POLITICS

Sir Robert Worcester Worcester's View 2015 #1

Sir Robert Worcester shines an incisive light onto the UK General Election Campaign.
April 2, 2015 © Sir Robert Worcester KBE DL
rmworcester@yahoo.com, @RobertWorcester

The General Election has begun. We've had the leaders' debate. I've been saying that our next book in the 'Explaining' series [* see below] might well be titled Explaining Why Nobody Won. That just about sums up the result of Thursday night's leaders' debate and it may well be the outcome on May 7 too: a muddle.

For the past three years I've been saying that 2015 looks like a hung Parliament result: no one party with a majority, and not likely to be a coalition either, with another election following within the year. I can't match the egos, 'red-lined' policies and the numbers to add up to the 323 it takes for an overall majority. Instead, as with the [Labour] Callaghan Government which finally fell in 1979 when the Scottish National Party quit supporting it, what's known as 'confidence and supply' could be the outcome in 2015/16, meaning the Scottish National Party can pick and choose what Labour policies to support, until the SNP chooses to 'pull the plug' again.

The result: only 'easy' legislation will get through, and the Labour Government will be forced to lurch to the left, to 'old Labour'.

I said at the Liberal Democrats' Party Conference in Glasgow in 2013 at the GovNet fringe meeting (these usually have a cheerful crowd of a hundred or two) that from 57 seats in 2010 the LibDems' "bad news" would be they'd get 25 to 30 seats. A year later, also in Glasgow, the audience appreciated the irony when I told them that the "good news" was that they'd get 25 to 30 seats.

That was then; my views still haven't changed and in researching others' forecasts, all but one now agrees. I also said then, at all three main party conferences, that UKIP would be lucky to get as much as 9% share and five seats. My best guess was 8% and three seats; now that their candidate in Folkestone and Hythe has disappeared in a puff of smoke, among others, that may have been overly optimistic for a UKIP result on the 7th of May.

I also forecast the outcome of the Scottish Referendum two years out at the three party conferences. In 2013 I said 44% yes / 56% no. In 2014 I said the same. When it happened, I was just a point out. It was 45% / 55%. I'd have demanded a recount – if I could.

Nicola Sturgeon, The Scottish Government
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, widely regarded as having done well in the leaders' televised debate. Photo courtesy Scottish Government

THE DEBATE

The results of the '7 dwarfs debate' was much misreported. The Daily Telegraph's splash across the entire front page was "Miliband flops as outsiders shine" on the basis of YouGov's 'poll ratings' of Nicola Sturgeon's 28% (SNP), Nigel Farage's 20% (UKIP), David Cameron's 17% (Conservatives), Ed Miliband's 15% (Labour), Nick Clegg's 10% (Liberal Democrats), Natalie Bennett's 5% (Greens) and Leanne Wood's 4% (Plaid Cymru, Welsh Party). The Times' headline, also a banner across its page one was "Enter the outsiders", ignoring that they were only talking about two: Sturgeon and Farage, as both Bennett and Wood (PC) crashed.

But the Guardian's ICM didn't agree. Its headline read "Labour buoyed as Miliband edges Cameron in snap poll". Afterwards the Guardian's blog described as a key event that "Average of all four polls suggests Cameron and Miliband joint winners". Its blog came out with "Five things we've learnt: 1 No one really 'won'; 2 Miliband does seem to be rated as a credible prime minister; 3 Nicola Sturgeon's appeal goes way beyond Scotland; 4 Nigel Farage is outperforming his party (no surprise there); 5 Nick Clegg, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood failed to make an impact."

My own take on the outcome, sitting watching the whole debate (trying to keep awake) I ranked the seven leaders as follows, with marks out of seven on six topics – their opening statement, the four questions on economy, health, immigration and education & young people, and their closing statement. I claim no political bias, of course. With a perfect score of 42, I rated the seven parties' leaders as follows: Nigel Farage (UKIP) 38 (oozing confidence, brazen, people's man); Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), 36, (articulate, clear, knowledgeable); Nick Clegg (LibDem) 34 (cheerful, but too aggressive at times); David Cameron (Tory) 32 (reserved, well rehearsed, but little passion); Ed Miliband (Labour) 32 (eager, overly direct, used same phrases too often and 'the men with staring eyes' comes back to me from the 1975 EEC Referendum); Leanne Wood ( PC) 30 (Unsure and out of depth, 14 times glancing at her notes on one question); Natalie Bennett (Greens) 26 (shaky, on one question looked down at her notes 17 times, including when naming the countries within the UK).

YouGov tested their panel on each of the four topics, finding a wide variety of 'winners', with Cameron leading his closest competitor on the Economy by 33% for Cameron, 22% for Miliband; on Health, Miliband scored 25% to Cameron's 20%, on Immigration, Farage 41% , Sturgeon 12%, and on Education Miliband 22%, Cameron 19%. Interestingly, Nicola was ranked in either second or third place on all four.

Adding the scores for all four of the issues debated found that really David Cameron won narrowly with 83 points to Ed Miliband's 79, Nigel Farage 71, Nicola Sturgeon 62, Nick Clegg lagging with 40, Natalie Bennett 22 and Leanne Wood the wooden spoon, only 17.

It's too early to tell if the Telegraph's leak of a Government memo, reprinted on its front page will tarnish the gilt worn by Sturgeon since the debate but she's handling the damage limitation well by immediately offering Labour a deal to 'lock Cameron out of No. 10'.

In doing the research for this blog, and thinking about my Sunday morning psychologising for BBC Scotland for the next six weeks, I'm scouring the net for useful data and analysis to get a 'little help from my friends'. I can share with readers of this blog two so-far-relatively unknown 'election nerds' sites of great use. One is May2015: may2015.com/category/seat-calculator/.

Unicorn, courtesy Dr Mark Pack
Dr. Mark Pack: "This is a unicorn. It is as real as the '1 million voters wiped off electoral registers' figure."

The second is Dr. Mark Pack's site, www.markpack.org.uk. Dr Pack has been collecting all the opinion polls from every recognised polling organisation since 1945. One of his (serious) blogs is 'The myth about 1 million people being wiped off electoral register: it's not true'. His writing style is anything but 'academic', but substantial in content, as this opening to his latest writing indicates, along with his choice of a unicorn to illustrate his theme:

"This is a unicorn. It is as real as the '1 million voters wiped off electoral registers' figure. One thing I'm sure about the 1 million figure is that stories about 1 million voters being lost ( wiped out / obliterated / exterminated, pick your word of choice depending on editorial leanings and tabloid nature of publication) are false.

"And the truth? Nobody knows.

"Rather, the one million statistic is another of those cases that shows the stultifying conformity and me-too-ism of much of the media and politics, where everyone is confined to a tiny island of half-knowledge that gets transmuted into false claims without anyone venturing out more widely to discover the truth."

These sites carry on from where the very useful: www2.politicalbetting.com/ and www.ukpollingreport.co.uk, the former from Mike Smithson, the latter, Anthony Wells have been holding forth for years.

Meanwhile, on BBC TV's debate programme, my colleague Ben Page was let down by the 'worm' graphic which showed little dramatic audience reaction from some 50 'undecided voters' pushing keypad buttons to say how they felt about the seven party leaders being grilled.

The YouGov poll gave the following results: Sturgeon 28%. Farage 20%. Cameron 18%. Miliband 15%. Clegg 10%. Bennett 5%. Wood 4%.

While Sturgeon did not win according to other polls it clearly illustrates that her message is proved to be popular. By being placed first by almost 30% of respondents this clearly illustrates that she is making an impact.

The instant reaction ComRes poll however, put Cameron, Miliband and Farage on 21% – a three-way tie, with Sturgeon close behind, another sign that despite her party only standing in 59 out of 650 seats she is making an impact.

The full results of the ComRes poll are as follows: Cameron 21%. Miliband 21%. Farage 21%. Sturgeon 20%. Clegg 9%. Bennett 5%. Wood 2%. The instant reaction ICM poll results are also as follows: Miliband 25%. Cameron 24%. Farage 19%. Sturgeon 17%. Clegg 9%. Bennett 3%. Wood 2. This ICM poll will be good news for Ed Miliband as it puts him ahead of David Cameron and gives him a win, however, the YouGov poll put David Cameron three points ahead. The last poll to be released (by Survation) gave the following results: Cameron. 25%. Miliband 25%. Farage 24%. Sturgeon 15%. Clegg 6%. Bennett 3%. Wood 2%. This was the second poll to put the main two leaders in joint first place, once again indicating the closeness of the race to Number 10. Furthermore, it also suggests that Farage did reasonably well and that Sturgeon made some headway in the debate.

Analysis:

The polls have given some varying results, but there are some common themes, one of which is of course Nicola Sturgeon's performance. For someone whose party is not standing across the whole UK this is impressive. She did not bang on about independence. She made the case for a strong set of SNP MPs at Westminster and positioned her party as one with an alternative agenda to 'Westminster austerity', something which appears to have chimed with many respondents.

Furthermore, as well as showing the closeness between Miliband and Cameron, the polls also show how badly the Green's Natalie Bennett came across. Her performance was not terrible, there were no massive car crash mistakes, but she failed to impress. As for Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood, just being there is a win for her party. Plaid's representation in Wales is nowhere near to the same extent as the SNP's in Scotland so her performance will help get the message out there.

The polls will not tell us who will win the election, and the debate will not change the course of history, but it may all have an impact on some voters as well the spin and buzz produced in the media in the following few days. What's more is that the debates have made history. The seven-way debate is a first and will likely continue in some way or another in elections to come.

* Explaining Labour's Landslide. Worcester & Mortimore (1997), Explaining Labour's Landslip (Worcester & Mortimore) (2001), Explaining Labour's Landslip (Worcester, Mortimore & Baines) (2005) and Explaining Cameron's Coalition (Worcester, Mortimore and Baines) (2010).


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