LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 15

by Stephen Tall on December 13, 2014

Congratulations to George Murray, who has re-gained the lead from Jon Featonby in the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 15. But it’s tight at the top: just four points separate them… almost a two-horse race, you might say.

This week will be a test for many of us, as sure-fire points-winner Sergio Agüero is ruled-out with injury for several games. Me, I’ve swapped him for Andy Carroll. This is the kind of decision which may explain why I’m languishing in mid-table obscurity (unlike third-placed Mark Widdop).

LDV FANTASY FOOTBALL_15

There are 157 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

My must-reads this week December 12, 2014

by Stephen Tall on December 12, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

Chart of the day: “there are no cases of a Labour opposition gaining ground over the final six months”

by Stephen Tall on December 12, 2014

Some fascinating analysis from polling buff Lewis Baston over at ConservativeHome:

polls six months out

 

Three key points stand out (to me):

Labour consistently end up winning fewer votes in the general election than the polls would have suggested six months in advance.

Governments gain more often than oppositions: if my Conservative-supporting readers want some comfort, there are no cases of a Labour opposition gaining ground over the final six months.

… people clearly do not abandon their flirtations with ‘minor’ parties and go back to the big two when the election draws near

But do go and read the full thing, not least for the deliciously depressing Gramsci pay-off.

Academisation or the Pupil Premium: what’s having most effect? 3 quick thoughts…

by Stephen Tall on December 11, 2014

The Department for Education today published Key Stage 2 performance tables, covering the attainment data for 11 year-old pupils. You can read the detail here, and below are three tables/graphs that stood out for me…

1) Let’s see how the Conservatives’ academisation programme – setting schools free from the dead-hand of local education authorities – is transforming results for primary school pupils…

academies v LEAs

Oh. It’s almost as if structures matter a whole lot less than standards. Who’d have thought? (For more on this from me, see “What should the political parties promise on education in 2015?” – What I told Policy Exchange….)

2) Some good news: there’s evidence of progress for the attainment of pupils from low-income backgrounds.

ks2 attainment for fsm

Understandably, and not unreasonably, Lib Dems are proclaiming the impact of the Pupil Premium. However, we need to be cautious: correlation does not imply causation.

3) The attainment gap between pupils from the least and most deprived backgrounds has continued to narrow, down from 22% in 2011 to 15% in 2014.

ks2 attainment for idaci

However, as you can see from the graph, the biggest single gap-narrowing took place in 2012, after just one full year of Pupil Premium when the per pupil value was modest. Since then, the gap has decreased but very slowly, down from 18% to 15%, even as the Pupil Premium has grown in value (over £1,300 per eligible primary school pupil).

For avoidance of doubt, I’m certainly not arguing against the Pupil Premium. I think it’s one of this Coalition’s most progressive policies. But expecting its impact to be sudden and dramatic is to over-hype it. What I suspect it has done is focus schools’ attention on the attainment gap and to address it in ways that go beyond, and do not depend on, the value of the Pupil Premium itself.

Why IDS is still in his job is revealing of Conservative attitudes to social security

by Stephen Tall on December 10, 2014

Iain Duncan SmithWhen Andrew Lansley’s health reforms ran into trouble – and his inability to take with him the public or those working in the NHS proved toxic – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Jeremy Hunt was brought in to make nice to the health sector and patients.

When Michael Gove’s education reforms started to run before they could walk – and his inability to take with him the public or the teachers proved toxic, especially in marginal constituencies – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Nicky Morgan was brought in to make nice to schools and parents.

Yet when Iain Duncan Smith’s social security reforms fall flat on their face – and his inability to admit the failure of both unpopular policies like the bedroom tax and administrative cock-ups such as universal credit becomes starker by the day – David Cameron keeps him in his post for a full parliament. No-one has yet been brought in to make nice to those who depend on social security.

Presumably this is because David Cameron reasons there are more votes to be won being seen to crack down on benefit claimants than in running the system fairly and well. But it re-inforces the impression that Conservatives care little for those who have little.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

At last I make the front cover of Private Eye

by Stephen Tall on December 10, 2014

More accurately, my colleagues at LibDemVoice made the front cover to say “So, farewell then” to me (not that I’ve gone quite yet)… Thank you, one and all: Caron, Ryan, Alex, Helen, Sara, Paul, Mary, Nick and Alan.

image

Two-party politics is dead: the Labservatives now trail the Other Parties

by Stephen Tall on December 9, 2014

ft other partiesThe FT Data blog charts the decline of The Parties Formerly Known As The Two Main Parties:

People in the UK are more likely to support a third party rather than vote Conservative or Labour in the general election next May, say pollsters YouGov.

As I wrote in July 2012 in a blog called How Jeremy Thorpe (and then Nick Clegg) broke the electoral system:

In short, two-party politics is dead. Unfortunately, we have a democratic system based on the assumption it isn’t. That’s not a good or healthy combination.

That’s still true.

Reasons to be careful about new analysis suggesting Lib Dems “set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict”

by Stephen Tall on December 9, 2014

A new analysis by Oxford academic Stephen Fisher (a member of the team which was behind the scarily accurate BBC/ITN exit poll at the 2010 election) douses the comfort blanket to which many of us Lib Dems have been clinging, suggesting as it does that the Lib Dems are losing more votes in our strongest seats:

The most significant factor affecting party performance at the constituency level is prior Liberal Democrat strength. … the Liberal Democrats are clearly loosing [sic] most in the seats where they started strongest and losing least where they started weakest. Partly this is inevitable. There are over 100 seats where the Lib Dems got less than 16% of the vote in 2010 and so their vote share cannot fall by this much. Moreover it is unlikely that the party will fall exactly to zero even where it does very badly. So if the GB polls are right overall, the Liberal Democrats must be falling more where they started stronger, and the BES data suggest the drop is broadly proportional to their prior strength. This mirrors the pattern of change at the local authority level at the European Parliament elections this year, adding confidence that the effect is real. The implications for Liberal Democrat seats are straightforward. If they are indeed losing most heavily in the seats they are defending they are set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict.

Cue this headline in The Guardian today: Liberal Democrats facing even bigger wipeout than expected.

This may turn out to be true: anyone predicting the next election with absolute certainty from where we are today is riding for a fall. However, there are good reasons to treat with some caution Dr Fisher’s analysis – and Newcastle academic Craig Johnson lists four of them over at his blog here:

1. The data in the [British Election Study] suggests, as have other polling companies, that Labour are set to be the biggest beneficiaries [of former Lib Dem support]. They can only have so much of an impact on Lib Dem seats, given that it is the Conservatives who are in second place in 37 of the Lib Dems’ incumbent seats.

(Agreed: and of course in those Lib Dem / Conservative battlegrounds, Ukip’s intervention is likely to hurt the Tories more. Lord Ashcroft’s polling points to Lib Dem support having fallen since 2010, but in many seats Tory support having fallen further: net result, a Lib Dem hold.)

2. Following on from above, there are a great many seats where the Lib Dems came second with a large share of the vote. In many of these seats, Lib Dem support in local elections has completely dropped off, whilst it has remained somewhat stronger in areas where they have MPs. It is perfectly possible that Lib Dems will lose a great share of the vote in 150-250 seats, but manage to hold on in a number of seats where they have MPs already.

(Agreed. At the last election, the Lib Dems came 1st or 2nd in almost 300 seats we were contesting – ie, almost half the UK constituencies – and I’d be amazed if the equivalent number was in triple-figures in 2015. I can think of a number of seats where the Lib Dems were runners-up to Labour last time where we are likely to collapse to fourth or even fifth this time around. To be clear, this is a major problem for the Lib Dems for the future. However, it is not in itself a problem which will cost us any seats in five months’ time.)

3. Fisher rightly recognises the importance of incumbency and local variation for the Lib Dems, but it is worth stating again. People’s responses, as outlined in polling by Michael Ashcroft, are much more positive for the Lib Dems when asked about constituency voting intention rather than national voting intention.

(Agreed. Dr Fisher suggests Lord Ashcroft’s polling, which asks voters to think specifically about their seat, is risky: “there is a danger that such prompting over-states incumbency advantage”. Perhaps. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Ashcroft’s polling doesn’t name the candidates. It is therefore just as plausible that it under-states incumbency.)

4. Local variation might well damage the Conservatives too. In many of the seats that the Conservatives might hope to take from the Lib Dems, they might find UKIP splitting their vote enough that the Lib Dems can cling on. Again, polling by Ashcroft would suggest this is currently the case.

(Agreed. Ashcroft’s most recent constituency polling showed the Lib Dem vote down 13% since 2010. However, the Conservative vote was also down, by 9%. (Labour and Ukip were up 4% and 13% respectively). Overall result: a clutch of tight Lib Dem holds.)

In his latest Liberal Democrat Newswire, Mark Pack gives his assessment:

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has now polled 38 Liberal Democrat held constituencies (counting Portsmouth South as Lib Dem held although its MP is now sitting as an independent), having started working his way up from the most marginal. In those seats, his polling finds the party ahead in 17, dead tied in two and behind in the others. … So a reasonable starting point in projecting seat numbers is to look at what happens if the party were to hold the seats not polled and those where it is currently tied or ahead. That would give the party 38 seats (important caveat – of which 11 are in Scotland). … [it is] quite plausible for the party to hope to end up with 40+ seats in the next Parliament and hence an almost inevitable share of power in another hung Parliament. Not guaranteed by any means, and getting comfortably into the 40s requires a bit of a following political wind (finally) for the party, but clearly possible, just as the number of small margins shows the possibility of a much worse result too.

A Lib Dem meltdown is possible; so, too, is a better-than-expected result. More likely, then, it will be somewhere inbetween. However, I’ll be very surprised if Stephen Fisher’s contention that the Lib Dem loss of seats will turn out to be “greater than the uniform swing would predict” comes true.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Reasons to be careful about new analysis suggesting Lib Dems “set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict”

by Stephen Tall on December 9, 2014

A new analysis by Oxford academic Stephen Fisher (a member of the team which was behind the scarily accurate BBC/ITN exit poll at the 2010 election) douses the comfort blanket to which many of us Lib Dems have been clinging, suggesting as it does that the Lib Dems are losing more votes in our strongest seats:

The most significant factor affecting party performance at the constituency level is prior Liberal Democrat strength. … the Liberal Democrats are clearly loosing [sic] most in the seats where they started strongest and losing least where they started weakest. Partly this is inevitable. There are over 100 seats where the Lib Dems got less than 16% of the vote in 2010 and so their vote share cannot fall by this much. Moreover it is unlikely that the party will fall exactly to zero even where it does very badly. So if the GB polls are right overall, the Liberal Democrats must be falling more where they started stronger, and the BES data suggest the drop is broadly proportional to their prior strength. This mirrors the pattern of change at the local authority level at the European Parliament elections this year, adding confidence that the effect is real. The implications for Liberal Democrat seats are straightforward. If they are indeed losing most heavily in the seats they are defending they are set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict.

Cue this headline in The Guardian today: Liberal Democrats facing even bigger wipeout than expected.

This may turn out to be true: anyone predicting the next election with absolute certainty from where we are today is riding for a fall. However, there are good reasons to treat with some caution Dr Fisher’s analysis – and Newcastle academic Craig Johnsons lists four of them over at his blog here:

1. The data in the [British Election Study] suggests, as have other polling companies, that Labour are set to be the biggest beneficiaries [of former Lib Dem support]. They can only have so much of an impact on Lib Dem seats, given that it is the Conservatives who are in second place in 37 of the Lib Dems’ incumbent seats.

(Agreed: and of course in those Lib Dem / Conservative battlegrounds, Ukip’s intervention is likely to hurt the Tories more. Lord Ashcroft’s polling points to Lib Dem support having fallen since 2010, but in many seats Tory support having fallen further: net result, a Lib Dem hold.)

2. Following on from above, there are a great many seats where the Lib Dems came second with a large share of the vote. In many of these seats, Lib Dem support in local elections has completely dropped off, whilst it has remained somewhat stronger in areas where they have MPs. It is perfectly possible that Lib Dems will lose a great share of the vote in 150-250 seats, but manage to hold on in a number of seats where they have MPs already.

(Agreed. At the last election, the Lib Dems came 1st or 2nd in almost 300 seats we were contesting – ie, almost half the UK constituencies – and I’d be amazed if the equivalent number was in triple-figures in 2015. I can think of a number of seats where the Lib Dems were runners-up to Labour last time where we are likely to collapse to fourth or even fifth this time around. To be clear, this is a major problem for the Lib Dems for the future. However, it is not in itself a problem which will cost us any seats in five months’ time.)

3. Fisher rightly recognises the importance of incumbency and local variation for the Lib Dems, but it is worth stating again. People’s responses, as outlined in polling by Michael Ashcroft, are much more positive for the Lib Dems when asked about constituency voting intention rather than national voting intention.

(Agreed. Dr Fisher suggests Lord Ashcroft’s polling, which asks voters to think specifically about their seat, is risky: “there is a danger that such prompting over-states incumbency advantage”. Perhaps. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Ashcroft’s polling doesn’t name the candidates. It is therefore just as plausible that it under-states incumbency.)

4. Local variation might well damage the Conservatives too. In many of the seats that the Conservatives might hope to take from the Lib Dems, they might find UKIP splitting their vote enough that the Lib Dems can cling on. Again, polling by Ashcroft would suggest this is currently the case.

(Agreed. Ashcroft’s most recent constituency polling showed the Lib Dem vote down 13% since 2010. However, the Conservative vote was also down, by 9%. (Labour and Ukip were up 4% and 13% respectively). Overall result: a clutch of tight Lib Dem holds.)

In his latest Liberal Democrat Newswire, Mark Pack gives his assessment:

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has now polled 38 Liberal Democrat held constituencies (counting Portsmouth South as Lib Dem held although its MP is now sitting as an independent), having started working his way up from the most marginal. In those seats, his polling finds the party ahead in 17, dead tied in two and behind in the others. … So a reasonable starting point in projecting seat numbers is to look at what happens if the party were to hold the seats not polled and those where it is currently tied or ahead. That would give the party 38 seats (important caveat – of which 11 are in Scotland). … [it is] quite plausible for the party to hope to end up with 40+ seats in the next Parliament and hence an almost inevitable share of power in another hung Parliament. Not guaranteed by any means, and getting comfortably into the 40s requires a bit of a following political wind (finally) for the party, but clearly possible, just as the number of small margins shows the possibility of a much worse result too.

A Lib Dem meltdown is possible; so, too, is a better-than-expected result. More likely, then, it will be somewhere inbetween. However, I’ll be very surprised if Stephen Fisher’s contention that the Lib Dem loss of seats will turn out to be “greater than the uniform swing would predict” comes true.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

My ConHome column: At least five spectres haunt the Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on December 5, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here yesterday. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

A spectre haunts the Lib Dems. Actually, scratch that. At least five spectres haunt the Lib Dems.

All parties have their existential fears. Conservatives fear Ukip’s splitting of the right-wing vote means John Major’s 1992 victory will remain the last election they won with an absolute majority. Labour fears the traditional working-class voting bloc on which it’s built its post-war election victories is now too fragmented to win. Both parties have their own reasons to fear falling short: the Tories have not enjoyed the current Coalition much, while Callaghan’s minority Labour government struggled daily to maintain any semblance of control.

But back to my own party; after all, we have enough of our own worries without having to think through others’, too. Here’s my top five fears, my queasy quintet, of what does (or should) keep Lib Dems awake at night…

1) A May massacre?

In 2010, the Lib Dems gained a million votes and lost five seats. How much more of a hit will we take this time round, when our vote-share also plunges? Plenty predict a wipeout, pointing to ElectoralCalculus’s forecast that, based on current polls, the Lib Dems will be left with just 19 MPs. Well, anything’s possible. But before punting your savings on that outcome, it’s worth remembering that in the last parliament ElectoralCalculus hit the headlines for forecasting the Lib Dems would end up with zero seats in 2010. Wiser heads recognise the Lib Dems are insulated from the worst effects of a uniform national swing against the party by the local popularity of their MPs – Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling of 13 key Lib Dem battlegrounds showed the party on course to retain 10 of them (and not far behind in a further two). But let’s not kid ourselves. If the party’s national poll rating doesn’t improve in the next 154 days, 7th May is going to be a grim night for the party, with a big chunk of two decades’ hard-won gains rubbed out.

2) Are we becoming irrelevant?

At the last election, the Lib Dems were either the winners or the runners-up in almost 300 constituencies – that’s half the country where the voters had a realistic chance of electing a Lib Dem MP. But this time? If our number of first or second places gets into three figures I’ll be amazed; that’s vast swathes of the country where the Lib Dem vote has vanished. Many centre-left voters have deserted us for Labour or the Greens. Our protest voters have deserted us for Ukip, or simply melted away. Our councillors have been scythed, year after year, to a level last seen in 1983 (and at least then the party was on its way up). To be taken seriously in politics, you need to pose a threat to someone. Nick Clegg’s attempt to take the fight to Ukip at the European election, by throwing down the gauntlet to Nigel Farage, was an attempt to muscle the Lib Dems back into that territory. It failed and the Lib Dems risk seeming like passengers on a travellator stuck in reverse.

3) Have the Lib Dems done enough in government?

Oh, we have lists of achievements. There isn’t a senior Lib Dem alive who’s won’t rehearse, when challenged “But what have you done?”, the line that the our top 2010 priorities – tax-cuts for low-earners, the Pupil Premium, the Green Investment Bank – have been delivered. Or who won’t point to other achievements, like infant free school meals, or same-sex marriage, or more apprenticeships. Or who won’t highlight Conservative policies, such as hire-and-fire at will or the snoopers’ charter, which the Lib Dems have vetoed. Etc, etc, etc. It’s a creditable litany, especially given my party is out-numbered five-to-one by our Coalition partners in parliament. And yet, and yet… There is a nagging worry inside many Lib Dems that our party’s successes are things which the Conservatives have no trouble with, but the Conservatives’ successes (too-tight austerity, benefits crackdowns, Andrew Lansley’s health reforms) are things we should have had no truck with.

4) Have we lost the opportunity to show that Coalition government works?

Lib Dem Plan A was simple. Wait for a hung parliament; negotiate electoral reform; secure Coalition government for the long-term. It’s not the first Plan A to have come unstuck when tested. First, the AV referendum was lost; though as PoliticalBetting’s Mike Smithson pointed out last week, that, ironically, is probably going to hurt the Conservatives more than the Lib Dems next May. But something else was lost, too: the chance for the Lib Dems to make the case for coalition government itself. The Lib Dems veered from the Rose Garden love-in to hard-core differentiation within a year, a shift which left voters confused about what we stood for and suspicious that we mostly wanted the trappings of power. We have largely failed to demonstrate that Coalition is a grown-up and pragmatic way of doing business which leads to better, not worse, government. In 2010, a poll by ComRes found 46 per cent of voters wanted a hung parliament. Yet by 2013, the same pollster reported that 67 per cent wanted one party to win outright at the next general election rather than there being a Coalition. True, part of this is simply voters protesting the status quo (whatever that status quo happens to be at the time), but we haven’t exactly helped.

5) Can the Lib Dems unite and recover?

The outward unity of the Lib Dems in government has startled some commentators. Not a single MP has defected. The attempted putsch against Nick Clegg last May quickly fizzled out. The party, having dipped its hand in the blood when the Coalition Agreement was signed, has decided to stick by its word and its leader to the bitter end. But if May 2015’s results aren’t pretty, there will be a backlash. Clegg will go, most likely replaced by the liberal-left Tim Farron (the sole Lib Dem elected as part of the my party’s ill-fated decapitation strategy against prominent Conservatives in 2005). Like every other party, the Lib Dems are a big tent. Just as the Conservatives encompass both Ken Clarke and Dan Hannan, so do the Lib Dems range from Simon Hughes to Jeremy Browne. The tent’s held up more or less intact so far. But, paradoxically, the tensions may prove greater now the party is smaller, especially for those bruised by defeat. The reality is that there is no easy bounce-back recovery for the Lib Dems. It’s going to be a long, hard slog. And that’s the best case scenario.

Still, to quote one old school liberal: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Gulp.

 



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