by Stephen Tall on April 10, 2015
To the denizens of Denne in the district of Horsham, please consider lending me your vote on 7th May 2015…
AS FEATURED IN THE WEST SUSSEX COUNTY TIMES (2 April 2015):
by Stephen Tall on April 8, 2015
by Stephen Tall on April 8, 2015
(You can read Europe and the Election (1): Blair’s back, but wrong here.)
Nicola Sturgeon has taken some stick today for hinting the SNP might call for another independence referendum in their 2016 Scottish parliament manifesto, despite Alex Salmond having previously said last September’s vote was a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Cue critics taunting the SNP for pushing a ‘neverendum’ of plebiscites until they get the result they want.
But there is a perfectly principled reason why Nicola Sturgeon might want to insert a commitment to a future referendum — it’s contained within Donald Macintyre’s (excellent) article in today’s Independent:
Consider the consequences if the UK splits over EU membership, with Scotland voting yes, say, but a UK majority voting no. By now Sturgeon is likely to have led the SNP to victory in the 2016 elections and a fresh mandate for full home rule at least, and independence at most. It’s hard to imagine anything that would give her a greater casus belli for – or in – another independence referendum than a decision to withdraw from the EU against Scotland’s will. Indeed, independence would be a necessary condition of Scotland’s staying in Europe.
In such a by-no-means-impossible-to-imagine scenario of the voters of England deciding in 2017 the UK should withdraw from the EU, against the wishes of the voters of Scotland, how could anyone reasonably object to the Scots deciding if they want to remain in an EU-less UK or instead opt to become an independent nation within the EU?
by Stephen Tall on April 8, 2015
(You can read Europe and the Election (2): In defence of Nicola Sturgeon here.)
Europe, until yesterday, was the dog that hadn’t barked in this drab election campaign — a campaign in which, for all the media-saturation, journalists seem content to remain as process-obsessed, poll-watching by-standers.
But then Tony Blair spoke up, presumably as Europe is one of the few issues on which he can wholeheartedly back Ed Miliband’s handling of the issue as Labour leader. His speech is notable for actually dealing with a Big Issue in a mature way: fluently setting out arguments, which are very clearly ones he believes in, and without being prompted by internal polling. Listening, you could understand why Cameron and Osborne once called him the Master.
And yet… His arguments are (unusually, for him) quite flimsy. For example, he claims a Tory election win, leading to an in/out EU referendum, “will, for the first time since we joined Europe after years of trying unsuccessfully to do so, put exit on the agenda.” For the first time? Seriously? An EU exit is on the agenda, like it or not. It’s how we respond to the debate that matters now, not trying to maintain with a straight face no-one wants the debate.
It may pain Mr Blair to admit it, but the reality remains that David Cameron is currently the only political leader who stands a chance of leading a pro-EU campaign to victory — but, to do that, he had no choice but to promise to hold a referendum. If he was in Mr Cameron’s shoes he’d have done exactly the same.
How do I know? Because we’ve been here before. In 2004, Mr Blair hastily U-turned-on-a-cent when supporting a referendum on the EU constitution simply to spike the guns of Michael Howard’s 2004 Tory European campaign (incidentally, thereby handing Ukip its first major electoral breakthrough). So having a pop at the Tories for putting party before nation is just a little bit rich.
Another Blair argument is also pretty specious if you think about it for a moment: “Apparently we should have a referendum because its 40 years since we last had a vote. That is seriously an argument for doing something of this magnitude and risk? A sort of ‘keeping us on our toes’ thing? So should we do the same for NATO?” This ignores three things. First, our membership of the EU was confirmed through a referendum (thanks to a Labour government). Secondly, the EU impacts on our daily lives in a way that NATO quite obviously doesn’t. And, thirdly, the role and function of the EU has markedly changed in the intervening four decades.
My relationship status with Tony Blair should read “It’s complicated”.
I voted for him to be Labour leader in the 1994 contest. I voted for New Labour in 1997, my first general election as a voter. In many ways, I remain a (liberal) Blairite: I want fairness in my market economics and some healthy discipline in my well-funded public services. However, I also want transparently accountable, locally devolved, government — which increasingly Mr Blair regarded as a time-wasting distraction. And while I’m a fully signed-up liberal interventionist, like my CentreForum friend Nick Tyrone, I thought Mr Blair patently failed his own 1999 Chicago tests in setting out the case for declaring war against Iraq.
Still, for all his flaws, it was good to see Mr Blair back centre stage. He’s only 61, has much still to contribute to British public life and our politics has been poorer for his absence.
by Stephen Tall on April 4, 2015
Congratulations to George Murray, whose Marauding Fullbacks lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 30, and appear to be (like Chelsea) destined for ultimate victory. George is now 70 points clear of second-placed Mark Widdop’s inaccurately-named Midtable Obscurity, with just eight weeks of the season remaining.
But let’s also hear it for a couple of players outside the top 10: Lucy Keating’s Athletico Spizz 14 had the best week’s performance, with 93 points. An honourable mention goes to James Borg’s Borgy Boys, who scored 92.
There are 161 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.
by Stephen Tall on April 2, 2015
Right at the top, I want to say I’m a fan of Lord Ashcroft’s seat-specific polling.
It would’ve been easy for him as a Conservative peer to calibrate his constituency surveys deliberately to undermine the Lib Dems — already written off by chunks of the media — by ignoring the local incumbency factor which plays well to the party’s Stakhanovite MPs. The fact that he prompts the electorate to think specifically about how they’ll vote in their local contest is to his very real credit.
However, in his ConservativeHome write up of his latest polling, which returned to eight key Lib Dem battlegrounds, Lord Ashcroft said something a bit silly:
I have not gone so far as to name individual candidates, as the Lib Dems do in their own private polling. Doing so usually boosts the Lib Dem vote share (especially when, as in the Lib Dems’ research, the voting intention question is preceded by a warm-up question asking whether the respondent has a favourable opinion of the incumbent, of whose name they are reminded). Whether this produces a more accurate assessment of real voting intentions is a different question. Indeed I have coined the term “comfort polling” to describe the practice of parties conducting research in such a way as to maximise their own apparent vote share.
His taunt of “comfort polling” is (intentionally) loaded. But it’s an accusation that badly mis-fires.
I don’t think there has ever been an election campaign when the Lib Dems have been quite so ruthless in their targeting strategy, calculating on which seats to focus their finite resources. The party’s private polling (along with hard data on local campaigning activity) is a key factor in making the decision about where to direct resources. Indeed, the party has never before spent this much (£350,000) on its polling operation. So Lord Ashcroft’s notion that it’s all being done simply to make people feel better is as wide of the mark as it’s possible to be.
There is of course a legitimate debate about whether Lord Ashcroft’s methodology or the Lib Dems’ is most likely to be accurate, fairly captured by Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report:
The Lib Dems criticised the poll for not including candidate names, saying this would have boosted Clegg. Lord Ashcroft pre-empted the criticism by saying that he already asked the constituency specific question and feared putting candidate names in the question would give too much prominence to that as a factor and would risk showing too much of a candidate effect. Both are perfectly justifiable arguments – the reality is we don’t know. Constituency polls have been very rare in the past, so we don’t have lots of constituency polls with and without candidate prompting from previous elections that we can compare to results to make a judgement. There is simply no evidence that would allow us to judge whether candidate prompting in constituency polling is less or more accurate.
Anthony’s right: there is no evidence.
So if only — if only — there were a pollster out there with considerable private resources willing to ask questions simply out of curiosity. If there were such a figure, s/he could undertake a split test in a handful of constituencies, using both Lord Ashcroft’s seat-specific question as well as the Lib Dems’ named-candidate question. We could then find out what the difference is, and see (come May 7th) which appears to be the better predictor.
Over to you, Lord Ashcroft…
by Stephen Tall on April 1, 2015
Somehow – in spite of now having fixed-term parliaments and five years to prepare for it – the media still seems woefully unprepared for this election campaign.
Oh, sure, there’s loads of quick-fire reaction to the furore de jour. Will today’s letter from businesspeople endorsing the Tories boost them? Will actor Martin Freeman’s election broadcast for Labour boost them? Who’s standing at which podium in Thursday night’s seven-way leaders’ debate and what does that mean? Et cetera, ad nauseum.
And we’re drowning in polling numbers, with journos re-inventing themselves as pseudo-social scientists desperately trying to amp-up movements within the margin of error. It’s perhaps no surprise that The Sunday Times should have trashed its own reputation by splashing on one, single poll showing a Labour lead which it attributed to a no-score-draw debate watched by few undecided voters; it’s more of a surprise they should’ve tempted the usually ultra-wise Peter Kellner to extrapolate accordingly when subsequent polls showed no such shift (except perhaps, marginally, to the Tories).
Missing in Action is any real analysis of the Big Issues or any serious challenge to the platitudes offered by the parties. Five years ago, in April 2010, I noted the IFS’s warning that “No party has yet set out anything like enough public spending cuts to meet their objectives of cutting the deficit.” They got away with it then and are probably going to get away with it again this time.
On Sunday, Iain Duncan Smith was flagrant in his disregard for levelling with the public about future cuts to the welfare bill: “[Voters] know for certain that we are going to save that £12bn. We may, we may not, decide that it’s relevant to put something out there about some of those changes.” So, if you’re one of the working poor, or disabled, or ill, or a carer, or a pensioner they’ll keep you guessing what they have planned for you. Actually scratch that… if you’re a pensioner you’re probably safe. After all, you vote.
Meanwhile Labour is pursuing its monotonous scaremongering campaign, desperate to convince the public the NHS is being privatised (it’s not) with the sole purpose of using the distortion to rally its vote. Maybe it’ll persuade actor Michael Sheen, albeit at the price of reducing the state’s capacity to help sick people get better.
Both parties’ campaigns have fundamental flaws.
The Tories are maintaining the fiction their economic policies can generate a budget surplus at the same time as they cut middle-class taxes and protect key public services.
Labour is maintaining the fiction they can improve public services now the Blairite ruse of buying off public sector opposition to much-needed reforms has been bankrupted by the financial crisis.
In a rational world, the news media would spend the next 36 days challenging the parties on behalf of the public to square these circles, reconciling their impossible policy paradoxes. But that’s hard work.
And besides the voters’ attention span is short. Which story will you tune into (be honest): an analysis of the parties’ contrasting deficit reduction plans, or a chuckle-splash on Joey Essex’s faux-naïve reportage?
You may have noticed I’ve not so far mentioned my own party, the Lib Dems. That’s because I stand by what I said three weeks ago: while neither Labour nor the Tories deserve to win, we don’t deserve to lose. Its why I’ve put myself forward for election to my local council in May. It’s easy to get behind a party in the good times, but they really need the help during the tough times. This is one of those.