General election campaigns provoke a lot of attention and criticism of opinion polls. Some of that is sensible and well-informed… and some of it is not. This is about the latter – a response to some of the more common criticisms that I see on social media. Polling methodology is not necessarily easy to understand and, given many people only take an interest in it at around election time, most people have no good reason to know much about it. This will hopefully address some of the more common misapprehensions (or in those cases where they aren’t entirely wrong, add some useful context).

This Twitter poll has 20,000 responses, TEN TIMES BIGGER than so-called professional polls!

Criticisms about sample size are the oldest and most persistent of polling criticism. This is unsurprising given that it is rather counter-intuitive that only 1000 interviews should be enough people to get a good steer on what 40,000,000 people think. The response that George Gallup, the founding father of modern polling, used to give is still a good one: “You don’t need to eat a whole bowl of soup to know if it’s too salty, providing it’s properly stirred a single spoonful will suffice.”

The thing that makes a poll meaningful isn’t so much the sample size, it is whether it is representative or not. That is, does it have the right proportions of men and women, old and young, rich and poor and so on. If it is representative of the wider population in all those ways, then one hopes it will also be representative in terms of opinion. If not, then it won’t be. If you took a sample of 100,000 middle-class homeowners in Surrey then it would be overwhelmingly Tory, regardless of the large sample size. If you took a sample of 100,000 working class people on Merseyside it would be overwhelmingly Labour, regardless of the large sample size. What counts is not the size, it’s whether it’s representative or not. The classic example of this is the 1936 Presidential Election where Gallup made his name – correctly predicting the election using a representative sample when the Literary Digest’s sample of 2.4 million(!) called it wrongly.

Professional polling companies will sample and weight polls to ensure they are representative. However well intended, Twitter polls will not (indeed, there is no way of doing so, and no way of measuring the demographics of those who have participated).

Who are these pollsters talking too? Everyone I know is voting for party X!

Political support is not evenly distributed across the country. If you live in Liverpool Walton, then the overwhelming majority of other people in your area will be Labour voters. If you live in Christchurch, then the overwhelming majority of your neighbours will likely be Tory. This is further entrenched by our tendency to be friends with people like us – most of your friends will probably be of a roughly similar age and background and, very likely, have similar outlooks and things in common with you, so they are probably more likely to share your political views (plus, unless you make pretty odd conversation with people, you probably don’t know how everyone you know will vote).

An opinion poll will have sought to include a representative sample of people from all parts of the country, with a demographic make-up that matches the country as a whole. Your friendship group probably doesn’t look like that. Besides, unless you think that literally *everyone* is voting for party X, you need to accept that there probably are voters of the other parties out there. You’re just not friends with them.

Polls are done on landlines so don’t include young people

I am not sure why this criticism has resurfaced, but I’ve seen it several times over recent weeks, often widely retweeted. These days the overwhelming majority of opinion polls in Britain are conducted online rather than by telephone. The only companies who regularly conduct GB voting intention polls by phone are Ipsos MORI and Survation. Both of them conduct a large proportion of their interviews using mobile phones.

Polls of single constituencies are still normally conducted by telephone but, again, will conduct a large proportion of their calls on mobile phones. I don’t think anyone has done a voting intention poll on landlines only for well over a decade.

Who takes part in these polls? No one has ever asked me

For the reason above, your chances of being invited to take part in a telephone poll that asks about voting intention are vanishingly small. You could be waiting many, many years for your phone number to be randomly dialled. If you are the sort of person who doesn’t pick up unknown numbers, they’ll never be able to reach you.

Most polls these days are conducted using internet panels (that is, panels of people who have given pollsters permission to email them and ask them to take part in opinion polls). Some companies like YouGov and Kantar have their own panels, other companies may buy in sample from providers like Dynata or Toluna. If you are a member of such panels you’ll inevitably be invited to take part in opinion polls. Though of course, remember that the vast majority of surveys tend to be stuff about consumer brands and so on… politics is only a tiny part of the market research world.

The polls only show a lead because pollsters are “Weighting” them, you should look at the raw figures

Weighting is a standard part of polling that everyone does. Standard weighting by demographics is unobjectionable – but is sometimes presented as something suspicious or dodgy. At this election, this has sometimes been because it has been confused with how pollsters account for turnout, which is a more controversial and complicated issue which I’ll return to below.

To deal with ordinary demographic weighting though, this is just to ensure that the sample is representative. So for example – we know that the adult British population is about 51% female, 49% male. If the raw sample a poll obtained was 48% female and 52% male then it would have too many men and too few women and weighting would be used to correct it. Every female respondent would be given a weight of 1.06 (that is 51/48) and would count as 1.06 of a person in the final results. Every male respondent would be given a weight of 0.94 (that is 49/52) and would count as 0.94 of a person in the final results. Once weighted, the sample would now be 51% female and 49% male.

Actual weighting is more complicated that this because samples are weighted by multiple factors – age, gender, region, social class, education, past vote and so on. The principle however is the same – it is just a way of correcting a sample that has the wrong amount of people compared to the known demographics of the British population.

Polls assume young people won’t vote

This is a far more understandable criticism, but one that is probably wrong.

It’s understandable because it is part of what went wrong with the polls in 2017. Many polling companies adopted new turnout models that did indeed make assumptions about whether people would vote or not based upon their age. While it wasn’t the case across the board, in 2017 companies like ComRes, ICM and MORI did assume that young people were less likely to vote and weighted them down. The way they did this contributed to those polls understating Labour support (I’ve written about it in more depth here)

Naturally people looking for explanations for the difference between polls this time round have jumped to this problem as a possible explanation. This is where it goes wrong. Almost all the companies who were using age-based turnout models dumped those models straight after the 2017 election and went back to basing their turnout models primarily on how likely respondents say they are to vote. Put simply, polls are not making assumptions about whether different age groups will vote or not – differences in likelihood to vote between age groups will be down to people in some age groups telling pollsters they are less likely to vote than people in other age groups.

The main exception to this is Kantar, who do still include age in their turnout model, so can fairly be said to be assuming that young people are less likely to vote than old people. They kept the method because, for them, it worked well (they were one of the more accurate companies at the 2017 election).

Some of the criticism of Kantar’s turnout model (and of the relative turnout levels in other companies’ polls) is based on comparing the implied turnout in their polls with turnout estimates published straight after the 2017 election, based on polls done during the 2017 campaign. Compared to those figures, the turnout for young people may look a bit low. However there are much better estimates of turnout in 2017 from the British Election Study, which has validated turnout data (that is, rather than just asking if people voted, they look their respondents up on the marked electoral register and see if they actually voted) – these figures are available here, and this is the data Kantar uses in their model. Compared to these figures the levels of turnout in Kantar and other companies’ polls look perfectly reasonable.

Pollster X is biased!

Another extremely common criticism. It is true that some pollsters show figures that are consistently better or worse for a party. These are know as “house effects” and can be explained by methodological differences (such as what weights they use, or how they deal with turnout), rather than some sort of bias. It is in the strong commercial interests of all polling companies to be as accurate as possible, so it would be self-defeating for them to be biased.

The frequency of this criticism has always baffled me, given to anyone in the industry it’s quite absurd. The leading market research companies are large, multi-million pound corporations. Ipsos, YouGov and WPP (Kantar’s parent company) are publicly listed companies – they are owned by largely institutional shareholders and the vast bulk of their profits are based upon non-political commercial research. They are not the personal playthings of the political whims of their CEOs, and the idea that people like Didier Truchot ring up their UK political team and ask them to shove a bit on the figure to make the party they support look better is tin-foil hat territory.

Market research companies sell themselves on their accuracy, not on telling people what they want to hear. Political polling is done as a shop window, a way of getting name recognition and (all being well) a reputation for solid, accurate research. They have extremely strong commercial and financial reasons to strive for accuracy, and pretty much nothing to be gained by being deliberately wrong.

Polls are always wrong

And yet there have been several instances of the polls being wrong of late, though this is somewhat overegged. The common perception is that the polls were wrong in 2015 (indeed, they nearly all were), at the 2016 referendum (some of them were wrong, some of them were correct – but the media paid more attention to the wrong ones), at Donald Trump’s election (the national polls were actually correct, but some key state polls were wrong, so Trump’s victory in the electoral college wasn’t predicted), and in the 2017 election (most were wrong, a few were right).

You should not take polls as gospel. It is obviously possible for them to be wrong – recent history demonstrates that all too well. However, they are probably the best way we have of measuring public opinion, so if you want a steer on how Britain is likely to vote it would be foolish to dismiss them totally.

What I would advise against is assuming that they are likely to be wrong in the same direction as last time, or in the direction you would like them to be. As discussed above – the methods that caused the understatement of Labour support in 2017 have largely been abandoned, so the specific error that happened in 2017 is extremely unlikely to reoccur. That does not mean polls couldn’t be wrong in different ways, but it is worth considered that the vast majority of previous errors have been in the opposite direction, and that polls in the UK have tended to over-state Labour support. Do not assume that polls being wrong automatically means under-stating Labour.


965 Responses to “How not to interpret opinion polls”

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  1. ALEC

    Thanks.

    Your last sentence is interesting.

    I don’t think Corbyn/McDonnell are peddling “traditional” solutions. They are peddling out of date solutions-because their own thinking has been petrified for decades. They are desperate to construct a model which deals with the problems of yesteryear.

    And the reason-in my humble opinion-why they seem to have attracted the London Academic Socialist tendency -the so called Brahmin Left-is because it is ,now, all an academic experiment. A world which exists in their learned Left Wing books and not in the modern economy. of fast moving service industries & hi tech..

    And for the same reason, the Old Labour, working class in the North, excercised by Brexit failure, is now apparently thinking of not voting for Corbyn’s World View.They can be called “traditional” -and we will see whether they think much of it.

    Ill tell you what the clue to their world was for me. John Mcdonnell was asked why-in £83 bn pa of spend there was nothing to correct the UC payout level which Osborne reduced-ie to help the working poor. His answer was he will scrap UC because when everyone gets a “pay increase” Welfare won’t be needed.

    This-for me-is absolutely diagnostic-and the average voter is, imo, perfectly capable of critiquing it.

  2. @Crossbat

    You may be right and it may also be that real experiences in other parts of the country are different to the part of the country I live in. It’s impossible for me to judge that.

    I suppose what the stats do definitely confirm, in both the case of the NHS and Education, is that real terms increases were much higher each year under the last Labour government and they have either reduced or been static (I will continue to contend they have reduced) over the last 10 years.

    Also, based on the manifesto’s, I think we can safely conclude that Labour intend to spend more on Health and Education than the Tories if elected.

    The following website is useful if people want to make a comparison with their local school:
    https://schoolcuts.org.uk/

    I’m just really glad that the last of my kids is passing through the end of secondary school now and they aren’t starting out in primary. It’s pretty depressing really.

    Anyway – back to polls – I wonder if anyone has done any work on the effect of different results on the make-up of the Labour Party? (e.g. does a larger Tory majority make the Parliamentary Party more left-wing / less left-wing)

    My own look through the seats suggest that a lot of the losses would/could be the more centrist mp’s, particularly in the Northern constituencies.

  3. @Carfrew

    Thanks for that. I thought I might have got the name wrong. Yes, old Ken, he was a rather eccentric fellow and could go off on tangents into all sorts of interesting hinterland.

    Those sort of posters are often the most interesting.

    You being one yourself, of course!

  4. Before my rush back to school up the road for the afternoon session; i think that most voters are actually ‘centrist’.
    Attlee, Wilson and the man who won thrice pre Gordon Brown knew that.
    In 1945 the centrist position was to the left of where we are now, mainly, I think due to the 1929-45 crises.

  5. Ken – was/is a Chelsea Fan

  6. @FRED

    “The New Statesman, which presents itself as a left-wing newspaper, has called Jeremy Corbyn ‘unfit to be prime minister’ and is refusing to endorse the Labour Party in the forthcoming election.

    Oh dear an embarrassing silence from other posters on here!”

    ———

    Well now, it depends what you mean by left wing. Under the original version, during the French Revolution, the left were radicals and the right were reactionaries, against change.

    Then with the rise of Labour etc. it became that the left were socialists and the right were capitalists.

    Obviously those closer to liberalism hated this, as it includes socialism which is liberal kryptonite, so they changed it to be something more like social liberalism on the left, economic liberalism on the right. To liberals, it seems at times as though liberalism is the only dimension worth discussing and all that socialist stuff went away with the notion of class. (Even though class itself is still very much alive and kicking and coming to a food bank near you).

  7. @Voice of Reason

    Thank you for your response to Garj’s good question. I rather thought the explanation was as you described, so it was good to hear confirmation from someone closely connected. Teaching can be a rewarding and reasonably well-paid job, but my goodness, teachers perform a very valuable role and deserve support.

    @Garj

    As you say, I think Boris was quite happy to switch to a looser economic policy. In addition to the reasons you offered for increasing expenditure, I would add two more: Brexit will see us probably experience short term economic woes, and a boost to the economy is therefore sensible. And secondly, Hammond did actually succeed in cutting the deficit, so there was more ‘headroom’ available. The market are unlikely to respond too negatively to a politically justified modest Boris ‘splurge’.

    An ‘end to austerity’ makes economic sense to an awful lot of people, including the bond markets: declining deficit, low interest rates, specific economic circumstance in need of ashort term boost.

    Before anyone lets loose, I am not saying the Brexit ‘hit’ will be short term: but that is how Boris and many others see it.

  8. “I suppose what the stats do definitely confirm, in both the case of the NHS and Education, is that real terms increases were much higher each year under the last Labour government and they have either reduced or been static (I will continue to contend they have reduced) over the last 10 years.”

    Was this meant to be revelationary?!

    We had a little thing known as a ‘global financial crisis’ 10 years ago, which meant there was much less money to spend, even if you and I don’t believe the spending prior to that was unsustainable and / or irresponsible.

  9. @Alec

    “There seems to be some genuine nervousness in Conservative ranks, despite a seemingly unassailable poll lead. I guess this is the result of relying on an uninspired electorate in an age of zero trust.”

    No, I think they genuinely know that the real projected result is far worse than headline polls are suggesting, i.e. hung parliament or even Lab largest party.

    Whether it fills you with delight or unmitigated terror, I think there is a good chance we could wake up to PM Corbyn on Friday 13th.

  10. I am impelled to make a rare contribution on education. Overall funding per pupil on primary education has not fallen by any major amount – this is true. But 3 things have happened:

    (a) There has been a big shift in local authority funding away from poorer city areas to more prosperous towns and rural areas. You can argue that the latter were previously underfunded, with less money per pupil. But this doesn’t alter the squeeze in poor city areas.

    (b) There has been a shift away from funding for local authority schools to a variety of “independent” schools, as a result of deliberate policy to remove education from democratic control. Again you can argue that this leads to better educational outcomes, but this doesn’t alter the squeeze on local authority schools.

    (c). There has been an explosion in children assessed as having special educational needs. Meeting those needs is required by law and is expensive. You can argue that this redresses a historical failure by those children, but it doesn’t alter the squeeze on the majority of ordinary pupils.

    There is much more about education – other age groups, demoralization and inability to recruit teachers, relative decline in teachers’ salaries and so on. I agree that this election campaign has been surprisingly silent on issues that engage a lot of parents.

  11. I agree with Grumpy.

    Dopey.

  12. With regard to the four Brexit Party candidates stepping down and pleading for others to do the same: It makes me wonder whether there is some internal polling or sense on the ground that the BP are performing better than is currently being picked up in the national polls, putting lots of seats in jeopardy and allowing Labour through the middle. Maybe I am barking up the wrong tree but it was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the coverage.

  13. Chrislane1945 has posted an important fourth point, which I endorse, while I was constructing my reply. Increased pension contributions are a “hidden” expenditure that reduces resources available to employ teachers now. This is a wider problem than teachers, and could only be solved if interest rates rose back to more normal levels.

    Last night’s pensions programme demonstrated the problems building up for most younger workers. But there is also a big, albeit different, problem in the public sector.

  14. @Grumpy

    “Was this meant to be revelationary?!”

    Haha – no not at all – just trying to find common ground that hopefully we can all agree.

    Trying to say that even if you believe that Tories haven’t cut Education and the NHS (and I believe they have), they haven’t invested as much Labour have or that Labour have promised to and that has a real world effect, be it in the quality of the education for children, teacher numbers / support staff or, in the NHS, the longer waiting lists and GP wait times.

    I think its obvious but I admit to being biased.

  15. Tweet from Lewis Goodall

    “Speaking to a Labour source on the ground last night, they think bad weather could help them. Theory is they have the groundgame to get their vote out but Cons need ex Lab voters to come out for them, who could be deterred by any excuse, incl snow/cold”

    Glad to see my theory is shared elsewhere, although it is from another staw – clutching Labour person!

  16. Colin

    That was a very good summary of Labour under Corbyn/McDonnell.
    I agree with you what is on offer from Labour harks back to almost that period just post 1945 when the majority of people were on meagre times the country had been bankrupt and exhausted by ww2 and genuine change was needed in almost every aspect of life.

    However we now live in a much different world not that there aren’t people enduring hard times it’s just the majority of people now have a reasonable life which has been arrived at by a Capitalist system which by and large has worked for them with the country moved on from a heavy industrialised economy to a more service based hi-Tec economy.

    What Corbyn/McDonnell are trying to peddle is this system doesn’t work and in-fact a majority of UK people are living in some Dickensian world to which the only answer is a return to massive state control and spending vast amounts of tax payers money on addressing problems that only exists in the minds of the hard left.

    To my mind the choice is do we rely on Capitalism to rise people out of poverty or do we adopt a socialist / Marxist policy of reducing everybody to the same level ,from Cuba to Venezuela and beyond Corbyn’s methods of state intervention in all aspects of business and financial markets have been tried and failed why is it that those on the hard left keep thinking that if only we give it one more go it will work.

  17. @Garj

    “I just don’t get this. Real-terms per-pupil funding in primary schools has dropped by the tiniest of amounts, and is still higher than it was in 2010. Indeed, it’s far higher than it was throughout the 2000s, yet schools were capable of staying open for 5 days a week then without going cap in hand to parents. What on earth has changed to make them so dependent on the marginally higher levels of funding which they had for the brief period from 2013 to 2016?”

    ———

    Because Garj, it is koolaid designed to trap the unwary. Per-pupil funding is an incomplete measure. Let’s consider the IFS more expanded account:

    “Total spending on schools in England represented just under £42 billion in 2017–18 (in 2018–19 prices). This represents £4,700 per pupil at primary school and £6,200 per pupil at secondary school. This excludes spending by local authorities on central services, as well as spending by special schools.

    So, if you cut a load of stuff the LA used to provide for schools and now you have to pay for it yourself, that can be very injurious to your budget. If, for example, you have a child with special needs who needs a lot of one-to-one support, if the LA no longer provide that, or only fund a bit of it, that can be very injurious to your budget.

    It’s as with the NHS. You can say you are giving a bit more money, but if that is eclipsed by hospitals having to deal with the demise of the care services…

  18. @Hulagu

    Thank you for that. It certainly chimes with my experiences and from my colleagues who mainly work in a relatively poor northern city for local authority schools.

    Just as an aside though there are a number of the independent schools in our area which are also facing financial struggles but I suspect that may be more to do with mismanagement.

  19. “…do we adopt a socialist / Marxist policy of reducing everybody to the same level ,from Cuba to Venezuela and beyond Corbyn’s methods of state intervention in all aspects of business and financial markets have been tried and failed why is it that those on the hard left keep thinking that if only we give it one more go it will work.”

    Always good to identify when a post “jumps the shark” into over-the-top surrealism.

  20. @John33, re BXP MEP’s , it is in fact the direct opposite, they are polling seriously badly and some are choosing to jump ship now. Their dream of winning seats and influencing the Brexit path is gone and it is Farage v his ego, this from a very close BXP source., this may be the start of more defections.

  21. MikeB

    Thanks for the feedback.

  22. Brexit party collapse mimics UKIP’s in 2017.

  23. Definitely think adverse weather will help Labour. The voters that the Tories need to win over are far too likely, in my opinion, to be put off by it, especially if it already seems like the Tories are in for a majority.

  24. @ JJ – “If (a “no WTO” amendment) passed the so-called Spartans would pull the rug a we have a new cliff edge on 31st Jan”

    (context added)

    It’s not a new cliff edge, it’s the one that Benn+co. wrote into the Surrender Bill. Quite why they chose that date is still somewhat strange as it only allowed time for a GE (the GE that Boris wanted) and didn’t change the “default”.

    It would be challenging to word such an amendment and make it binding without reopening the WA (eg A132) and hence involving the EC-EU27 but if Remain MPs want to keep digging then for sure Spartans would then block the WAB (and everyone would surely know that in advance) – so “default” Brexit on 31Jan’20

    “Other question is that if Tories lose seats net does Johnson stay or get replaced – Gove maybe?”

    If Boris can form a govt (or at least keep the default of continuing as PM going) then why would he resign?

    The more interesting scenario is what happens if CON win most seats but MPs try to block his WAB or push for Surrender Bill2, etc but refuse to risk a VoNC. My inspired guess is Boris refuses to resign as PM and calls Remain MPs bluff (ie instead of being Remain MP’s “puppet” he will simply “squat” in #10 and tick the clock down)

    If you’re talking later (ie after 31Jan’20 and then losing a VoNC in the huge window before July) then maybe. That’s quite a few steps ahead and can’t really seeing it making much difference to any of the eventual outcomes as Boris would be replaced by a Leaver (maybe Gove, maybe not)

  25. @NICKP, they alienated a lot of their own members and supporters by pulling out of half the seats. Farage is right to a point, apparently they are taking Labour votes , but mainly those who want to leave and will never vote Tory.

    Who this is the end helps or hinders is anyone’s guess.If it goes like UKIP in 2015 then Labour get hit hardest, as BXP will drain Labour’s vote share , the issue is do enough Tory leave voters feel Boris’ deal is leave enough

  26. Don’t know if this has been posted already but

    Labour 72%
    Lib Dems 10%
    Conservatives 8%
    SNP 3%
    Brexit Party 2%
    Plaid Cymru 2%
    Green 1%

    ICM 29 Nov-2 Dec
    #GE2019

    Clear that the students are still in favour of Labour.

  27. @Voice of Reason

    “I suppose what the stats do definitely confirm, in both the case of the NHS and Education, is that real terms increases were much higher each year under the last Labour government and they have either reduced or been static (I will continue to contend they have reduced) over the last 10 years.

    Also, based on the manifesto’s, I think we can safely conclude that Labour intend to spend more on Health and Education than the Tories if elected.”

    ——–

    This has been mentioned on the board before. A distinction was drawn between New Labour and Tories, on the basis of the amount of funding. At least New Labour put more money in, etc.

    Well it may be the case, but it was in the service of continuing Thatcher’s project, the eradication of socialism. Third Way Liberalism extended it, was therefore more extreme, and therefore unsurprisingly spent more on pursuing it.

    Thus, we got things like PFI. This was sold as a means of getting the private sector to invest in services. What it actually was of course, was a means of using taxpayers to generously fund the private sector acquisition of what would previously have been state-owned assets, with the young footing the long term bill.

    Academies were another step down the road of transferring schools into the private sector, as were privatisations in the health service. More money might go in, but long term it’s going to the private sector. This might be considered a form of ordoliberalism, as practiced in the EU: the turbocharged version of liberalism where the state is used to promote the interests of the private sector, rather than protect from it as under socialism.

    Collective action is very powerful and can easily eclipse liberalism, hence the fear of it. PTRP recently wondered why we didn’t have a more collective approach to free schools, more stakeholders involved etc., well that would be more collectivist and we can’t be having that!

    Here instead, what we got from the Liberals under Clegg, was the pupil premium. Classic liberalism in practice. A little to take the edge off, but dear god let’s not actually solve the problem. Minimum wage was the same. Instead of creating proper jobs, let’s just raise the floor a little bit. Ditto Miliband and the cap on energy. Only widdling at the margins, while preserving the hegemony of the market. Little bits, at the individual level, rather than big collective action.

    Similarly the EU is trying to stifle the mutualism in councils, where people band together to cope with excessive pricing on utilities etc. of course New Labour carried on Thatcher’s project reaching into the Labour Party, trying to weaken collective action further via eroding Union links and the idea of state ownership.

  28. A Survation poll for The Economist in Wrexham puts the Tories ahead by 44% to Labour’s 29%.

  29. Survation have done more constituency polls for Economist:

    “The Tories are well ahead in Wrexham, part of Labour’s “Red Wall”
    Our poll gives the Conservatives a 15-point lead in a seat Labour has held since 1935”

    https://www.economist.com/britain/2019/12/05/the-tories-are-well-ahead-in-wrexham-part-of-labours-red-wall

    Some twitter sources have copied out the polling part as doubt many of us pay to read the Economist

    https://twitter.com/t_wainwright/status/1202583248313954309

  30. Survation poll done by telephone, might have skewed it?

  31. The problem with Labour’s economic policy is nothing to do with being outdated. The notion of fast moving service sector is wrong. About 70% of our service sector doesn’t contribute to the value created, only consumes it (in the GDP the value-creating sectors’ contribution is redistributed to the other sectors). However, caution is needed as exporting these non-value-creating-services actually add to the value.In addition, the current macroeconomic measures haven’t yet caught up with the asset-light strategies.

    The problem with Labour’s economic policies are at two different levels. One is quite standard ecobomics, the other is the institutional framework.

    In principle – the social investment (including infrastructure) which is badly needed takes time while creates immediate demand especially in consumption. As productive investment cannot catch up (the excess capacity cannot accommodate it) it result in either inflation or excessive foreign trade imbalance (and the money and capital flows are likely to be less able to counterbalance it if there is a Corbyn-government). Basically there are not enough resources to buy enough time, so before the positive effects could happen the policy falls.

    Institutionally, the current Labour leadership has a very confused view about the state. It perceives it as centralised (which is true for England, but not for the UK), and believes that it has the means to implement these centralised ideas. Well, it doesn’t have them, so they would have to be created, but there is nothing about it. In addition, the policies would need partnering with interest groups, but the UK ones have no control over their membership, so it cannot deliver the corporatist side of Labour’s policies.

    So, it cannot work in either level, but with a different time frame, it could.

    Because of the increased fragmentation of the workforce, and the differentiated corporate policies as well as the increased segmentation of the markets the necessary increase in social spending, increased state participation in production and services (especially priorities and involvement), Labour’s policy could only work with an institutional framework that involves all stakeholders with clear allocation of responsibilities.

  32. Wrexham. Electoral Calculus see LAB keeping it, YG MRP see CON winning.

    The main difference between YG MRP and the constituency poll is PC doing better in the poll (and LAB doing worse).

    Maybe all the air time that Price has been getting is helping PC out? He’s been sticking the knife into Welsh LAB in the TV debates I’ve seen and has come across very well (I like his idea about locally sourced food supply chains).

  33. @Carfrew

    Although it was not the point of my original piece I suspect we agree, certainly where education is concerned. I deplore what has happened in Education re so called ‘free schools’ and the increase in the number of academies. We have seen locally what can happen when academy trusts get it wrong and the City Academies collapse is a scandal : https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/nov/18/yorkshire-schools-will-not-get-back-millions-lost-in-trusts-collapse

    Something I haven’t mentioned in my prior posts is that the local authority cuts have also decimated the remaining services that local authorities do provide to schools, again with a knock on effect.

    My main criticisms of the Blair govt would be around some of these changes that they started, although I would also have a long list. But they did at least put more money in along with their changes. The Conservatives have made quite a lot of changes to extend what Labour did and reduced the money coming in. If Boris gets his majority then I suspect the trend will continue.

  34. @Turk

    “To my mind the choice is do we rely on Capitalism to rise people out of poverty or do we adopt a socialist / Marxist policy of reducing everybody to the same level ,from Cuba to Venezuela and beyond Corbyn’s methods of state intervention in all aspects of business and financial markets have been tried and failed why is it that those on the hard left keep thinking that if only we give it one more go it will work.”

    ———-

    Well, it’s a bit of a caricature, but it is true that it can happen. State involvement can be detrimental, as can collective action, that’s why we need a healthy amount of liberalism. But equally, too much liberalism can allow the private sector to take the mick and stifle people working together more.

    We need an enlightened balance. It’s the same on other dimensions. Sometimes we need the radical, sometimes we need to conserve. Some environmental action is good, but maybe opposition to Thorium was unenlightened etc.

  35. “Definitely think adverse weather will help Labour. The voters that the Tories need to win over are far too likely, in my opinion, to be put off by it, especially if it already seems like the Tories are in for a majority.”

    Certainly many will be frail/zimmerized and will not wish to go out if cold.

  36. @CARFREW

    Since you made comment on my musing I will respond.

    Similarly the EU is trying to stifle the mutualism in councils, where people band together to cope with excessive pricing on utilities etc. of course New Labour carried on Thatcher’s project reaching into the Labour Party, trying to weaken collective action further via eroding Union links and the idea of state ownership.

    In many places the issue of mutualism is alive and well. it is not being stifled bty the EU it is being stifled by national governments.

    COLIN argued that the problem with Corbyn is that he is trying to solve yesterdays problems. My point about the lack of stakeholders is that it is harder to solve today’s problem because of yesterdays decisions.

    Lets take a simple one Housing: If councils had been allowed to keep the receipts from council houses and build more then the heat would have been taken out of the housing market we would have had more councils houses for rent and for sale and the right to buy would make senese as long as it was in moderation. Now the argument is that we have to borrow the money.

    It is why I keep harping on about Iraq. We have made a number of decisions which basically means we cannot solve the problem. it is like when you disband the civil service disband the army and disband the police force and then expect nothing untoward to happen…..

    The UK decided to privatise the items which allowed mutualisation and control to happen. Once you give it up to private enterprise the market has to fail so badly before it anyone says ok it was bad.

    The lack of any stakeholder input or control is why we have had as wide a set of failures are Carollion, Grenfell Tower Academy Schools and the like. itis not because of the EU. it is because of the our own governments

    it is why for example how germany does renting is different ot the UK with better long term security of tenure as an example and basic rent controls

    The fact is that if you take UK and compare it to most of it Northern European neighbours there is muchmore control by regions and our equivalent of councils and more mutualism going on than there is within any UK entity in truth and the level of funding is much greater

    They have been able to do this because they have kept key industries and key services nationalised. They have opened them to competition that is true but it has not stop the electorate at each level having control.

    the privatisation of services means that you have little control as the electorate and the tax payer. You can only pay for the services given to you

    My last example of why private enterprise can lead to less services is that this week I found that I had to change my tariff to be able to add extra data for a week whilst abroad. When I asked why it was found that firstly my tariff no longer was being offered. The salesperson on the other end look at my usage and said he understood why I had not changed the tariff for 4 years but he pointed out that most people are put on a new tariff when the get a new phone. In the end he said I could get a sim only tariff but that would mean a new number

  37. Thanks to all for responses on the issues bedevilling schools, it would seem that they face problems from all sorts of directions. It’s not my aim to question whether schools (or perhaps some schools) are struggling, but even a cursory google search will tell you that it can’t possibly be because of the Tories cutting the education budget. Spiralling SEN costs, unfair resource distribution, shortfalls in LA funding, gaps in pensions provision (and so on and so forth) are all things which might engender a totally different set of questions about how to resolve those issues and ease the pressure on schools than simply saying it must be because of cuts. People of all political persuasions can be guilty of it, but I often perceive a tendency of those on the left to make sweeping statements about funding or the state of the economy which turn out to have no basis in fact, and are really just an expression of what they feel must be happening under the Tories and their instinct to blame Conservatives for every ill. Your various contributions are much more enlightening, so thank you for those.

  38. Wrexham MP is standing down after 18 years, not sure whether that may be an extra factor? If any NE Wales Labour parties were wanting a nice current opinion polling chart to show PC/libs that their vote would be wasted then i suppose they do have one but even if they knocked those parties down to their 2017 levels (debateable if that would happen) then there would be more work to do.

  39. John33

    I forgot to answer your question yesterday.

    “Is your current view that SCon will hold most if not all of their seats? Have you a prediction of what you think is most likely currently?”

    I think they’ll hold between 0 and 13 of them! In other words, I haven’t a clue. Marginal seats can go one way or t’other unexpectedly, so I’ll take a stab at them holding 7. :-)

    It being wet and windy here [1], I passed some time looking at the DKs and WNVs in my YG Scots crossbreak series [2].

    Little has changed over the last 13 weeks. Average of 8% WNV and 14% undecided. Undecideds rose a bit in mid November – presumably as SGP and BxP voters realised they would have to vote something else.

    Among the churn, the net effect in the YG numbers is that SNP have picked up the Green vote, and the Tories have garnered the BxP vote – entirely as expected! SNP up a few points from 2017, and SCon down a bit.

    During the weeks of electioneering, the only other point of note is that Slab have clawed back some of their previous VI loss from SLD, but still well down on their 2017 GE performance.

    [1] The election posters on my trees,
    Are fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    [2] As always, I make no claims as to the applicability of my YG crossbreak data to the real world – but it keeps me out of mischief.

  40. The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them …

    @ Voice of Reason
    I asked @Bantams for suggestions how decent schools could be funded. He had none.
    As you say, one way would be not to spend billions on the Academy & free School Programme or pour money down the drain in academy chains. Here is an excerpt from the link you placed above (dated 2 weeks ago.)

    “Wakefield City AT was dogged by scandal before its collapse. In October 2016 it emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by its then chief executive, Mike Ramsay, and his daughter. The trust said the contracts represented the best value. [They always do!!)
    In November of that year the TES reported that a draft of a Department for Education (DfE) report on the trust’s finances had raised concerns that Ramsay was paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work despite the trust facing a large budget deficit. etc”

    The viperous Gove when he was Educ Sec defended these sorts of practices.
    People disbusing public funds spend them on companies owned by themselves or their families.
    Anyone who cannot see the wrongness in this has a corrupted sense of values & no sense of public service.
    The is the fill-your-boots-culture we will see a great deal of in the next 5 years.

  41. @TREVOR WARNE
    @JIM JAM

    <It’s not a new cliff edge, it’s the one that Benn+co. wrote into the Surrender Bill. Quite why they chose that date is still somewhat strange as it only allowed time for a GE (the GE that Boris wanted) and didn’t change the “default”.

    benn did not change the default because the Tory rebels were not remainers they were just anti no deal Tory MPs.

    You keep stating that remainers chose the legislative option and not the VNOC/GONU option. They did not have the numbers of this and thus they took what was given to them by the Tory rebels. The Tory rebels argument was simply put shortsighted but I have constantly said that their was no path to a second referendum or a GONU all they could do was stall brexit.

    As you yourself has said they have all signed up to the WA but have no control over the future relationship and that is where I think the real battle will be.

    Currently people believe that Brexit is a event and not a process hence the argument it will be done by 2021 if it is not done by 2021 then what happens is the same gridlock

    It would be challenging to word such an amendment and make it binding without reopening the WA (eg A132) and hence involving the EC-EU27 but if Remain MPs want to keep digging then for sure Spartans would then block the WAB (and everyone would surely know that in advance) – so “default” Brexit on 31Jan’20

    The problem with that argument is that why would remain prefer any brexit solution over any other. personally if we leave with no deal for many remainers is no different to leaving with any other deal it is just less bad if the argument is to give the UK a heart attack then we should have the heart attack. to die by a death of thousand cuts means that people get used to it all as per Iraq people would be saying well it could have been worse. But to leave ‘properly’ means that it becomes all on ‘us;

    For Corbyn it make little difference his policies would put the country closer to Germany than to the US in terms of the economy, the key brexiteers argument is to put the economy closer to the US.

    As I said about Iraq we have already made the decisions they are now playing out

  42. @PROFHOWARD

    Precisely, but in addition to those, the Tories’ strategy of winning over Labour voters would be likely affected. A voter who is already unhappy about the idea of voting Tory, never has before nor has his/her family, already thinks the Tories will win, looks outside the window on voting day and sees the cold, wet, icy, rainy, snowy weather, how likely are they to turnout and vote? I’d imagine this would at least dent some of the Conservative vote.

  43. @OLD NAT

    Thanks for such detailed feedback – much appreciated. Inhad hoped that SLab would vote tactically for SNP in the Tory marginals but I don’y know whether that is something they would be inclined to do.

  44. trying to now use the weather as a source of straw clutching for Labour supporters is getting a bit desperate. Those ex Labour voters, may only have to not vote for the tories to win Labour seats.
    How strong is the student vote going to hold up on a freezing cold, rainy day ? The older vote has probably gone postal anyway.
    There is absolutely no even anecdotal evidence either way the weather will impact the vote one way or the other.

  45. Certainly been fewer Scottish polls published at this point than there had been at the equivalent point in 2017. I imagine there will be a few coming out over the weekend though

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2017_United_Kingdom_general_election#Scotland

  46. Turk
    “why is it that those on the hard left keep thinking that if only we give it one more go it will work.”

    They always say it wasn’t done properly, but next time will be different.

  47. John33

    “I had hoped that SLab would vote tactically for SNP in the Tory marginals”.

    Many will have done so – but that decision was probably made shortly after the Tories won again in 2017, so they won’t show up in my data which only runs from the beginning of September.

  48. @John33/DrBasil/Alec etc

    For all those hoping that the meteorological gods are kind to Labour on December 12th, what if we invoke Shakespeare’s King Lear on the dreaded polling day

    “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
    You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
    Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
    You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
    Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
    Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
    Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
    Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
    That make ingrateful man!”

    And Johnson, of course, being Shakespeare’s Fool to the heroic flaed Lear (Corbyn)

    I wonder if the “Singe my white head” reference is talking about Over 65s voters??

    :-)}

  49. @ Garj
    I generally find yr comments sharp & to the point: you are certainly among the most lucid ROC posters.
    However, you will forgive me for regarding yr summary in the paragraph after next as waffle.
    Under the academy system the control of schools has been centralised. The responsibility for under-funded schools is therefore now much more the responsibility of the central government than hitherto: the last ten years this has been a Tory one. My comments in [brackets].

    “Spiralling SEN costs [more funding needed] unfair resource distribution [central government directed], shortfalls in LA funding [government caused], gaps in pensions provision (and so on and so forth) are all things which might engender a totally different set of questions [what are they??] about how to resolve those issues and ease the pressure on schools than simply saying it must be because of cuts.”

    I’m sorry to be impolite but I’m tired of the educational system of this country being run by Tory politicians who themselves, & whose children, have never been near a state school in their lives.

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