Politics

Perhaps it’s because it’s Friday, but the big story of the day is related to kitchens. Sarah Vine, a Daily Mail columnist (and wife of Michael Gove, a leading Conservative politician), wrote a column about Justine Miliband, wife of Ed Miliband, Labour party leader, and the couple’s kitchen. Some attention was given to the revelation that the kitchen upon which Ms Vine opined was in fact a second kitchen(ette), even more pixels were generated about the nastiness of the column, especially once Michael Portillo, a former Tory minister, coolly criticised Ms Vine on television.

These are events of Knausgårdian dullness and yet no enlightenment comes from reading more about them. On one level, of course, the spitefulness shown by Ms Vine matters: it speaks to the corrosiveness and amplified OUTRAGE of too much of the political culture. But it’s worth (promise) reflecting on the bizarre world in which the number, size, and symbolism of politicians’ kitchens matters in the first place. Read more

Ahead of the general election there will be lots of people making claims about polls. I asked Chris Hanretty, Reader in politics at the University of East Anglia, and one-third of the team that puts together Election Forecast UK, some polling questions I was curious about. I’ve edited his answers lightly for clarity and house style, and then pasted them below. You can read more of his analysis here.
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The independence referendum is still being fought in Scotland, but this time the nationalists are winning. This is one implication from 16 constituency polls commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and released on Wednesday.

They support what has been increasingly obvious ever since Scots voted No on September 18: there is a new landscape in Scottish politics. The Scottish Nationalist party is projected to replace Labour as the dominant force north of the border.

Here are the headline results of Lord Ashcroft’s polls (click to expand):

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“[P]erhaps the biggest polling movement in recent UK history that almost no-one has heard of”, is how Professor Roger Scully, a leading authority on Welsh politics, describes the decline since 2012 in support for the Labour party in Wales.

I can’t speak for others’ knowledge of Welsh politics, but Prof Scully might be right:

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Last year, the United Kingdom Independence party won more votes than any other party in Britain’s European elections. It bested the Liberal Democrats in the local elections that took place the same day. But Nigel Farage’s outfit performed poorly in England’s big cities. It won no council seats, for example, in inner London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ukip’s urban tally was a sign of an increasingly important divide between cities and the rest of England.

That urban and rural areas have different politics isn’t of course a new observation. Tory-Whig parliamentary battles were often proxies for conflicting views between landed gentry and city dwellers. More recently, Labour has dominated northern cities and the Conservatives have won the rural south with similarly huge margins.

What is new is how big cities – especially their cores – are once again expanding and, in doing so, taking on a clearer liberal identity. Cities is where Britain’s open and cosmopolitan outlook is most apparent. But politics has so far failed to catch up. Read more

The general election in May is one of the most difficult to predict in British history. The result will undermine old certitudes. An incumbent’s share of the vote typically dwindles from one election to the next. An opposition has never won with Milibandite ratings on both the economy and the strength of its leader. Two-party politics, injured in 2010, could be confirmed dead in 2015. Six parties could have a critical role in deciding the allocation of seats. The 650 constituency races each have their own dynamic; it doesn’t make much sense to think of this as a single election.

Scotland is a case in point. Since the independence referendum on September 18, the Scottish National party has taken a big opinion poll lead over the Labour party:

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If opinion polls prove accurate, on Thursday the UK Independence party will win its second-ever by-election – and its second in two months. Victory in Rochester and Strood – whose demographics are less amenable to a Ukip win than Clacton, which the party won in October – would be its latest hefty thwack to Britain’s mainstream political parties. It would lead Labour and Conservative members of parliament to call for their parties to change position on immigration, based on the assumption that Ukip’s policies are behind its success in the polls.

This is a superficial reading of why Ukip and other populist parties are gaining support across Europe. Contrary to what they or Jeremy Clarkson may say, party leaders have been talking a lot about immigration. They have changed their policies. And yet Ukip marches on. Something more profound is happening in politics in the UK. For a deep and prophetic analysis of what is going on, turn to Peter Mair, an Irish political scientist who died in 2011. Ruling The Void, his last and latest book, is a terse and cogent explanation of “the hollowing of western democracy”. Read more

And doesn’t he have lovely moustache:

The image is produced by YouGov, a polling and market research company. Using its database of opinion surveys, it has built a nifty new marketing tool that shows the quintessential characteristics of the people who like a certain brand. This brand could be a newspaper, a supermarket, a music group – or even a political party Read more

A politician wants to vote for the decriminalisation of marijuana. But she knows that opinion polls suggest that her electorate is against easing access to weed. Although she cares about the issue, she also cares about being re-elected. What should she do?

Should she: 1) Heed the pollsters and vote against decriminalisation; 2) Appeal to her electorate, citing evidence and appealing to their values; or 3) Just vote for it, since her electorate will support her anyway?

I think most political advisers would suggest the first or the second option. But a fascinating new experiment by David E. Broockman and Daniel M. Butler suggests politicians have broad latitude to shape public opinion without any electoral cost. The third option – vote for decriminalisation – may be more viable than it appears. The research implies that politicians could worry less about what the public thinks. Read more

Pollsters would have been confounded by a Yes, instead they were mildly surprised by differential turnout.

The “shy Nos “were not so shy. The “missing million” went missing. Read more

On Thursday, Scots will vote on whether Scotland should be an independent state. Such a referendum seemed unlikely 10 years ago. A Yes vote would have seemed even more surprising. This is an attempt to explain why the vote is happening – and why it is happening now – for interested and befuddled people from all over the world. In other words, it is a history of 1,000 years of Scottish nationalism. Read more

The defining characteristic of recent polling on the independence referendum has been convergence, not volatility. Six new polls were released over the weekend. They affirm patterns evident since August: a narrow (and narrowing) No lead based on voting patterns among different genders, ages and social classes. If Yes were to win on Thursday it would be cause for serious reflection for all of the pollsters.

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If the poll released by Survation on Wednesday evening were the only poll about the independence referendum published in the past two weeks there would be no panic. No all-party devolution plans. No saltire on Downing Street. No last minute visits.

Before this poll, the three previous surveys (two from YouGov and one from TNS) had each undermined the established story about the vote on September 18. They suggested that Yes was gaining support, including among women and young people, leaving the No side relying on Scots in their dotage to carry them to the finish line.

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Now we know: the YouGov poll that on Saturday ended complacency about the outcome of the independence referendum was not an outlier. On Tuesday, TNS BMRB, another pollster, published results from its final survey. These show No on 39 per cent of possible voters, Yes on 38 per cent, with 23 per cent undecided.

Summarising the results, Tom Costley, TNS Group Director, told me it’s “almost all good news for the Yes campaign” and the race is “neck and neck; too close to call”. His poll is further evidence that the momentum has swung towards the Yes side.

The charts below show the running TNS tallies, first for all likely voters, and second for voters who say they are certain to vote in the referendum. When it comes to certain voters, the two sides are both on 41 per cent. (TNS likes the certain voter measure. Mr Costley says it is very highly correlated with actual turnout.)


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On September 18, Scotland will vote to leave the UK. That is the conclusion being drawn from the latest YouGov poll on the independence referendum. Published Saturday, it has Yes on 51 per cent and No on 49 per cent, once don’t know votes are excluded. The sides are within the margin of error but the momentum is with Yes.

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This chart is via Ed Conway:

The coloured lines denote the voting intentions of different age groups in the independence referendum. Voters aged 60 and over (green line) remain firm No voters, according to data from YouGov, a pollster, but in its latest poll, a majority of Scots in the other age groups now say they will vote Yes.

These data are from only one polling company and when you break samples of about 1,000 (roughly the average number of people per poll) then the numbers per age group become small quickly. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that if Scotland is to vote No on September 18, it will be older voters who preserve the union. Read more

“Scotland will vote to remain in the United Kingdom, and by a decisive enough margin to settle the matter for many years to come”, wrote Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, at the beginning of July. But after reading the results of his new poll, released on Tuesday, the pollster is less confident. The pro-independence side in the Scottish referendum is “in touching distance of victory”, he writes in the Sun.

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I watched as much of the televised/streamed debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling as possible given the STV Player’s own independence struggles.

Here are some impressions I took from the evening:

1. The format of the debate did not serve to enlighten the public. Candidates were allowed to “cross-examine” each other but as Mr Darling, a lawywer, would have been well aware, this is impossible to do forensically in such a short time. He shouted a bit, which looked bad, while Mr Salmond asked about aliens, which was odd. It reminded me at times of a fervent night in an Edinburgh pub. The questions from the audience were smart (see below) but there were too many of them. The candidates were not able to answer them in full, through no fault of their own. Read more

On Tuesday morning George Osborne was asked by the BBC’s Evan Davis whether he’d rather fund Crossrail 2 or trans-Pennine rail, assuming that both projects had a positive benefit to cost ratio. Politicians tend to shun hypothetical questions but the Chancellor of the Exchequer used this one to make the following argument:

‘I hope we don’t have to make a choice between the two. I think the real choice in our country is actually spending money on this big economic infrastructure, transpennine rail links, Crossrail 2 in London and the like, and spending money on, for example, welfare payments which are not generating either a real economic return and at the same time, are trapping people in poverty.’

Whenever someone mentions what the “real” this or that is, be careful. There are many choices involved in how the British state should spends its tax revenues and indeed what size the state should be in the first place. To reduce them to one “real” choice representing a fraction of overall spend is like saying that the real choice I face is between a Heart of Midlothian season ticket and feeding myself. (Essentials, both.)  Read more

In the comments to an earlier post on whether the Yes vote in the independence referendum is being exaggerated, JeanJacques writes:

“Everyone of these ‘institutional’ polling agencies predicted a Labour victory in Holyrood 2011. They have zero credibility.”

This is a notion whose ubiquity is inversely related to its accuracy. It is not true.

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