Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Ignore the polls; it’s the economy stupid!

I have posted my first blog entry on the Wardman Wire. You can see it here - or read on below...

The past few months have seen the opinion polls embark on something of a rollercoaster. First Cameron was flying high with a 10 point lead, then over night Brown has turned the tables and Labour were flying high with the 10 point lead. Bizarrely, not only the parties themselves got carried away with these polls, but the media did too – even the so called “broadsheets”. What they have failed to do is look behind the figures and realise the old saying – “lies, damn lies and statistics”.

When the Tories were flying high in the polls earlier this year, people looked at me like I had just told them that the Earth is actually flat after all and the moon really is made of cheese as I said that I still felt Labour would win the next election. I don’t blame them either. Looking at the stats, they were consistently polling about 9-10% ahead of Labour and the media was all talking about the fresh faced boy Cameron, the war in Iraq and the forthcoming dour Scot, Gordon Brown as PM. Then that dour Scot became PM, the Tories started talking about Grammar schools and taxation and suddenly Cameron’s position as leader was in question and the Tories may never be in a position to form a government again… apparently. Then again this weekend, ICM produce a poll that narrows the Labour lead to 5%. Conservative Home believe it would be even less in the aftermath of the Liverpool shootings. The Brown Bounce is settling down and the polls should respond accordingly – that is to say we should get a better view of what the electorate think in the coming months. The best snap shot we have had since the previous election. The truth is these polls are virtually meaningless when it comes to predicting the next election result. They are indicators of what the general public think on a given day. Hence with Iraq and Blair in charge, the Tory lead was inflated. When Brown took charge, the positive news coverage and Tory infighting inflated the Labour lead. So what we read in to these polls, if anything, about what will happen? A fair bit, I suggest – and it doesn’t make good reading for the Tories.

When the Tories were polling their 10 point lead back in the first part of 2007, I was not even slightly convinced that it meant anything but a Labour victory, even if there was a poll that day. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, a general election grossly favours the incumbent. Power has changed hands at Westminster five times in the past half century. Each time, the victorious party, coming to power from opposition, has scored at least 50% at some point in the previous parliament. The Tories has only just about managed 40%. Prior to 1997, for example, Labour was polling a massive 67% with some pollsters – yet still only got 44% on the big day. This is probably largely because, when it comes down to it, the electorate stick with what they know. I think this will be even more true today than it has ever been given the subtleties between the two major parties.

Secondly, the system is massively weighted towards Labour at present – even with the new boundary changes. For the Tories to even think about forming an overall majority they need to be polling in the double figures ahead of labour. If they can only just about manage this at a time of there being a lame duck PM, the Iraq war and negativity towards the coronation of a new Scottish PM, then they are unlikely to be able to pull anything out of the bag on the day. The best the Tories can hold out for is a hung parliament – though they will still need in the region of a 5 point lead to even get this.

The only time the Tories have consistently led in the polls prior to earlier this year was way back in 1990 when Major took over as PM. He was flying high in the polls for three years. Then came Black Wednesday and Labour haven’t looked back since. It’s not a change of leader, or foreign policy or the environment that wins elections; it’s the economy, stupid. In my humble opinion, Labour will be on course for a fourth election win in the next 12 months and nothing can stop them. Except the economy.

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