosts an angling programme on TV. A sure fire winner for a Viz strip one would have thought? You can just see ‘T-Rex Hunt’ with his trademark bush hat on and fishing rod in his teeny little hands!

  4. This analysis pretty much hits all the relevant points:

  5. I really question what does centrist actually means.

    If it between liberal and conservative (lowercase intended)?

    Is it pro-brexit or anti-brexit?

    Our politics is no more just left to right, so finding the centre of our politics is like trying to find the centre of our expanding universe – not possible.

    Getting a new party up and running is very hard, as people have deep attachments to parties that defies logic.

    I just don’t see the point of a new party that triangulates Labour and the Conservatives, and it stubbornly polls under 10%.

  6. Correction

    I really question what does centrist actually means.

    If it between liberal and conservative (lowercase intended)?
    Is it pro-brexit or anti-brexit?

    Our politics is no more just left to right, so finding the centre of our politics is like trying to find the centre of our expanding universe – not possible.

    Getting a new party up and running is very hard, as people have deep attachments to parties that defies logic.

    I just don’t see the point of a new party that triangulates Labour and the Conservatives, we already have one and it stubbornly polls under 10%.

  7. Crikey, if Lord Adonis doesn’t like the sound of it then it really is dead in the water.

    Or should that be stillborn?


  8. But they’ve got a website and everything …

  9. @Catman

    “I really question what does centrist actually means.
    If it between liberal and conservative (lowercase intended)?
    Is it pro-brexit or anti-Brexit?”


    This is a very important point that doesn’t get discussed enough.

    People with Liberal persuasions – ably abetted by the Liberal press – have an unfortunate habit of putting Liberalism in the centre, as if it were some kind of reasonable compromise between left and right. This is just more propaganda though. Many ideologies try and place themselves in a flattering way.

    There is nothing inevitably centrist about Liberalism. There is plenty of Extreme liberalism. Read that Redwood report, Jesus.

    Liberalism is its own thing. Another dimension. It doesn’t lie between left and right. The left-right spectrum is a fantasy. It doesn’t properly include
    Iiberalism, greenism, synthism, or whatever else we might dream up.

    The centre, is an amalgam of the more sensible, less extreme bits of all the isms. The sensible, acceptable bits of socialism, conservatism, liberalism, greenism, independence movements etc. etc.

    Look at polling, and that’s what most want. They don’t want extremes of socialism, conservatism, greenism or whatever.

  10. Catmanjeff: “Our politics is no more just left to right, so finding the centre of our politics is like trying to find the centre of our expanding universe – not possible.”

    Politics has more than one dimension but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a centre. It’s like saying, “people have different heights, but they also have different reading speeds, so it’s impossible to have an average height and an average reading speed.” The universe is a really poor analogy. (Take it from a physics graduate.)

    However, “the centre” is not where these new centrist parties are aiming, as AW points out. In fact I’m going to start calling them “new Westminster bubble parties” since that is the constituency at which these platforms seem to be aimed (and I speak as a sympathiser with many of these values, I just recognise how unpopular they are nationally). In general, “the centre” is pretty much the 2017 Labour Party manifesto except with more cracking down on immigrants. The zeitgeist is extremely statist – probably because people feel out of control of their own lives, and an interventionist state that promises to click its fingers and fix everything, while dumping opprobrium on rich people, is quite an appealing prospect to lots of people.

    And to be honest, much though I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s platform, I’d much rather that than some demagogic strongman of the sort that would probably have arisen if he hadn’t.

  11. Regarding where the centre is, you might see it as spokes of a wheel, the many different isms branching out from the centre. The centre is the less extreme bits of each ism, things get progressively more extreme as you move out along each spoke.

  12. (To be clear, each spoke would represent a different ideology, socialism, liberalism, conservatism etc.)

  13. CB11

    Ta v much.

    Unfortunately the reality is that I have some imagination in a few things but without the work ethic.

    Only thing I really worked at over a long period of time [i.e. all my life] has been the various strands of my music – guitar, voice, flute etc.

    I do quite like the idea of Gullible’s travels including a visit to a Redcar steelworks to see the leaning tower of Pisa with smoke billowing from the top though.

  14. @Crofty

    Well you can always try sharing the load? When I was teaching and needed some cartoons doing as teaching resources, I asked some of the graphic designers to help with the drawings. I just needed to come up with the idea and the caption, they did the rest.

  15. “But they’ve got a website and everything …
    @Roger Mexico April 8th, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Well that was the worst ten minutes of my life looking at that. :-(

  16. This looks like the Blairish Guardian/BBC/Westminster bubble again, running out of things to say, exaggerate or indeed invent. They may be feeling the heat for constantly recycling CCO/MSM-led anti-Labour local election propaganda over the last month.

    Perhaps they think “well at least Corbyn can’t complain of MSM bias if we make the stories up ourselves to cause Labour mischief instead of following the Mail’s headlines”.

  17. To be fair, as well as bashing Corbyn they are also blaming all the ills of the world on Mark Zuckerberg and his website that supposedly controls the world media with the help of right wing capitalists in order to manipulate the public. Hmm.

  18. I am surprised that alarm bells have not been ringing out about that narrative.

  19. A general public that leans left on economics, but right-wing on social policy and immigration. Sort of National Socialist then really. Scary isn’t it?

  20. Is this a rogue poll?

    When a poll running on a new methodology yields what is quite an outlier of a result, how seriously should we take it?

  21. Until we see other polls with the same methodology there is no way to judge whether it is an outlier or whether it has a systematic bias in a particular direction. Wait and see would be the answer to the question.

  22. hawthorn

    “Wait and see would be the answer to the question.”

    It always does really: wait and see what a proper election comes up with.

  23. CMJ fpt
    Too much b12, that’s impressive, dies she subsist entirely on Marmite? I remember lengthy debates about whether Marmite could be vegan when it’s a by product of brewing that has had fish finings in, I can’t remember if that was ever resolved.

    The graun implies that they are anti Brexit, while saying that their donors are pro Brexit, and anti immigration, sort of UKIPdems as far as I could work it out.

    Sounds rubbish to me, but what do I know?

  24. Carfrew: We should have our own party really. How hard can it be?

    Do you mean a party each? Or do you mean a party for UK Polling Report? The latter might compromise AW professionally, but making ToH our NI spokesman would solve a few issues.

  25. @TO

    Yes, a UKPR party. There’s loads of expertise in activism, analysing polling, policy, Brexit, road numbering etc.

  26. Several folk on UKPR talk about farming and food prices, and there is a view that Brexit will allow the UK to import food more cheaply and prices in supermarkets will drop.

    So it is surprising that sheep prices are currently soaring.

    I have pasted from the report of Friday`s sale at the big Inverurie market.

    Feeding Ewes and Rams (760) sold to £200 for a Pure Texel Ewe from Velitgar, Tankerness

    “Ewes with lambs at foot met an excellent trade. All classes of feeding ewes met an excellent demand, reaching the strongest trade seen for many years.”

  27. Inverurie follows a countrywide pattern:
    Thursday, April 5th, 2018


    In the week ended 4 April, the GB liveweight OSL SQQ increased by 7.68p week-on-week, to 240.07p/kg. The quote now stands 61.77p above year earlier levels. While there are still lambs on farm, reports suggest that imports are lower year-on-year which is tightening supplies on the domestic market and supporting the price. Daily prices have gained strength through the week starting the week at 227.13p/kg,…””

    So lamb prices are up by a third on the same week in 2017.

    Future possible farm payments are discussed in this link, but a return to payments for each animal farmed (as occurred until quite recently in CAP) seems to be ruled out..

    Market ups-and-downs are not good in the long run for farmers – few industries would manufacture a product for 3-5 years, and then find it sells at less than the cost of production, causing some to be bankrupt. But such ups-and-downs are more likely after Brexit, I believe.

  28. From the Times…

    “Support for the SNP has slipped and a majority of Scots do not want another independence referendum in the next few years, according to the latest Panelbase poll for The Sunday Times.

    The survey of 1,037 Scots is a setback for Nicola Sturgeon, who had hoped Brexit could help to build support for the Nationalists and independence. It puts her party on 36%, down five points since our last poll in September, and represents its lowest Westminster rating in any poll since last year’s general election.

    In second place are the Conservatives on 28% (+1%), with Labour close behind on 27% (+3%), and Lib Dems and Greens unchanged on 6% and 2% respectively.

    While the first minister has not ruled out holding another independence referendum before the next Holyrood election in 2021, the poll makes clear that there is little support for that. A total of 58% do not want one in the next few years, while 17% favour a new referendum while the UK is negotiating to leave the EU and 25% want one when the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU.

    It comes after senior SNP MP Pete Wishart warned last week that Sturgeon’s push for a second independence referendum had caused some SNP voters to switch their allegiance to the Conservatives, with little appetite among Scots for a new vote.

    However, there is no change in how Scots would vote in a second independence referendum since the last Panelbase poll, with 43% for “yes” and 57% for “no”.

    Fewer expect Scotland to become independent than at any time since the May 2015 UK election. The poll finds 27% (-2%) expect Scotland to become independent within the next five to ten years, while 19% (-1%) think it will happen but not for at least 10 or 15 years. A further 11% (+1%) expect it, but not for at least 20 or 30 years, and 30% (-2%) do not expect independence at any point in the next few decades.

    In voting intentions for the constituency element of the next Holyrood contest, the SNP are on 40% (-2), Tories, Labour and Lib Dems unchanged on 28%, 22% and 6%. With the Greens up one, on just 3%, some critics will point to Patrick Harvie’s recent concessions from the minority Scottish government on tax hikes for higher earners as the tail wagging the dog.

    Scottish attitudes to Brexit show little sign of change, with 63% saying they would vote for the UK to remain in the EU compared with 37% who support withdrawal — almost unchanged from the 62% against 38% result in 2016.”

  29. @Carfrew

    UKPR Party Ministers

    Chancellor – Colin
    Agriculture and Environment – Alec
    Foreign Minister – ToH
    Energy and Innovation – Carfrew
    Health and Social Care – Sam
    Education – Laszlo job share with Hireton
    Trade Minister – Trevor Warne


    Just an idea ;-)

  30. @CMJ

    No Home Secretary?

    Who am I supposed to work for?!

  31. @Neil A

    I suggest we cut out the middleman – you are the Home Secretary!

  32. Carfrew

    Are there fieldwork dates for that ST-Panelbase poll? There’s an entry on the Panelbase website that says 28 March:

    but it only links to a dummy file.

    There looks like some odd things in the write-up (the Green comparison appears to be Constituency which isn’t relevant, rather than regional). The changes appear to be from the last poll at the end of August.

  33. Carfrew: @TO Yes, a UKPR party. There’s loads of expertise in activism, analysing polling, policy, Brexit, road numbering etc.

    Have we got an agreed policy on Road Numbering which would survive the Daily Mail? There are 2 M1’s in the UK. Can we solve that and reduce it to 1 without changing the number of either road?

  34. @DAVID in the last thread
    I don’t know what the protocol is for answering a post when the thread has moved on, but I think this matters:
    “It is a fact that Labour are up 2 points in this poll compared to the last one. It is also a fact that this change is well within the normal of error. There is no suggestion in AW’s initial statement that there is any surety of a real shift in Labour support. The exact opposite, in fact.”

    In this poll, Labour’s VI was 41 +/- about 3 – 4 %.
    That is somewhere between say 38 and 44%
    In the last poll, it was 39 +/- about 3 – 4 %.
    That is somewhere between 36 and 42%
    That Labour’s position is actually 2% higher cannot be deduced from these figures.
    I agree that “it doesn’t seem to have had any real effect on voting intention” but
    “Labour actually a couple of points up on last week’s poll” implies that there has been that definite change. All that can be deduced from the figures is that there is a calculable chance that that is so, but that chance is far from certain.

  35. @Roger M

    Couldn’t see any dates or useful links.

    I’ll post more in case it helps… They quote Curtice on the matter…

    “Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said there was good and bad news for all the main parties. “Labour will be cheered by the three-point increase in Westminster support since your last poll, but the 27% share is little different from other recent polls, and is simply in line with its 2017 vote. There is no sign of any [Richard] Leonard bounce,” he said.

    Some younger voters who seemed to swing to Labour last June seem willing to back Labour at Westminster, but not Holyrood, with 11% who voted Labour in 2017 saying they would vote SNP in a Holyrood election, whereas only 1% would make that switch in a Westminster contest.

    “It looks as though Labour cannot presume that Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent success last June in winning over younger voters from the SNP will necessarily help it make progress in the next Holyrood contest,” he said.

    With so many marginal seats, even slight movements make a difference to projected Commons seats, which Curtice calculates as Conservative 13 (no change), Labour 13 (+6), Lib Dem 4 (no change) and SNP 29 (-6).

    He adds that, despite a lack of enthusiasm for a second independence referendum and relatively poor numbers for the SNP, support for independence remains steady — in line with our previous Panelbase poll — and outstrips that for the SNP itself.

    “Support remains high enough for the independence flame still to be burning, but not strongly enough for the SNP to contemplate another ballot any time soon,” he said.

    With those who voted Tory last year two to one in favour of Brexit, Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, leads a party whose supporters’ views on Brexit are at odds with her own.

    Curtice added: “If Nicola Sturgeon looks to be cornered by the independence debate, Ruth Davidson is in an equally difficult position over Brexit.”

  36. Can I propose that any policy must be disapproved by the Daily Mail?

  37. @Catman

    Although I have a Thorium niche, and I’m learning more about energy storage, Alec is generally ahead on energy. (But if there’s a minister of synth going… I’ll take the storage portfolio at a pinch. We could revolutionise the sector…)

    If Rog does polling analysis, you can look after the data modelling etc.?

  38. CMJ.

    no women?

    Has to be a place for Sue and of course Rachel would be the constitutional monarch.

  39. @TO

    I’m afraid road numbering is one of my many blind spots. I just remember being utterly amazed how much people knew about it. I didn’t know there was that much to know. I have subsequently had that experience many times on here, whether it’s customs and borders, or conservation, and much more besides…

  40. Back home after a week on Arran with the grandkids. I now need a holiday!

    Re Matt Singh’s poll

    The inclusion of a tiny sample from NI, when the question is on VI, seems utterly pointless – especially when he limits the headline figures to GB parties,

    For the record, the somewhat outlandish figures for NI were –

    SDLP 20% : SF : 16%
    DUP 21% : UUP 7%
    Other 9% (a category that includes such disparate groups as TUV, PBPA as well as Greens and Alliance)

    While Number Cruncher’s weightings may be appropriate for “UK” electorate (which is mostly in the urban centres of the English polity) they may be way out of line for anywhere with a different political pattern and demographic profile.

    Trying to reach the “hard to poll” is an admirable approach, but, unless it recognises the need for different weightings for different polities (and perhaps for subdivisions of them) is always likely to produce bizarre results.

    These may not affect the overall “GB” figures by much, but since that isn’t how actual elections are conducted, the underlying assumption that “uniform national swing” still applies seems odd.

  41. Catmanjeff – “Can I propose that any policy must be disapproved by the Daily Mail?”

    I guess that rules me out as Justice Secretary then!

  42. How about Equalities Minister given the gender bias in the UKPR Cabinet?

  43. How about Equalities Minister given the gender bias in the UKPR Cabinet?

  44. CMJ

    I would vote for Hireton :-)


    In the meantime many are quite excited in Hungary. There is no way Fidesz can have 2/3 majority, but nobody knows the rest … However, it should be clear in less than an hour.

    How perfectly yr post brings out the fact that this site is a Boys’ Club, usually a Brexit Boys’ Brigade. With a little more — how shall I put it — sensitivity, tact, inclusiveness, you might at least have made Valerie Minister of Health.

    Given the tendency toward irascible posts a Minister of Conflict Resolution? No non-English portfolios.

  46. @ Artemis

    You beat me to it! I did consider you for a portfolio — Minister for Wildlife.

  47. Laszlo

    “Mr Orban refused to publicly debate with his opponents during the campaign or speak to the independent media, speaking instead at rallies for his supporters.” (BBC)

    Why anyone in the UK should find such an approach surprising is rather odd, See May’s whistle stop tour of the UK (south of Berwick) recently.

  48. The SDP had a go at being a fourth party in the late 1980s – a party of the centre.

    It didn’t work out well for them.

    The SNP and Plaid manage it via having a big differentiating valence issue. The Lib Dems have already sewn-up the “anything but Brexit” vote. So what’s left for the NCP?

  49. Just thought Id mention, over on the previous thread, someone has just asked whether some Tories like Boris, associated with Brexit, might not do so well in a leadership contest post-Brexit. Which then has one wondering if they might not force a leadership contest pre-Brexit…

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