Today sees the first polls taken since the nationalisation of Northern Rock. A snap Populus poll with a small sample size for the Times found that 49% of people agreed that it was right for the government to nationalise Northern Rock, with 40% disagreeing -although 69% thought they should have tried harder to find a private buyer. 58% of people said the government was to blame for the problems affecting Northern Rock to some extent, but this was lower than the proportion of people who blamed the credit crunch, the city authorities or the management of Northern Rock itself.

The poll appears to show Brown and Darling back ahead of Cameron and Osborne on economic trust, though it’s worth noting that the poll doesn’t appear to have been politically weighted. Answers to questions like that are often extremely party partisan, so this shift will be largely to do with weighting, rather than a change in public opinion.

While there is support for nationalisation, it doesn’t mean that Labour’s handling of the issue is a positive for them, it may simply be a recognition that it is only practical opinion at this stage, the public could still think the overall way the problem was handled is poor. A second poll, this time by YouGov for the Economist, found only 11% thought the government’s handling of Northern Rock over the last few months was excellent or good, 51% think it has been poor or awful.

Does this benefit the Conservatives? In the short term at least, not at all: if anything, their reaction appears to have backfired on them. 59% of people agreed the Conservatives would have done much the same and they are just playing politics. That may reflect no more than a low opinion of all politicans rather than the Conservatives specifically, but the proof of the pudding is in the voting intentions – and the figures for the Economist show a marginal shift from the Conservatives to Labour in the wake of the nationalisation – the topline figures with changes from the last YouGov poll were CON 40%(-1), LAB 34%(+2), LDEM 16%(nc). As ever, we shouldn’t read too much into small changes in a single poll, but it looks like this hasn’t damaged Labour.

64 Responses to “First post-nationalisation polls”

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  1. So now we’re nationalising again, how about some of the more useful possibilities, like the railways? Last polls I saw on that showed (I think) 79% support.

  2. Anthony
    You tend to be rather reluctant to see any light in the tunnel for GB and Labour – but this 6% deficit is not just a marginal shift.

    It comes on the back of a string of YouGov polls with a conservative lead gradually trending downwards from the high-point of 13% at the end of last year. And this despite all the gloomy economic predictions for the year ahead – and despite the rather puerile, repetitive attacks of the official opposition. It may be that Osbourne comes to regret that “dead man walking” jibe.

  3. Anthony tells it how he sees if from the evidence.
    Nothing more. Nothing less.

    You obviously care alot about Labour’s position but again JohnH, I think your intereption of the statements of others says more about your position than theirs.

  4. Anthony
    Could you say when the polling took place please?

    I think the coverage started quite well for Labour, but has got a little worse in the last day or so. The broadsheets have been quite critical and I think that take time to perculate.
    They are not read by many, but they are some of the ‘opinion formers’.

    I was surprised at the audience reaction on Question time last night.
    It seemed quite negative about Mr Brown personally. There was a alot of split reactiongenerally, but no cheers for Gordon.
    Very unscientific I know, but it was in Newcastle.
    I suppose the jobs saved are concentrated in the area, but so are the individual shareholders.

  5. Anthony,

    I now know.
    Monday through to Wednesday?

    Presumably most of the replies came in the early part as usual ie Monday/Tuesday.

  6. Sall C
    I do not say that Anthony’s analyses are warped by party bias, as many others who regularly comment here are. (Yes, mea culpa)! But I haven’t forgotten his rather savage comments on Brown at the height of the media attack on him. I can’t remember exact quotes or find the piece, but Brown was more or less confined to the dustbin.
    But as polls can go dramatically up or down (as we have seen since last May), it is unwise to read too much into even a trend over a few months.
    And yes, I accept that Anthony often makes the point that a few swallows don’t make either main parties’ summer 2009 – but I still have a feeling that he is a bit surprised by Labour’s failure to die.

  7. There is clear slippage of the Conservative lead.
    And if the ICM 20% ish for Lib Dems is nearer the
    truth than YouGov’s 16% then Cons may have a very slim lead indeed.

    Cameron & Osborne got far too excited about the NR nationalisation announcement.Calling for Darlings resignation and some other overtly political comments were misjudged.They should leave that stuff to Brown.

    However, Osborne’s performance in scrutinising the Bill has been good & he has a credible postion laid ahead of a very uncertain saga to come.

    But the general public agree with the principle of Nationalisation just now and nitty gritty details of the process are below their radar-unless & until it turns out to be another example of managerial incomptetence with a large price tag attached.

    Cameron should cool the personal attacks for a while ;attack policy & process as appropriate & set out his alternatives.

  8. JohnH – I’m quite happy to be called on my predictions!

    What I said in January was “I doubt Labour under him have the ability to regain a lead in the polls. It wouldn’t surprise me if they recovered slightly as they get away from the negative news stories of the last few months, but I think the underlying position is now a Conservative lead.”

    So far (obviously there’s a long time yet for Labour under Brown to recover a lead), I think I’m pretty spot on – Labour have indeed recovered slightly, but the underlying position is still a Tory lead. If it changes though then I’ll be wrong – if I’m going to get off the fence and make predictions then it’s inevitable that sometimes they won’t be right :).

    Equally, I’m not proud – when I’m wrong I change my mind. So far I haven’t on this one. The whole crisis Brown appeared to be in at the end of last year has gone, but the underlying position hasn’t changed. I still don’t think Labour under Brown are capable of getting back in the lead through their own efforts (obviously, it remains possible that the Conservatives could completely bugger up through infighting, sleaze and so on and do it for them – if Conway had started some tidal wave of sleazy revelations that could have done it, but they seemed to dodge that bullet)

  9. Anthony
    I won’t quibble (too much) – you may not quite have consigned GB to the dustbin of history, but I still think “I doubt Labour under him have the ability to regain a lead in the polls” goes beyond any factual analysis – and teeters on the edge of joining the Conservative wishful thinkers among us.

    But apart from, perhaps unwisely, under-rating a very tough political bruiser (who also has a genuine sense of the “art of the possible” for Labour), I cannot fault and mostly agree with the great majority of your analyses and comments on the week to week fluctuations.

    As you say time will tell – but there IS quite a lot of it left before the next general election!

  10. Anthony,

    I noticed that the SNP is shown separately not as part of others, is that a new thing or just part of the Economist Poll . Also 4% looks high for only 9% of the population.


  11. Peter.
    [from a previous thread]

    I must take issue, despite the obvious authority of your source.

    They were all indoors – busily ‘assimulting’ with with the native population.[’Pirates’ is a cert 12!]. I don’t want to dis your source but so says the Prof. of International History at some place called Harvard.

    The Scots were responsible for an ‘Indio-Celtic fusion’. Apparently.
    Several generations later they mutinied.

  12. I have to totally agree with Anthony’s analysis – things will not change unless the Conservatives totally blow it ! But i think they are treading very carefully and that will not happen .

    Only the knee jerk decisions by Labour to regain popularity will be their continued downfall.

    Very disappointing for the Liberals at 16% with a new leader !!

  13. I think nationalisation of utilities like gas and electric are becoming popular. After seeing the reaction to the news of the big profits of British Gas I wouldn’t be surprised if there was majority support for nationalisation across many areas.

  14. WMA= 39:33:18 so the CLead of 6 appears spot-on. Having said which the retrospectives on the YouGov/STimes poll show an error of 2.6 and every YG poll since Dec bar one has had a retrospective error of at least 2.2 so I’m beginning to suspect that there may perhaps be some bias in the sample. It is entirely possible that net-literate people are more economically literate than otherwise, and that now that we have a situation in which only the economically illiterate (or knee-jerk labour supporters) can consider that Brown and Darling are economically competent this distinction may matter.

    Lest you think me partisan in this comment, see the coverage in the FT, Economist and Times. Also Guido’s chart here gives pause for thought.

  15. Nationalise gas? On the Russian model?

  16. no real changes just a bit of movment hear of their, nothing to be running from at this point no chance of any big leads unless any of the parites other than labour muck up.

  17. Are there any polls about nationalisation in general? I haven’t seen any.

    btw I see conservative support drifting down to something like pre-brown times last year. That’s hardly anything for Labour to get excited about.

  18. “Very disappointing for the Liberals at 16% with a new leader !!”

    Yes Mike…..if it’s true.

  19. Keith – as James says in comment one, I think when polls ask about renationalising the trains it normally show it to be very popular. I’m just about to go out so can’t dig figures out, but I think he’s correct.

  20. Can’t quite believe it’s that popular for anything. I wonder how a Conservative government would view renewed nationalisation.

  21. I thought it was a brave prediction that Labour would never regain the lead, given the huge swings we saw in Autumn, but it’s good to see someone stick their neck out!

    I would take slight issue with this comment, Anthony.

    “A second poll, this time by YouGov for the Economist, found only 11% thought the government’s handling of Northern Rock over the last few months was excellent or good, 51% think it has been poor or awful.”

    That’s somewhat misleading, as you’ve missed out the (I’m reading this off the chart) 25% who believe it was ‘fair’ (which is a positive term). So it’s 56% to 36%, which is not so terrible.

  22. Attitudes to nationalisation really depend on the current perception of performance.

    When public service is poor privatisation is popular, as with BT. When private service is poor or expensive then nationalisation becomes popular. In this respect it is a issue where politicians should tread with care remembering the Chinese proverb;

    ” Be careful what you wish for it may come true”.

    Labour can currently call for privatised rail companies to invest and improve service and even cut the subsidy, but if fairs don’t fall or service improve it’s not their fault, they have “deniability”.

    If it’s nationalised they have no such escape route, it’s down to them.

    They should also be wary of reacting to the current public mood especially when it’s fuelled by the press.

    The big headline this week was a 500% rise in BG profits, and the public outcry about it, but it’s a meaningless statistic.

    Lets say,I two companies have a turnover of £1bn and last year one made £1m and the other £100m.

    If this year one kept it’s prices low and went from £1m profit to £10m and the other put prices up and went from £100m to £120m, the the percentage increase in profits are 1000% and 20%.

    So in % terms the responsible company looks bad and the profiteering one reasonable.

    If politicians react to the 1,000% headline they risk adopting the wrong policy.

    Part of the reason for the rise in energy company profits in the last few years have been the feed through of huge cost cutting when oil was at $30bbl at a time when the price has risen to $90bbl.

    I’ve no doubt that they are exploiting the high oil price as much as they can but I don’t think the public reaction to the nasty oil companies really reflects the true picture in the industry.

    I’d certainly say that we would be better to take a real close look at how the banks have been using strange accounting and new financial vehicles to boost profits than the energy industry.

    In an odd way the Tories have misjudged things in that going for the “Private Good, Public Bad” line, they have misjudged the public mood in that most people seem to accept that Like Rolls Royce it was really all they could do.

    Where the Tories should be targeting their efforts is on the regulatory failures at the start of the troubles and the long delay in acting and sorting it out.

    One possible alternative that could have been looked at was for the government to underwrite a stock issue or indeed to take an equity share in return for an injection of cash.

    This could be seen as partial nationalisation or indeed like the UK government acting as a sovereign wealth fund.

    I am not sure if anyone has put it forward as an alternative but in principle with half of the major world banks currently courting SWF’s for cash injections, it might well have been an option for Cameron’s Tories.


  23. The reason for British Gas’s profit hike was their retention of falls in wholesale prices-as explained here:-


    Nationalisation is not the answer to this sort of thing-competitive pressure is.But there needs to be effective competition to achieve it.

    Energywatch, the independent gas and electricity watchdog,has called for the Competition Commission to investigate whether the £24bn-a-year domestic power business was working properly.

    Its campaigns manager Adam Scorer said: “Consumers will feel justified in claiming that they are being taken for a very rough ride by the energy companies.”

    Many would agree with him I think.

  24. Matt – I was taking fair as the neutral term (and in a five point scale, I suspect it would have been the ‘fence-sitter’ response for many of those taking it), but either way, the balance of opinion is against the government’s handling.

  25. Are the calls for more nationalisation left-wing or is it that the voters feel there is too much foreign ownership of industry?

  26. ‘wolf’: I expect it’s more to do with rising prices than anything else.

  27. Anthony & Matthew
    A 56% to 36% split fairly closely follows the numbers of (Conservative + Liberal) vs Labour. And in this context whatever anyone did about NR wasn’t likely to have people out in the streets waving flags. Even as one of those “knee-jerk Labour, economics illiterates (thanks a bundle, NBeale) I wouldn’t have been able to say much more than “fair”.

    As for nationalisation – come off it. Nobody who has any hope of forming real policy seriously considers this as a solution in anything other than an emergency, where the collapse of an essential industry has to be avoided and no other means are available.

    In the case of NR the emphasis on using the “N” word is mostly Conservative hype, hoping to do some damage to Brown. This was obviously NOT nationalisation in any 1940-70s sense of taking an industry permanently into public ownership on ideological grounds – clearly it was only a temporary and reluctant, although necessary expedient.

  28. Peter your party seems to be level peging with labour in scotland SNP only have a 1pt lead with the CON’s on 16 (nc) and lib dems on 12 (nc) on this form SNP would gain 8-12 seats CON 1-2 seats and lib dems down 5-8 seats, however good news is some of the predicted lost seats are gordon browns close friends in the commons

  29. I wonder how many people felt they saw the true face of the tories in the debate, ranting about 70s style privatisation. I thought they sounded ridiculous and just repeating the word ‘dithering’ as often as possible is not an alternative policy.

    Perhaps NR won’t benefit them as much as they think

  30. stuart gregory,

    I don’t think it will work like that.

    With 40% of the Libdem vote in the dozen or so seats they hold, even on 12% they will probably hold most of them, so much as i would like it they will probably only lose three or four and one of these will be Dunfermline to Labour.

    Equally even if we are neck and neck with Labour overall in a lot of their seats we are still too far behind to make up the difference so I think five to ten seat gains is more realistic.

    It goes without saying that I’d love it to be ten.


  31. I agree Anthony that the middle choice of 5 can be seen as neutral, but I’d argue that ‘fair’ when discussing a handling of a crisis is a positive statement, not a neutral one. This is how The Economist read it to.

    I’d agree with Paul S here (without wishing to stray too far into party political terrority). Northern Rock is dangerous ground for Osborne and the Tories because it’s obviously a failure of the private sector, and worse, not just the private sector, but the private sector’s private sector, the City and Wall Street.

    The lesson of it is really that banks have a special role in the economy, and so the Govt has to bail out them out if they get into trouble, and therefore it has to keep very close controls on them. More regulation will be the outcome of this disaster.

    The problem with Osborne bringing up the 1970s is that he gives the impression (and what he says) reminds one more of the 1980s – Ashes to Ashes, not Life on Mars, if you watch BBC tv.

  32. The Govt does *not* have to “bail out” the banks – it has to protect the depositors which is not the same thing at all – esp with NR which had very few depositors compared to its mortgage book.

    The voters may not yet have realised what a disaster this is, but there won’t be an election in the next 6 months. The business community on the other hand has pretty well given up on this government. For example: in Q3 07 Labour got 31% more donations than the Conservatives, in Q4 the Conservatives got 76% more than Labour. And the bulk of the Labour money was from their Trades Union paymasters.

  33. Not much to comment upon the polling figures. All trees so cannot tell the state of the wood. Statistically insignificant most likely.

    All the responses seem to highlight known biases, save NBeale’s and Peter Cairn’s incisive views. That may be less to do with partisanship then to the lack of a major shift in the political fortunes of 2008, so far….

    As for nationalisation, the railways are all but. NetworkRail is de facto state-run. Railway companies management is dictated by DoT policy. The trains themselves are owned by three banks and a German state-run railways organisation.

    It quaint that some bloggers are actively quoting about public-opinion regarding railway-nationalisation, when many people do not understand how the current set-up operates. That is democracy. Shame the same rule cannot be extended to The European Constitutional Treaty.

  34. the one thing in the conservatives favour is the short term memory of the electorate and commentators.does anybody remember not wanting to set foot on a british rail rain or candles instead of electricity.
    france looks like a good place to live at the moment.

  35. In response to N Beale’s (paymasters – sigh) comment I’m not sure it’s so clear cut as that. But in any case when the Government announced it was to protect 100% of NR’s depositors, the Conservatives criticise the move, worrying about moral hazard. That’s exactly what I mean about the risk for them in their market fundamentalism (which would be of course to let the market deal with it, and provide no guarantees at all) being rather against the global trend.

  36. Mathew-no one has advocated “no guarantees at all”.

    Depositor protection is enshrined in law-indeed NR has highlighted what is now considered to be UK’s inadequate system.Darling plans to improve it-as he does the equally inadequate Banking Supervision system set up by GB.The latter’s faults & risks incidentally were specifically highlighted by the Conservatives ( a John Redwood led policy review) last August.

    Whilst I will readily accept that Cameron & Osborne tried to make too much political capital out of NR, I do not accept that their scrutiny of the Nationalisation Bill has been at fault.It was Osborne who highlighted the fact that NR’s last accounts were prepared on the basis that Granite is a subsidiary for the purposes of the Companies Acts.Yvette Cooper seemed unaware of this fact-Darling says Granite has not been acquired.

    THere is much water to flow under this bridge , so process is important.The Conservatives ,not forgetting the estimable Vince Cable,( who it now transpires was “warned off ” by the FSA), should not be criticised for digging deeply. It’s what we pay them to do. They made a mistake on political tactics & appear to have paid the price in the Polls.

    No doubt we all wish for a good outcome-particularly for NR’s employees. However, my relief that NR now has a competent top management has been shaken somewhat by a piece in today’s Sunday Times.The City experts who have written numerous, vastly expensive reports on NR were said to have smiled wryly at the news that Sandler ( who is geting £90k pm) has called in McKinsey to advise on restructuring NR……ah well it’s only (our) money!

  37. I do like the words “Trade Union Paymasters”.Because of course the millionaires that are backing the Conservatives are doing it out of the goodness of their heart and for whats best for their country and do not expect anything in return.

  38. Sorry, New Labour have failed their “Audition”.

    [Please excuse my poor Japanese pronunciation: Tika, tika, tika….

  39. Michael Portillo in today’s Times says the Tory poll lead is not big enough and too dependedent on govt problems, that their response to NR does not make them look like a government in waiting, and that Labour should and will win the next election so that Cameron has time to “mature” in his role.

  40. Actually there are a similar number of million pound donations from private individuals for both parties.

    On NR the Conservatives didn’t criticise protecting the Depositors (AFAIK) the problems are: underwriting the other £75bn of the £100bn balance sheet, the bonkers pretence that it will be run as a normal business (no bank that has a AAA Govt Guarantee can be a “normal business”), the astronomical sums (well over £100M) wasted on fees, the assumption of the pensions liabilities (£200M and counting) the high probability of a loss of £2-5bn on the mortgage book, and the havoc that a politically motivated Nationalised Industry can make of competition in the most important sector of our economy.

  41. NBeale:-
    It will not be possible for NR to create “havoc” in the market, this point is being vastly overstated.-The EU competition rules will stop it-so will the rest of the mortgage lending industry.
    I any event this industry in UK is currently pulling its’ collective horns in.The poor devils on 100% + loan to value with NR will have no place to go-NR will hammer them with penal rates.NR’s reposessions are already running at 4 times the market leader HBOS when market share is factored

    It was an interesting piece by Portillo. I think the key point he was making, was that there is a need for a radical agenda for the management of schools and NHS-that the public is not ready to hear this message yet-that another term of GB will have them screeming for a radical reforming policy for the Public Services.

    I think they are ready for it now personaly-and Cameron should articulate it more clearly.

  42. T Jones-You make a very fair point-all Political Parties rely on funding from those who support their policies-ie those who believe that those policies will benefit them, their families, their peer group etc.

    The point at issue with Trade Union political donations is-are they given on the basis of the individual’s wish, or are they given by default because of his/her trade union membership?

  43. NBeal “…the havoc that a politically motivated Nationalised Industry…” should calm down. The EU would not let NR get away with this, and the rest of the finance industry doesn’t exactly lack clout. As one of those “knee-jerk Labour supporters” and “economic illiterates” (I haven’t forgotten or forgiven, NBeal!) I would suggest that the whole of the NR saga will refuse to live up to Conservative hopes and hypes. Best leave it, and get on with other things.

    And one of those other things is the failure of the conservatives to capitalise on a rocky few months for Labour. Michael Portillo (not to mention JohnH) doesn’t agree with Anthony’s “brave” prediction that Gordon Brown and Labour are finished as far as the next general election is concerned.

    Labour may not give rise to much enthusiasm, but the Conservatives still look and sound more like a shrill opposition hoping for the government to self-destruct, rather than an alternative government with an alternative vision.

  44. JohnH – it’s not so much the mortgage side as the deposits side. Deposits in NR are now economically equivalent to deposits at the Bank of England – we already have major UK companies finding it harder to raise capital because Investors say they can get almost the same yield, risk free, from NR. As for the EU not letting NR get away with things, the EU is a paper tiger who has proven powerless to stop abuses in other countries (see this week’s Economist).

    Don’t underestimate the importance of the Money Vote. What the Opinion Polls show now doesn’t really matter – the election is probably 2 or more years away. But the Labour Party – already mismanaged to the point of bankruptcy – is permanently damaged by an inability to raise funds.

    Portillo can’t quite forgive Cameron for doing what he (Portillo) would have liked to do, and is still clinging to the Polling Establishment view that a 6% lead is not enough. I agree that nothing is certain in politics, and it’s possible that Carter & co will be able to get Brown’s No 10 in order. The Tories shouldn’t be complacent, and in fact this moderate but sustained lead is good for them. But right now there is a better chance that Hilary Clinton will be the next President than that GB will win the next election. Indeed they have much in common.

  45. NBeale:-
    “we already have major UK companies finding it harder to raise capital because Investors say they can get almost the same yield, risk free, from NR.”

    I am very surprised that NR is having that effect on a large scale.Are you refering to “risk capital” via share sales?-that would seem an amazing assertion. Or do you mean deposits with other banks? Can you please supply the source of this very interesting information.

  46. I thought that the views of some of the posters on here of self confessed Conservatives on Camerons and Osbournes performance or lack of it was just isolated.I have recently blundered on and realized that they weren’t.

    There maybe hope for Brown after all.

  47. “Actually there are a similar number of million pound donations from private individuals for both parties.”

    So if they are individuals it is a donation,,,,if it is from a Union,they are paymasters?

  48. T Jones

    “There maybe hope for Brown after all.”

    You have drawn the wrong conclusion from your discovery.( though sadly predictable )

    The one you should have reached is -” There maybe hope for Conservatives after all”


    CON 39.5% (+0.4)
    LAB 32.8% (-0.4)
    LD 17.5% (+0.2)
    OTH 10.2% (-0.2)

    the lib dems seem to have gained ground slightly but they are still down by 5.1% on election 05 some ground has been made up over labour 0.4% to conservative, but the overall picture shows no real change only slightdamage from NR just yet, but lastly the big test will be the local elections in may this is also the 11th year of labour running the UK but less of that, the key target for the onservatives will be 43-45% of the vote and labour will have a good night if they make not only gains but percentage gains over the tories in key battle grounds such as yorks & humber, the north west and parts of the north midlands alot of swing seats in this area, but the last big key for the labour party and the conservative party will be London if one of the main parites can make gains hear in seats and votes this would be a true sign of the coming battle for the con’s they need to win or come a close second, for labour they must not lose more than 5-6% of the vote and hold most of their seats if any party outside of labour make big gains on the night this could be seen as the end or the start of the end for the new labour govenment but if labour do well they may win the next election, but not by a mile. the lib dem are in a ever growing hole but with a light somewere to win seats they must take votes off of the con’s. key seats will be:


    this will give an idea of the vote in the big citys and areas

  50. we already have major UK companies finding it harder to raise capital because Investors say they can get almost the same yield, risk free, from NR.

    Links and cites, please.

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