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Labour’s Vanishing Lead

John Rentoul

One year out Labours Vanishing LeadWe now have three different attempts to quantify the average movement of opinion polls in the last year or so before British general elections.

Here are Leo Barasi’s new calculations. His rule for the polls a year before an election is: halve the lead (of whichever party) and then move the lead 3½ points in the governing party’s favour.

That means, if the average Labour lead is still four points in a month’s time, his model would give the Conservatives a 1½-point lead in the election on 7 May 2015. (Halve Labour’s lead from 4 to 2 points, and subtract 3½ points, giving a Labour lead of -1½ points.) That would mean that the Tories would win the most votes and Labour the most seats.*

Stephen Fisher of Trinity College, Oxford, meanwhile, calculates that in the average pre-election period since 1950 there has been a swing of 4½ points back to the governing party. (Barasi summarises the main differences in method in his post.) That would turn the present Labour lead into a Tory lead of 5 points – enough for the Tories to remain the largest party, but not enough for a majority.

The third estimate of average historical trend will be coming shortly from the psephologists behind the Polling Observatory, as trailed at the end of this post.

Naturally, the past does not determine the future. Elections and the year before them can be very different, and this one is complicated by having two parties in government. But, as you can see from Barasi’s upper-right quadrant in the diagram, there have been no cases of oppositions with a small lead a year before winning the subsequent election.

*This would be an odd situation, although it happened in 1951 (Labour most votes, Tories most seats) and February 1974 (other way round). But it is seats that matter in forming a government, and once it is formed the votes hardly matter, just as they ceased to matter as soon as the Supreme Court ruled for George Bush in 2000.

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  • mightymark

    Two points

    a) Sorry to be repetitive but you simply can not vote for a coalition. You suggested I think, above, that parties might indicate who they would coalesce with during the election campaign but I would insist, nothing could either force them to or stick to the promise if they did, and neither could they be obliged to give any such indication. I think the default position would be that they would not do so – why should they give away what would be their best bargaining card post the election?

    b) I think you are over optimistic about public involvement. I can’t see why they should blame themselves rather than a coalition government just because it was a coalition government, or why it would make them more likely to participate politically.

  • Pacificweather

    Stupid decisions are made by stupid people but much more often they are made because the person(s) making them forgot to focus on the best interests of the majority. The cause might be corruption but it could just as easily be that they had not done sufficient research or had not taken the time to really think through the likely outcomes. Not to do so in the 21st century with the informatio now available can only be decribed as really or, if you prefer, willfully stupid. I gave you some examples. I gave you Singapore for international example. You demand more but do not give me your alternatives. Trinity House has been in business for 500 years. The public are satisfied with it. It is an example that works. What’s your problem? Think of the RNLI. Why would it be different if the donations came out of taxation? All good concrete examples. Hire a gas exploration contractor, find the gas sell the gas at cost plus 3% to service borrowing (if required). What do current politians do? Sell licences to explore. Allow the gas produced to be traded typically 8 times befor it is sold at an inflated profit to the consumer. Is that not will fully stupid?

  • Pacificweather

    a) I did tell you how you would and why they would stick to it. What was wrong with my argument?

    b) I think I am over optimistic about public involvement. I think they would just blame the coalition and, as in Scotland, would vote just for one party. It would be no worse than at present but the difference would be that the 48% like me would get an effective vote. That would please me and I cannot see why it would not please the others in the same position.

    You just don’t want me to have an effective vote do you? Why should you or JR have one but not me? On the grounds of fair play alone we should have PR.

  • mightymark

    The basic problem with what you say is that the kinds of services you refer to are already substantially in the private sector. I think that that is understood and I am not sure that public opinion is much impacted by the residual government regulatory role. The privatisation programme in the utilities etc – right or wrong – which I take it is what you are referring to here, is basically history and whether your model would be better or worse, it doesn’t seem to me to effect one way or the other the overall problem of disaffection with politics – any more than electoral systems do.

    I imagine you are not saying that this model would be appropriate to say the NHS, welfare or education?

  • Pacificweather

    I was thinking of new shale gas exploration which is going to happen whether we like it or not and it will be licences on the current model not the old model that benefits the majority.

    We have academy schools, mini state funded corporations, most of which are better than the schools they replaced. The NHS is not national (as I have just found out having recently moved) is partly run by nominally independent trusts. The fact that successive Secretaries of State cannot resist meddling at an operational level is one of the major causes of concern for voters. Similarly with planning, a community does not want a new Tesco store, the local planning authority refuse permission but the Secretary of State interferes at a local level and the store is built. This interference annoys the voters because it gives every appearance of being corrupt. As all parties are as bad as each other, this breeds both hatred and apathy. If you cannot trust politicians to make the democratic decision at the local level then you are not going to trust them when they propose a national rail link or new motorway. The careless disregard of what the majority want at one level leads to distrust at the national level. You might think that also falls into the category of willfuly stupid, I couldn’t possiblly say.

  • mightymark

    Your “telling me” consisted I think, in this:

    “The enforcement: do anything else and your vote drops through the floor next time and you don’t get to form a coalition until you promise you have learned the lesson.”

    That isn’t enforcement – though it might amount to political and maybe even moral pressure. And then again it might not. Suppose other parties are able to offer the better deal in terms of agreeing some specific policies of the party in question and the party’s voters admire their leaders for getting better terms. Or again, suppose the Government they have joined against their stated intent proves very successful and some of the kudos for that rubs off on the reneging party?

  • mightymark

    One other point. What you seem to ignore is the possibility (at least) that PR might involve some very small parties backed by very specific (e.g. sectarian) interests that could hold governments (especially rocky ones) to ransom, and which do not operate according to the “ordinary” ways of mass public opinion.

  • Pacificweather

    Deceit with serendipity may be rewarded whereas deceit without it will be punished. One can never avoid the human factor or good luck. Lucky George Osborne will tell you the value of luck.

    You still don’t want me to have an effective vote do you? What are you afraid of? Are you the sort of chap who, in the past, would have denied the vote to the working man or women? It’s OK fo them to have the vote provided it is ineffective. Is that your line?

  • mightymark

    I don’t think one can move this argument forward if all people do is take the opportunity to rant about their (un) favorite decisions in areas the clearly consider important even if not everyone else does. You say a Minister’s intervention in local matters annoys voters – do you have evidence that every such intervention is unpopular? If so the upshot must be that local politicians are all national heroes getting decisions right every time, which is obviously absurd. Round my way I think we’d be rather grateful for Minsters to intervene and stop some things our councillors are doing that I among many others consider wrong. Actually these things have rather galvanised people into action and many campaign against those decisions. I am sure however that not everyone agrees with us.

    I simply do not believe you can find the causes of apathy and disillusion individual gripes or even the application of high level political theories because each of those has its proponents and opponents.

  • Pacificweather

    It seems there is no solution for apathy. What a shame that the counsel of defeat is in the ascendency.


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