New poll puts Starmer close to historical track to Labour leadership

Posted in Labour, Labour leadership on January 18th, 2020 by Leo – Comments Off on New poll puts Starmer close to historical track to Labour leadership

I recently looked at how the first poll in the Labour leadership contest compared with polls in past leadership elections. I found that polls in previous contests have been extremely stable, with early front runners always maintaining or extending their lead.

But the only poll for this contest taken at the time was done unusually early, more than three months before the ballot. So maybe it wasn’t representative?

Now we have a second poll, this one taken close to the timeframe that polls in past contest have been taken.

The new YouGov poll puts Starmer on 46% to Long-Bailey’s 32% in the first round, winning 63/37 on the final round. The first round lead is 1pt greater than in last month’s poll.

The new poll was done 79 days before the contest finishes. This is getting close to polls in past contests: the initial poll in the most recent Labour leadership was 66 days out, and the first poll in last year’s Tory election was 68 days before the ballot closed.

So it’s still slightly early than previous polls, and it’s still before hustings and TV debates. But it’s starting to look like this contest is following the stable/boring pattern of all past ones that have been polled.

Labour leadership: past member polls bode well for Keir Starmer

Posted in Labour, Labour leadership on January 13th, 2020 by Leo – Comments Off on Labour leadership: past member polls bode well for Keir Starmer

Polling evidence of leadership elections over the last decade suggests party members don’t change their minds much during leadership elections. The candidate who led in the first poll has always won the election:

  • In the 2019 Tory contest, three YouGov polls asked members who they would choose between Johnson and Hunt. They gave Johnson 67%, 74% and 74%. The first poll was done just over two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2016 Labour contest, there were two polls that asked about Corbyn and Smith. They gave Corbyn 56% among members in the first poll, and 57% in the second poll. The first poll was done just over two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2015 Labour contest, the first poll gave Corbyn 40% among members (a 13pt lead) and 57% among affiliates. The second poll gave him 49% (a 17pt lead) and 55% among the two groups. The first poll done was nearly two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2010 Labour contest, the two members polls gave Ed Miliband 38% and 38%, ahead of David on 32% and 31%. The first poll was done nearly two months before the ballot closed.

All of which is to say, Keir Starmer is in a strong position to become the next Labour leader. He’s 13pts up, on 36%, in the first poll.

One reason you could say the historical comparison doesn’t work is that this poll was done just over three months before the ballot closes, so there’s more time for a swing. But in all the contests above, the leader in the first poll extended their lead over the campaign – suggesting the swing seems to favour the front-runner.

Of course: maybe there are more unknown candidates this time so there’s more chance the electorate will like someone they didn’t already know; maybe the trauma of the election loss will unsettle members and shake things up; maybe many new members will join and the polls will have been asking the wrong people ; maybe Momentum and Unite will bring an awesome ground game that turns it around for Long-Bailey.

But Starmer’s rivals are certainly fighting uphill.

Climate change in the election and where the Lib Dems have gone wrong

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Politics on December 4th, 2019 by Leo – 1 Comment

About 10 years ago I was part of one of the most forgettable election campaigns of all time. A group of us targeted a bunch of swing constituencies aiming to get climate change on the local agenda. It wasn’t exactly a triumph.

Our efforts can definitively now be buried for good. Climate change has never been so high up the list of voters’ priorities: in the latest YouGov poll the environment is the joint third-highest issue the public say is facing the country. An Ipsos Mori question on which issues voters said would determine their vote also found climate and the environment was the fifth-top priority (in both it’s joint with the economy).

The surge in concern has opened new electoral battlegrounds but it’s not self-evident how they’re playing out. Two possible routes stand out.

Toxifying the Tories

One way climate change could play in voting decisions is for it to toxify the Tories. This is like what happened in 2017, when pro-Labour websites did a remarkably successful job of building the salience of previously obscure stories attacking the Tories on environmental issues, like their failure to pledge a ban on sales of ivory products.

But even last election there wasn’t much on climate change. In fact, the Tories have largely avoided being punished on climate change at elections. They probably have David Cameron to thank for that: his husky-hugging trip to the Arctic in 2006 and support for the Climate Change Bill meant, to casual viewers, there wasn’t much distinction between the major parties.

But since 2017 a lot of people have stopped viewing climate change just casually. The Tories can point to having strengthened the UK’s climate target, from an 80% cut to net-zero by 2050 (which means they’ve already enacted a law that’s stronger than Labour pledged in their 2017 manifesto) but there is plenty of space to criticise their record in delivering policies to meet the target, as Labour have already been doing.

Since the people most worried about climate change are more likely to be Remainers and 2017 Labour or Lib Dem voters – ie not the people Johnson is aiming for – the significance of any toxification of the Tories might be to squeeze Lib Dem votes. If the Tories look sufficiently unpalatable on climate, Labour can argue in Labour-Tory contests that a vote for the Lib Dems is too much of a risk.

Competing for climate voters

Is there any hope for the Lib Dems? Possibly, but they would need to start talking about climate change differently.

Rather than just being repelled by bad policies, voters could also be attracted to vote for parties with strong climate policies. If the voters care enough, the party with the strongest pledges should benefit – implying a race between Labour and the Lib Dems for more ambitious climate policy. This seems like the logic behind the various pledges to plant many trees to help absorb carbon.

But I’m not persuaded that this is actually happening very much. Labour and the Lib Dems might have the most ambitious climate policies they’ve ever had, but they’re not using them to fight each other. 

Looking at the Facebook ad library – which records political ads – none of the parties have spent more than a few hundred pounds on climate ads (to put that in context, the three main parties have between them spent a bit over £400k on Facebook in the last week). Same goes, as far as I can see for surrogate accounts like Labour Future. The climate debate on Channel 4 was also pretty consensual, without much effort between the parties to criticise one another’s policy.

Maybe this isn’t surprising when Labour and the Lib Dems have moved so far in so little time. They’ve perhaps caught themselves by surprise at where they are now. But it means that climate change still hasn’t become normal politics, in the way that Labour and the Lib Dems are happy to argue about Brexit, despite having pretty similar policies.

This is probably fine for Labour because it means the main distinction is with the Tories (though I’m still surprised they’re not doing more to attack the Tories on the climate). But it’s a problem for the Lib Dems. So long as the contrast is between the Tories and all the other parties, Labour can put the fear of Johnson into their want-away Remainers.

It may be too late for this election, but for the Lib Dems to benefit from the surge in concern about climate, they need to show how they would be better at halting the crisis than Labour would be. The argument the Lib Dems need is probably that only they have credible, deliverable policies that are appropriate to the challenge. Maybe also a hint that they would insist on the Tories being better on the climate in any coalition negotiations.

In short, the Lib Dems need to persuade 2017 Labour-voting Remainers (and some Lib Dems too) that, on climate change, it’s not just a question of the Tories versus the others. Until they do, the growing alarm about the climate crisis will mostly help Labour, and not them.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), shows why public opinion about climate change is important and what could overcome climate apathy.

What do Labour members think? Polling Matters

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on April 5th, 2018 by Leo – Comments Off on What do Labour members think? Polling Matters

On Polling Matters this week, Keiran and I talked about the recent poll of Labour members and what it means for Corbyn’s position. We also discussed recent polling on Brexit, which was more encouraging for the government than I would have expected.


Why are the Tories now leading? Polling Matters

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on March 28th, 2018 by Leo – Comments Off on Why are the Tories now leading? Polling Matters

I was back on Polling Matters this week, talking about why the Tories have moved ahead in the polls, the Salisbury poisoning, Cambridge Analytica and anti-semitism in Labour.


Why Corbyn was crucial for Labour’s election result

Posted in Labour, Politics on June 25th, 2017 by Leo – 3 Comments

I’ve been on paternity leave since the election so haven’t written much about it. But there are a few things I keep coming back to that I find interesting.

First, why was I surprised? Had I predicted the result on the day of the election, I would have said the Tories would have a majority of 60 seats. My mistake was to think opinion wouldn’t shift much during the campaign. That meant I looked for reasons not to believe polls that showed the gap had narrowed. So I wasn’t open to the possibility that Corbyn really could turn out so many young people or that the Tories could alienate so many older people.

Looking at the results I think those two things happened for a few reasons:

1. The Tories made some crucial (and terrible) decisions. The social care policy was predictably suicidal. The fox-hunting pledge was bizarre. But those seem to me to be the consequence of a small group of advisors being allowed to get individual policies into the manifesto.

The thing that I’m most interested by is the strategic decision not to attack Labour on the economy. In 2015 Labour couldn’t get a hearing because most voters still thought the party had wrecked the economy in 2008. When Ed Miliband said he didn’t think Labour had spent too much he was laughed at. When he forgot to talk about the economy in his leader’s speech he was mocked. I don’t believe that, had they been tried in 2015, Labour’s 2017 spending plans would have overcome this problem. What I think changed is that the Tories stopped putting much effort into claiming to be the only fiscally responsible party. In the past, the Tories have won when they’ve been disliked but considered reliable.

I don’t know why the Tories made this decision. It surely wasn’t an oversight. One possibility is they tested out different attacks in polls and focus groups and found that the public no longer believed the Tories’ economic message (even though they did so in 2015). Or perhaps the Tories genuinely thought they no longer needed to bind themselves to pointless deficit-reduction targets and could win without saying much about Labour’s spending plans. Whatever the rationale, I think this decision was crucial.

2. Despite everything, May – as an individual – attracted a lot more voters than Corbyn did… It runs totally counter to how the two leaders are now seen, but Tory voters were much more likely to say they choose the party because of Theresa May than Labour voters were to say they did so because of Jeremy Corbyn. Only 1 in 3 Labour voters said they choose Labour because they thought Corbyn would be the best Prime Minister, compared with nearly 3 in 4 Tory voters for May.

Even now, after more terrible headlines for May and good coverage for Corbyn, the two are tied (within the margin of error) in polls of who would be the best Prime Minister. There’s a danger of reading passionate support for Corbyn among a relatively small proportion of voters as widespread support for him as an individual.

3. … but Corbyn was essential for Labour’s balancing act (part 1, the EU). Corbyn pushed the government to accelerate its Article 50 timetable and the manifesto embraced Brexit yet Labour did particularly well among Remainers who still want to stop Brexit. Corbyn said immigration should fall yet won the support of young socially liberal voters who like immigration. How?

Partly, this must have been about the Tories’ relentless alienation of anyone who embraces internationalism and diversity – with May’s mantra of brexitmeansbrexit and disdain for citizens of nowhere.

But it must also have been down to Corbyn. Any Labour leader could have adopted the pro-Brexit, anti-free movement policies that Corbyn choose. They had the political advantage of stopping the Tories/Ukip attacking Labour from the right. But if a Liz Kendall or an Yvette Cooper had triangulated in this way, they would have alienated pro-Remain socially liberal voters. It needed Corbyn, who could signal internationalist values in other ways, while adopting EU and immigration policies that did the opposite. This took genuine political skill and was crucial for Labour’s result – I don’t believe another leader could have built the same electoral coalition (although other coalitions are available).

4. … Corbyn and Labour’s balancing act (part 2, the economy). I can see how scrapping tuition fees (which benefits graduates, who tend to be richer) and protecting benefits for all pensioners (many of whom are relatively well off) could be left-wing. Universal public services is clearly a left-wing thing. But I don’t think it’s so clear cut that Labour’s 2017 economic policy overall was all that left-wing – the effect of its tax and benefits policy on poorer people was almost exactly as regressive as the Tories’ plan. Under Labour’s plans, you would benefit more (actually, lose less) the richer you are, up to people who earn more than 90% of the rest of the country. Only the top 10% would lose more than people poorer than them. In this context, Labour’s help to graduates and richer pensioners has to be seen as a choice – the party promised to protect them before it offered to protect much poorer people.

This may have been politically smart. Having made these pledges, it was much harder for the Tories to attack Labour from the right. And who was there to attack them from the left? Since Corbyn was Labour leader: no-one.

Again, I don’t believe another Labour leader could have pulled this off. It had to be Corbyn. Despite these regressive tax and benefit policies, Corbyn was widely perceived to be offering a left-wing manifesto and so locked up the support of kind of people who were furious when Labour, under Harriet Harman, abstained on the Welfare Bill.

Right now the public mood is behind Labour. It’s like the reverse of 2008-10, when everything Brown did was seen in the worst possible light and everything Cameron did was treated generously. If there was an election in the autumn I’m pretty sure Labour would win it. Assuming the next election is actually a few years away, I still think Labour are likely to win (now the mud has stuck to the Tories it will be hard to clean off) but there are a few reasons it could go wrong:

1. The Tories can’t run a worse campaign next time. If it hadn’t been for their huge mistakes this time (point 1 above), the Tories were on course for a comfortable majority. Assuming the Tories have a new leader and better campaign managers, Labour will face a much tougher opponent next time.

2. An effect of that could be increased turnout about older people. While more young people voted this year than 2015, fewer older people voted. Either of these might revert to the mean. An increase in turnout among older people (many of whom were presumably put off voting by the Tories’ policies on social care) would probably help the Tories.

3. The tensions between Labour’s policies and many of its voters’ core beliefs (in points 3 & 4 above) could start to undo the coalition. No-one really attacked Labour from the left during the election and this could be a risk to Labour in the future if the tension isn’t resolved (cf the way Trump used unbranded Facebook ads to suppress turnout for Clinton among young voters).

Corbyn did a remarkable job. The more I think about it, the more impressive his achievement seems. The challenge for Labour now is to win an election – and it’s likely they will have to do so against a tougher opponent, who will – unlike May – take Labour seriously and will put more effort into understanding and attacking the party’s weaknesses.

Are radical policies the answer to Labour’s slump?

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on April 24th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Are radical policies the answer to Labour’s slump?

This was originally published on Political Betting.

Despite using Easter to announce several policies, Labour is making little effort to pretend it knows what it would do with power. The party’s website still invites visitors to “help shape our next manifesto” and Corbyn semi-loyalist Dawn Butler suggested on Newsnight there might have to be a “rolling manifesto” while policies are developed.

This isn’t just a lack of detailed policies. It’s also about what Labour stands for and who it is trying to appeal to.

Corbyn ran for the leadership with the promise of a “radical economic strategy” yet the recent announcements have largely been repeats of earlier Labour policies. Free meals in primary schools was floated for the 2010 election. A plan to pressure big companies to pay suppliers on time was in the 2015 manifesto. The triple lock on pensions was another Miliband pledge.

You could argue that Labour’s recent policies go further than previous ones. But no-one can seriously claim they would revolutionise the economy. As such, they seem designed for the same voters – progressive but not radical – that the 2015 manifesto aimed to win over.

Yet Corbyn’s Labour has also made some radical pledges that wouldn’t have made it into recent manifestos. Among its current 10 pledges are rent controls and nationalisation of the railways.

This week’s Opinium poll for the PB/Polling Matters podcast tested public views of eight possible and actual Labour policies.

The policies that did best were a mix of the radical and the incremental. Two of the top-scoring were 2015-style measures: a £10 minimum wage in 2020 (more radical than Miliband, but hardly socialist) and requiring companies to pay suppliers on time.

Also among the top-scoring was “control rents so landlords cannot keep increasing the amount they charge”, which 47% of those considering Labour strongly supported. Surprisingly, that measure was most popular among the 55+ age group, and least popular among the ‘generation rent’ 18-34s.

Other radical policies were much less popular though. A citizens’ income of £6000 and railway nationalisation were strongly supported by only 29% and 32%, respectively, of people who would consider Labour.

So Labour might find support for a mix of tangible incremental policies, and radical policies aimed at tackling a well-known problem. With 49% saying they would at least consider Labour, these policies appear to win the strong support of around a quarter of the population – suggesting there is still a 25% strategy open to Labour.

But while this might suggest Labour could avoid slipping further, there are two problems with this approach.

First, such an incoherent mix of policies would leave voters struggling to know what Labour stands for. One set of policies suggests Labour would govern as social democrats. The second set suggests Labour wants to revolutionise major parts of the economy.

Without a unifying argument, Labour’s pledges would be easily forgotten. Ed Miliband didn’t lack popular policies but the failure to stake out a clear position, and stick to it, cost the party at the election.

Second, the poll also suggests even well-scoring policies may be less popular than they seem. Over Easter, Labour’s policy that got the most coverage was the pledge for free school meals. Yet this was the least popular of the policies tested.

It’s hard to be sure why it did so badly, but free food for children doesn’t seem an inherently unpopular measure. Its failure in the poll might be because it is now associated with Labour. If that’s the case, more policy announcements might do little to stop Labour’s vote sliding further, even if they were popular before they become linked with the party.

Listen to the latest episode of Polling Matters, where I talked about the state of the parties and the race ahead with Conor Pope of Progress and Laurence Janta-Lipinski, a political consultant: