In January the BPC inquiry team announced their initial findings on what went wrong in the general election polls. Today they have published their full final report. The overall conclusions haven’t changed, we’ve just got a lot more detail. For a report about polling methodology written by a bunch of academics it’s very readable, so I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but if you’re not in the mood for a 120 page document about polling methods then my summary is below:

Polls getting it wrong isn’t new

The error in the polls last year was worse than in many previous years, but wasn’t unprecedented. In 2005 and 2010 the polls performed comparatively well, but going back further there has often been an error in Labour’s favour, particularly since 1983. Last year’s error was the largest since 1992, but was not that different from the error in 1997 or 2001. The reason it was seen as so much worse was twofold – first, it meant the story was wrong (the polls suggested Labour would be the largest party, when actually there was a Tory majority, in 1997 and 2001 the only question was scale of the Labour landslide), second in 2015 all the main polls were wrong – in years like 1997 and 2001 there was a substantial average error in the polls, but some companies managed to get the result right, so it looked like a failure of particular pollsters rather than the industry as a whole.

Not everything was wrong: small parties were right, but Scotland wasn’t

There’s a difference between getting a poll right, and being seen to get a poll right. All the pre-election polls were actually pretty accurate for the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP (and UKIP was seen as the big challenge!) it was seen as a disaster because they got the big two parties wrong, and therefore they got the story wrong. It’s the latter bit that’s important – in Scotland there was also a polling error (the SNP were understated, Labour overstated) but it was largely unremarked because it was a landslide. As the report says, “underestimating the size of a landslide is considerably less problematic than getting the result of an election wrong”

There was minimal late swing, if any

Obviously it is possible for people to change their minds in those 24 hours between the final poll fieldwork and the actual vote. People really can tell a pollster they’ll vote party A on Wednesday, but chicken out and vote party B on Thursday. The Scottish referendum was probably an example of genuine late swing – YouGov recontacted the same people they interviewed in their final pre-referendum poll on polling day itself, and found a small net swing towards NO. However, when pollsters get it wrong and blame late swing it does always sound a bit like a lame excuse “Oh, it was right when we did it, people must have changed their minds”.

To conclude there was late swing I’d want to see some pretty conclusive evidence. The inquiry team looked, but didn’t find any. Changes from the penultimate to final polls suggested any ongoing movement was towards Labour, not the Conservatives. A weighted average of re-contact surveys found change of only 0.6% from Lab to Con (and that was including some re-contacts from late campaign surveys, rather than final call surveys. Including only re-contact of final call surveys the average movement was towards Labour)

There probably weren’t any Shy Tories

“Shy Tories” is the theory that people who were not natural Tories were reluctant to admit to interviewers (or perhaps even to themselves!) that they were going to vote Conservative. If people had lied during the election campaign but admitted it afterwards, this would have shown up as late swing and it did not. This leaves the possibility that people lied before the election and consistently lied afterwards as well. This is obviously very difficult to test conclusively, but the inquiry team don’t believe the circumstantial evidence supports it. Not least, if there was a problem with shy Tories we could reasonably have expected polls conducted online without a human interviewer to have shown a higher Tory vote – they did not.

Turnout models weren’t that good, but it didn’t cause the error

Most pollsters modelled turnout using a simple method of asking people how likely they were to vote on a 0-10 scale. The inquiry team tested this by looking at whether people in re-contact surveys reported actually voting. For most pollsters this didn’t work out that well, however, it it was not the cause of the error – the inquiry team re-ran the data replacing pre-election likelihood to vote estimates with whether people reported actually voting after the election and they were just as wrong. As the inquiry team put it – if pollsters had known in advance which respondents would and would not vote, they would not have been any more accurate.

Differential turnout – that Labour voters were more likely to say they were going to vote and then fail to do so – was also dismissed as a factor. Voter validation tests (checking poll respondents against the actual marked register) did not suggest Labour voters were any more likely to lie about voting than Tory voters.

Note that in this sense turnout is about the difference between people *saying* they’ll vote (and pollsters estimates of if they’ll vote) and whether they actually do. That didn’t cause the polling error. However, the polling error could still have been caused by samples containing people who are too likely to vote, something that is an issue of turnout but which comes under the heading of sampling. It’s the difference between having young non-voters in your samples and them claiming they’ll vote when they won’t, and not having them in your sample to begin with.

Lots of other things that people have suggested were factors, weren’t factors

The inquiry put to bed various other theories too – postal votes were not the problem (samples contained the correct proportion of them), excluding overseas voters was not the problem (there are only 0.2% of the electorate), voter registration was not the problem (in the way it showed up it would have been functionally identical to misreporting of turnout – people who told pollsters they were going to vote, but did not – for the narrow purpose of polling error it doesn’t matter why they didn’t vote).

The main cause of the error was unrepresentative samples

The reason the polls got it wrong in 2015 was the sampling. The BPC inquiry team reached this conclusion to begin with by using the Sherlock Holmes method – eliminating all the other possibilities, leaving just one which must be true. However they also had positive evidence to back up the conclusion – the first is the comparison with the random probability surveys conducted by the BES and BSA later in the year, where past recall more closely resembled the actual election result, the second are some observable shortcomings within the samples. The age distribution within bands was off, the geographical distribution of the vote was wrong (polls underestimated Tory support more in the South East and East). Most importantly in my view, polling samples contained far too many people who vote, particularly among younger people – presumably because they contain people too engaged and interested in politics. Note that these aren’t necessarily the specific sample errors that caused the error: the BPC team cited them as evidence that sampling was off, not as the direct causes.

In the final polls there was no difference between telephone and online surveys

Looking at the final polls there was no difference at all between telephone and online surveys. The average Labour lead in the final polls was 0.2% in phone polls, and 0.2% in online polls. The average error compared to the final result was 1.6% for phone polls and 1.6% for online polls.

However, at points during the 2010-2015 Parliament there were differences between the modes. In the early part of the Parliament online polls were more favourable towards the Conservatives, for a large middle part of the Parliament phone polls were more favourable, during 2014 the gap disappeared entirely, phone polls started being more favourable towards the Tories during the election campaign, but came bang into line for the final polls. The inquiry suggest that could be herding, but that there is no strong reason to expect mode effects to be stable over time anyway – “mode effects arise from the interaction of the political environment with the various errors to which polling methods are prone. The magnitude and direction of these mode effects in the middle of the election cycle may be quite different to those that are evident in the final days of the campaign.”

The inquiry couldn’t rule out herding, but it doesn’t seem to have caused the error

That brings us to herding – the final polls were close to each other. To some observers they looked suspiciously close. Some degree of convergence is to be expected in the run to the election, many pollsters increased their sample sizes for their final polls so the variance between figures should be expected to fall. However, even allowing for that polls were still closer than would have been expected. Several pollsters made changes to their methods during the campaign and these did explain some of the convergence. It’s worth noting that all the changes increased the Conservative lead – that is, they made the polls *more* accurate, not less accurate.

The inquiry team also tested to see what the result would have been if every pollster had used the same method. That is, if you think pollsters had deliberately chosen methodological adjustments that made their polls closer to each other, what if you strip out all those individual adjustments? Using the same method across the board the results would have ranged from a four point Labour lead to a two point Tory lead. Polls would have been more variable… but every bit as wrong.

How the pollsters should improve their methods

Dealing with the main crux of the problem, unrepresentative samples, the inquiry have recommended that pollsters take action to improve how representative their samples are within their current criteria, and to investigate potential new quotas and weights that correlate with the sort of people who are under-represented in polls, and with voting intention. They are not prescriptive as to what the changes might be – on the first point they float possibilities about longer fieldwork and more callbacks in phone polls, and more incentives for under-represented groups in online polls. For potential new weighting variables they don’t suggest much at all, worrying that if such variables existed pollsters would already be using them, but we shall see what changes pollsters end up making to their sampling to address these recommendations.

The inquiry also makes some recommendations about turnout, don’t knows and asking if people have voted by post already. These seem perfectly sensible recommendations in themselves (especially asking if people have already voted by post, which several pollsters already do anyway), but given none of these things contributed to the error in 2015 they are more improvements for the future than addressing the failures of 2015.

And how the BPC should improve transparency

If the recommendations for the pollsters are pretty vague, the recommendations to the BPC are more specific, and mostly to do with transparency. Pollsters who are members of the BPC are already supposed to be open about methods, but the inquiry suggest they change the rules to make this more explicit – pollsters should give the exact variables and targets they weight to, and flag up any changes they make to their methods (the BPC are adopting these changes forthwith). They also make recommendations about registering polls and providing microdata to help any future inquiries, and for changes in how confidence margins are reported in polls. The BPC are looking at exactly how to do that in due course, but I think I’m rather less optimistic than the inquiry team about the difference it will make. The report says “Responsible media commentators would be much less inclined, however, to report a change in party support on the basis of one poll which shows no evidence of statistically significant change.” Personally I think *responsible* media commentators are already quite careful about how they report polls, the problem is that not all media commentators are responsible…

There’s no silver bullet

The inquiry team don’t make recommendations for specific changes that would have corrected the problems and don’t pretend there is an easy solution. Indeed, they point out that even the hugely expensive “gold standard” BES random probability surveys still managed to get the Conservatives and UKIP shares of the vote outside of the margin of error. They do think there are improvements that can be made though – and hopefully there are (hopefully the changes that some pollsters have already introduced are improving matters already). They also say it would be good if stakeholders were more realistic about the limits of polling, of how accurately it is really possible to measure people’s opinions.

Polling accuracy shouldn’t be black and white. It shouldn’t be a choice between “polls are the gospel truth” and “polls are worthless, ignore them all”. Polls are a tool, with advantages and limitations. There are limits on how well we can model and measure the views of a complex and mobile society, but that should be a reason for caveats and caution, not a reason to give up. As I wrote last year despite the many difficulties there are in getting a representative sample of the British public, I still think those difficulties are surmountable, and that ultimately, it’s still worth trying to find out and quantify what the public think.

151 Responses to “What the BPC inquiry’s final report says”

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  1. I won’t read the report as I have this from you Anthony. Thank you.

    I agree with your last paragraph. In the search for improvement, one does not achieve it by not searching. Keep up the good work.

  2. @Graham/ChrisLane

    The 1959 General Election was a little before my time in terms of the dawn of my political awareness, as I suspect it may have been for both of you too, so I suspect we’re all dependent on received wisdom from historians for our various interpretations of the election result. Notwithstanding the points you both raise, I think a period of sustained prosperity for the many might have contributed to MacMillan’s success; the never had it so good years in his own words. Rising living standards for the majority in never a bad political backdrop for electoral success.

    Looking back at that era, it is ironic to see electorally successful Tory Prime Ministers running mixed economies where most of the key industries were nationalised and them all carrying on with the benign, enabling state bequeathed to them in Attlee’s post war settlement. The centre of political gravity was much more to the left then and politicians like Farage, and maybe even Boris Johnson, would have appeared as ludicrous oddities rather than mainstream politicians. Corbyn would have been regarded as a Bevanite, part of a respected and well populated strand of thinking within Labour, and.not the loony lefty now roundly lampooned and traduced

    This political, economic and social consensus, as we know, carried on through Wilson, Heath and Callaghan until it all changed, changed utterly, under the decade of Thatcherism. That reset all our watches and no politician, of left or right, has dared change or challenge its basic tenets. This is where I had some sympathy for Blair’s New Labour government. Yes, maybe it was too timid and cautious and fatally misread its mandate, but surely it was impossible for them to land in the nation that Thatcher had created and suddenly recalibrate that society from a strictly left wing perspective. Trade union legislation? Home ownership? Public ownership? Those ships had long since sailed and Blair, like Churchill, Eden, MacMillan and Home before him, had to largely accept a fundamentally different consensus in which to govern.

    In fairness to Blair’s time in government, he changed the country irreversibly in many ways that the Coalition and this Tory Government have been forced to live with, either happily or unhappily. That’s how politics tends to work. Context and time is everything and it’s foolish to judge a government on circumstances that applied 30 or more years before. This is essential the Wilsonian guide to politics. The art of the possible.

  3. @Crossbatt
    I totally endorse your comments re-1959 but have reservations regarding Blair in 1997. Just as the Tories did denationalise steel post -1951, so Labour could in the 1997 Parliament have renationalised the railways and introduced a higher tax rate of 50%.I am sure the country was in the mood for a much greater reversal of Thatcher/Major than Blair was even inclined to contemplate , and his electoral mandate was much stronger than that enjoyed by the Tories at anytime during the 1950s. His failure to do so , I strongly believe, contributed a great deal to the collapse in turnout in 2001 when the electorate had no wish to see the Tories back but had lost much of their enthusiasm for Labour.

  4. What a nail-biter in the cricket…

  5. We’re into history now, but I would say the Atlee government had huge achievements to show – The NHS above all in 1948, and the extension of education through the 1944 Butler Education Act [R.A. Butler’s autobiography was called The Art of the Possible if I recall correctly from my library days, but the quote is from Bismarck].

    Wilson and his colleagues pushed through many liberal reforms, abolition of the death penalty, reform of the law on homosexuality and on abortion.

    I feel we are a bit too close to the Blair-Brown years, which after all ended only six years ago. My guess is that Blair was only too aware that Labour had lost in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992 and could do so again.

    There have been large changes since the 1990s, and certainly since the immediate post-war years. Personally I think all parties need to develop a narrative that recognises realities like Internet shopping, a large middle class and still fairly wide home ownership, and at the least a lack of expansion of heavy industry and then look forward not backward.

    I am looking forward to the elections next month when we can start to see what the new political landscape looks like.

  6. @Carfew
    “What a nail-biter in the cricket…”

    Wonderful game. Stunning finish. I suspect Carlos Brathwaite will be able to dine out on that for the rest of his career.

  7. Will the Panama Papers have an effect on the polls?

    Probably only in democracies like Iceland.

  8. @Alister1948

    …… and still fairly wide home ownership…..

    This is rapidly diminishing for very many young people, and unless wages are much higher, houses are much cheaper and accrued student debt decreases, it will get worse.

  9. I don’t think people realise the predicament Blair was in on taking power. After 18 years of Tory rule, what people were clamouring for was more neoliberalism. The reason Labour’s vote share fell in subsequent elections is that they weren’t being neoliberal enough.

    It wasn’t that the left vote was split and Tory vote had already collapsed before Blair took over, no, the country had been transformed by Thatcherism and everyone was clamouring for more banking deregulation and were soon wondering why Blair hadn’t sold the Post Office off yet.

    /Blairite goggles

  10. @RAF

    Yep, obviously sad to see England’s youngsters pipped at the post like that, after fighting so hard to get back into the game, but you have to hand it to Brathwaite in that final over, and nice for Windies to have summat in response to some of the criticism they’d been getting….

    Talk about rollercoaster of emotions though, from start to finish!!…

  11. CMJ

    “This is rapidly diminishing for very many young people, and unless wages are much higher, houses are much cheaper and accrued student debt decreases, it will get worse.”

    Presumably, if accrued student debt is a major factor, then there should be (at least in the future) a demonstrable difference between Scotland, NI and Wales on the one hand – and England (at least outwith the overheated SE) on the other?

  12. @Oldnat

    I’ll keep my eye on it and report back on in a few years ;-)

  13. @Oldnat

    Maybe all these baby boomers cashing out their pensions (and lucky them, they get pay higher rate tax on the withdrawal) might mitigate the problem.

  14. CMJ

    Things might get complicated by folk in the UK giving themselves (non-repayable) loans from their trusts in tax-havens, and using that cash to price others out of the housing market.

    Then there all the ex-pats having to buy houses in the UK, when they suffer forced repatriation from the EU after Brexit. :-)

  15. @ Catman

    Said (in the Times I think?) that cashing in pensions was exacerbating the problem.

    They’re using them to hoover up buy-to-let properties, reducing stock for first time buyers and pushing up prices.

  16. alister1948

    “We’re into history now”.

    Indeed. The interplay between societal norms on matters such as sexuality, the role of institutions such as churches, and other factors which were considered immutable back in the mid 20th century means that parties are seeking the votes of a very different group of people than 50 years ago.

    I don’t know the details of the NatCen research in England [1] but in Scotland, only a minority have any religious affiliation at all – and, of those, two-thirds never or only rarely attend services.

    Only 2 out of 6 political parties have “straight” leaders [2].

    I did note a headline saying that London had more religious people than elsewhere in England. An immigration factor?

    [2] “Straight” is used in the current parlance, not in terms of honesty! That’s probably little different from the proportion in the UK in the 1960s in either sense, but it wasn’t “admitted” then.

  17. “We’re into history now…”


    You say that like it’s a bad thing. At least with History we know what happened, as opposed to prediction.

    With Blair, it’s clear that peeps voted him in because having had their views on privatisation transformed utterly by Thatcher, people rejected the Tories because they feared they were about to undo Thatcher’s good work – even though privatisations etc. continued under Major, especially the popular rail thing – and now considered Labour as being the better choice in continuing her work.

    People were surprised and ecstatic to find the Blair was willing to countenance things even Thatcher didn’t dare to do, and hence rewarded Labour with increasing margins at the polls.

    Labour only finally got turfed out of office when Brown betrayed Thatcher’s legacy by bailing out the banks, whereas the now mostly staunchly neoliberal populace wanted the banks to be left to fail.

  18. /Blairite History

  19. “I’ll keep my eye on it and report back on in a few years ;-)”


    I think you’re supposed to make a prediction, because waiting to see what actually happens is “history” and therefore less reliable in some way.

  20. @oldnat

    The Panama Papers could have a few surprises for us but as things stand I can’t see them having an enormous effect on the polls. While all of the UK politicians named so far are Tories which possibly gives Labour something to play with, the highest profile one is our old mate Lord Ashcroft. I suspect that anyone who is familiar with the good Lord will be:

    a) unlikely to connect him with Cameron given the events of last year
    b) rather unsurprised at the allegations that Lord Ashcroft of Belize might be seeking to reduce his tax bill through offshore means!

    Will be interesting to see how/if the story develops though.

  21. @Catmanjeff “This [home ownership] is rapidly diminishing for very many young people, and unless wages are much higher, houses are much cheaper and accrued student debt decreases, it will get worse.”

    Completely agree. One answer is to build more houses, but most people mostly want them built somewhere else.

    On the other hand I am glad that society has changed for the better in other ways as per Oldnat’s comments. TV programmes like Inspector George Gently subtly (mostly) exposed the rather grimy reality behind the sugary facade of the supposedly perfect 1950s when you could leave your door unlocked etc etc….

    Come on Anthony,discover a poll quick.

  22. Alister
    “One answer is to build more houses, but most people mostly want them built somewhere else.”

    Another answer is to stop unfettered immigration and expel illegal immigrants thus reducing population and therefore demand for houses.

  23. Well whether we build more homes or reduce immigration it won’t be much use if retirees can then step in and hoover up the property with their pension pots…

  24. @Oldnat – “Will the Panama Papers have an effect on the polls?”

    It’s beginning to look like that. Although we are only a few hours into the scandal, this looks like a full on feeding frenzy and I’m getting the sense that we have potentially another expenses scandal news event emerging, but this time going far wider than just MPs.

    Already there are names of Tory donors, Lords and ex MPs being quoted, and I suspect we will see far more details affected all parties in due course.

    My expectation is that this won’t be a one party issue, although in the UK it will probably be more linked to Tories than anyone else, simply because very rich people tend to support them more than other parties, although I’m certain individuals with links to other parties will be implicated.

    Overall, I’d say this is great news for citizens, and polling wise, good news for Corbyn’s Labour, in general terms at least.

    The financial crash of 2007/08 was all about the complete failure of the prevailing market orthodoxy, of which the free movement of capital and extensive use of tax havens is a fundamental element. Tax havens are the reason why the rich have got richer and are capturing a progressively greater share of global wealth.

    I’m wont to optimism, but this maybe the spur that is needed for a final push to crack open the failed system, when we can stop blaming poor people on benefits for our financial woes and start seeing the workd the way it really is, where the hidden welfare for the super rich and criminally corrupt vastly outstrips anything the poor receive and acts as a deadweight around government’s necks.

    The more current politicians are discredited in the process the better, as far as I’m concerned.

  25. lister1948

    “Come on Anthony,discover a poll quick.”

    This do?


    (change since Feb in brackets)

  26. @ Alec

    I agree there is probably more mud that can stick to the Tories than some of the other parties, but how much damage they take will depend on how much the can deflect.

    However, already we have Phil Hammond positioning that the government are on the side of the good guys in an interview with the BBC this morning. I expect Osborne to try and link this to his much repeated claim to be generating tax income by cracking down on evasion/avoidance.

    On the flip side the list of names includes members of Cameron’s family.

    The spotlight might fall more on foreign dictators and criminality, more than domestic politics, and newspapers with wealthy owners might not be encouraged to pursue this too vigorously if their owners are themselves implicated.

  27. @Alec (11.21)

    Excellent post. Couldn’t agree more with your comments. Eagerly awaiting the next poll after the shenanigans of the last couple of weeks.

  28. As for the press picking up on it, the lead headline on the Telegraph site…

    “Live Panama Papers
    Tory peers, ex-MPs and party donors implicated in tax haven leak as David Cameron told to take ‘real action'”

  29. @Exileinyorks – certainly the detail regarding Cameron’s dad’s tax avoiding exploits are very murky.

    It looks like it’s a case of no actual illegality, but having your family fortune made via secrecy and tax havens just looks politically really, really bad.

    And it could get worse. The level of detail in these leaks is stunning, and we are now seeing minutes of management meetings of Cameron Snr’s companies being published. These include significant management meetings that took place in London, with some former HMRC inspectors saying that these make it very difficult to argue that control of the company lay outside the UK.

    If that is true, then the PM’s fathers company could be investigated by HMRC and subject to a monster tax bill……

  30. Re: Offshore tax havens.

    Just heard something quite extraordinary on The World At One.

    McDonnell being asked if UK Govts had done enough on this subject. Said, “To be fair to Labour, THEY (my emphasis) did…”

    “They”? Not “we”? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a senior member of a political party refer to his party in the third person.

  31. @ Alec

    One of the pleasing aspects of this leak is that HMRC have been quick off the mark in making appropriate sounding public statements. This will make it that much harder for inappropriate political interference.

    Let’s just hope HMRC are able to follow through properly behind the scenes.

  32. ‘We’re all in this together’, or as they say in Davos, ‘We’re all in Panama together’.

  33. 22:30 here.

    “…to give the Labour Party THEIR due, when THEY were in Govt…”

    Extraordinary choice of words.

  34. Thanks for poll Oldnat. Cons lead reduced by 37.5% shock !

    As for housing, what about all those 30 year-olds still living with their parents? They are the ones that suffer, but you will never satisfy quite everyone on housing.

    Shame I have to go out just as things are getting interesting. Financial scandals – not good for any government.


    “…to give the Labour Party THEIR due, when THEY were in Govt…”
    Extraordinary choice of words.

    Why? It’s a bit ambiguous but he’s clearly referring to the Labour Government of which he was not a member rather than the LPP of which he clearly was.

    Not that he’s correct factually, of course, as Labour under Blair/Brown were lackadaisical at best when dealing with tax dodging. But complaining about possessive articles is a bit silly and politically he’s correct in trying to distance himself. In reality he should have worried less about upsetting the Blairites (because they’ll whinge whatever) and tutted about them being bamboozled by the City.

  36. I think what is really excellent about this story is that it is truly global. from Iceland to Africa, acros Europe and the America’s, with China and Russia embroiled too, it’s apparent that this isn’t a national issue, but the global 99% against the utter greed and selfishness of the 1%, whether they are corrupt politicians, conniving bankers and lawyers or plain old fashioned criminals.

    On matters of tax regulation, individual actions by states is difficult in isolation, but the hope must be that this story helps move things forward, as it’s now clear that all normal states and their citizens have much to gain from outlawing tax havens.

  37. Alec

    I would not hold your breath about this changing anything. It has been known for a long time to the population of a lot of countries that they are ruled by kleptocrats, but they have no means of removing them.

  38. Alec

    Actually, I can think of an exception which would be the end of the Italian First Republic after the tangentopoly scandals.

    Of course, the political class in that case was replaced by Silvio Berlusconi. At least that cut out the middle men!

  39. I’m a bit puzzled by the hysteria about tax avoidance. Don’t we all do it? Most people put money into ISAs rather than ordinary savings accounts. Many will pay workmen in cash to avoid VAT (which is actually tax evasion). Rich people just have more complicated schemes because they have more money than an ISA will take.

    If any of us earned a million a year, would we rather pay £400,000 in tax or arrange our affairs to pay less?

    However I expect the story to continue. It will be interesting to see if it appears to affect the polls.

  40. @Pete B

    There are many behaviours which are legal, but nonetheless heading towards the sociopathic.

    For example it may be legal to sell summat to someone vulnerable that they don’t need. But it’s not something everyone would do.

    Anyways, there are tax exemptions intended to encourage positive behaviour, like saving or business investment.

    Some of these exemptions can be subverted to pay less tax, while not necessarily providing the intended benefit.

    Some people will undertake such behaviour, some wouldn’t dream of it.

    Some get caught out and change their behaviour, (e.g. Mr Carr).

  41. Carfrew
    That’s a bit vague. I know some of these schemes are complicated, but can you give an example of a tax exemption that can be subverted?

    Otherwise, it smacks of “I resent rich people having more money than me, and they should pay more tax than they already do”. Don’t forget, if someone has £10,000 of taxable income he will pay £2,000 income tax, while someone with £100,000 would pay £20,000 even at the same rate of tax, so in most cases they are already paying far more than ordinary Joes.

    However I’m sure we won’t agree on this, and it’s straying away from the purpose of the site, so let’s just say that it will be interesting to see whether polls are affected.

  42. I am not most people. I have always paid all I owed. Most do, hence the outrage many rightly feel.

    And yes if I earned a mil a year I would pay happily.

  43. @Pete B –

    “Most people put money into ISAs rather than ordinary savings accounts.”

    This isn’t tax avoidance – ISA’s aren’t taxed, so there is no tax avoidance.

    “Many will pay workmen in cash to avoid VAT (which is actually tax evasion).”

    Many might, but many others wouldn’t. I don’t.

    “Rich people just have more complicated schemes because they have more money than an ISA will take.”

    Again, please don’t equate legal, untaxed ISA’s with illicit deals in tax havens designed to evade legitimate tax. Tax specialist Jolyon Maugham QC said today that the only real reason for hiding money in Panama is to avoid paying tax and is therefore almost certain breaking the law. That is not the same as using an ISA.

    “If any of us earned a million a year, would we rather pay £400,000 in tax or arrange our affairs to pay less?”

    If I took home £600,000 a year I would be very happy. I don’t understand what’s wrong with people who don’t understand how much money that is. There’s something wrong with them.

  44. @Pete B

    Lol, didn’t take you long to bring the politics of envy ad hominem in.

    No, it has nothing to do with that. That’s just projection. It’s not uncommon for those who are plagued with envy to project it on others. There are other perfectly legitimate concerns about people gaming the system.

    Including the detrimental effects of growing inequality, and foregoing money that might be used for worthy things like investing in education, caring for the disabled.

    As for examples, others are more up on the dodgy schemes than me, but an example might be the case Oldnat cited earlier, of people evading tax by peeps setting up vehicles to give themselves loans that are never intended to be repaid.

    Or you might look into the scheme Jimmy Carr was part of and then rejected which hit the news a while back.

    Just to highlight how this isn’t envy, having been to Oxford I’ve naturally known people who went into careers that earned a fair whack. Eg the merchant banker who wouldn’t buy privatisation shares on principle, despite knowing they’d make a fair bit. Others didn’t go down the carpet bagging road with the building societies either, again despite being aware it’d make a fair bit…

  45. Alec

    “If I took home £600,000 a year I would be very happy”

    But you aren’t in the market for a “a quirky pied-a-terre” one bed flat in Mayfair, London for £1.8 million (in addition to your house in the Bahamas and that rather nice yacht).

  46. @Pete B

    As it happens I don’t see any reason why fundamentally we couldn’t reach agreement. And as it happens, I’d be all for more tax breaks, for suitably desirable things. And even for big awards to some.

    I think it’s pretty crazy that someone like Whittle, never made much from inventing the jet engine, one of THE inventions of the last century.

    Because he gave it away for the war effort. They gave him a small sum many years later, but he shoulda gotten rather more. Especially given that he had a couple of breakdowns rushing to make it work.

    But then, he wasn’t that motivated by money, but by making a genuine contribution…

  47. Alec

    Tax specialist Jolyon Maugham QC said today that the only real reason for hiding money in Panama is to avoid paying tax and is therefore almost certain breaking the law.

    I thought the piece on his blog explaining why was very illuminating

    For the purposes of UK tax law, most tax havens are the same. There is no magic effective in UK tax terms that can only be performed in Panama. Moreover, Panama is not next door. It is not a British tax haven with the comforting familiarity such brings. It does not enjoy an especial reputation for trust and solidity.

  48. Meanwhile for anyone waiting round for a poll here is the Opinium one from the Observer yesterday (f/w 29 Mar – 01 Apr):

    Con 33% (-2)

    Lab 32% (-)

    Lib Dem 5% (-)

    UKIP 17% (-)

    SNP 6% (-)

    PC 1% (-)

    Green 4% (+1)

    Other 2% (+1)

    Changes are from figures calculated from cross-tabs on previous Opinium poll shown for EU Ref only (9-12 Feb):


    Interestingly not only were the Feb VI figures not shown and unreported by the Observer, but the latest VI also seems to have gone unmentioned. Anything that might contradict the anti-Corbyn narrative in even the slightest way must be ignored – even if you commissioned it.

  49. Evening All

    I do remember 1959 GE.
    I think Bevan was still an issue in swing seats in SE and Midland Seats.
    His rhetoric still haunted the Party, both the vermin speech, and the Suez Speech in London, when troops were off to fight.
    Memories were not so short, and party disunity was still remembered.

    Bevan was popular with many party activists but was scary to non tribal folk, I think Attlee used to plead with ‘Nye’ to tone it all down.

    Hello to you. How does Corbyn compare with Ed Miliband in April 2011 in terms of poll figures?
    Those Lib Dem figures are significant I think.

  50. @Alec
    ‘“Most people put money into ISAs rather than ordinary savings accounts.”
    This isn’t tax avoidance – ISA’s aren’t taxed, so there is no tax avoidance.’

    If you choose to put money into an ISA rather than a savings account you are avoiding tax on the interest that you would have had to pay. Therefore you are avoiding tax, which in my view is a synonym for tax avoidance.

    I seem to remember that there was a famous Scottish judgement which said something to the effect of ‘No man should feel that he has to arrange his affairs in order to pay as much tax as possible’. Perhaps one of our Caledonian contributors could elaborate?

    I do agree with those say that some of the elaborate schemes are morally dubious, but that’s not the same as illegal. What is needed is firstly some way of distinguishing between ordinary tax avoidance such as ISAs and these schemes. I’ve heard the term ‘aggressive tax avoidance’ used. Secondly, HMRC needs to tighten up on which schemes they allow, and which they don’t. I believe that they are trying to do this.

    Anyway, back to polling. Could the poll cited by Roger Mexico be an early sign that polling is being affected by this story or was the fieldwork too early?

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