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Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Opinion" Balls

One of my pet bugbears is that "opinion" polls, because of their designation, are taken to be representative of the state of public opinion. In fact they aren't. The headline figures quoted by the newspapers for voting intention aren't the raw data showing what the public currently think about the parties - i.e. the "opinion" of the nation. In fact they are filtered to take into account propensity to vote so what we are actually given is the "opinion" of the people who the pollsters think will vote - they are therefore a prediction of the likely outcome of a General Election (useful in itself), not a measure of the popularity of the parties. Just in case you didn't follow that, what I'm saying is that Labour is far and away the most popular party in Britain, except that a majority of people don't want to vote for us.

The February Ipsos MORI poll illustrates this. Looking at the headline figure quoted in the press, you would think that the Tories were very marginally more popular than Labour (Con 39%, Lab 37%, LD 16%). But that's the figure after they've stripped out all the low propensity to turnout voters. The actual "opinion" of the nation is listed below that: Lab 42%, Con 34%, LD 15% i.e. an 8% Labour lead and a government that with the population, as opposed to the high propensity to vote population, is actually rather popular.

"I'm upper class and I vote Labour..."Of course the very people Labour policies on health, education, regeneration, improving social housing, minimum wage, workplace rights, tax credits, full employment etc. have done most to help are by definition the least well off in society, who because of social exclusion are the least likely to vote. It's bad enough that their opinions don't get registered at the ballot box in proportion to the rest of the population, but nowadays they don't even get picked up by opinion polls.

Now you're beginning to get the picture. It's not just any old people who don't want to vote for us, it's those f**king ingrates who we do all the favours for.

The people responsible for turning a Labour landslide into a probably Tory victory at the next election are the sick, the uneducated, the slum-dwellers, the council tenants, the poor, the exploited, the excessive breeders and the unemployable.

Imagine how little political momentum David Cameron would have picked up if it had been made clear that for almost the entire time he has been leader that the Tories hadn't been ahead of Labour in terms of public support - as the media has claimed - only ahead amongst the fit, the educated, the posh, the home-owners, the rich, the bosses, the careerists and those in work. In other words, only ahead in terms of support from natural Conservative voters.

There's an obvious conclusion to be drawn from all this. Labour should throw it's weight behind the fit, the educated, the posh, the home-owners, the rich, the bosses, the careerists and those in work and leave the Tories to speak on behalf of the sick, the uneducated, the slum-dwellers, the council tenants, the poor, the exploited, the excessive breeders and the unemployable. Hang on... something's not quite right there.

"I was more popular" - "But I was elected on a higher turnout"Polling companies and the media ought to stop saying "opinion poll" and start saying "election predictive model". Even the utility of it for predicting elections breaks down if we reject the assumption that election turnout will always be as low as it was in 2001 and 2005. Surely if we had a 1992-style election which people thought was highly competitive again, turnout will go up again and people other than those "certain to vote" will get excited enough by the closeness of the contest to turn out? In 1992 the turnout reached 77.7% - the highest in 18 years - whereas the turnout at the next, more predictable election in 1997 was down to 71.2%.

A high turnout would be great for Labour, of course, as demonstrated by the election of John Major in 1992 and Tony Blair in 1997. Oh, s**t... something's gone wrong with my argument again.

Labour needs to focus on how we get the people who constitute the 8% lead in public opinion that we would have - if only public opinion showed us having an 8% lead - turned into people who will actually vote. Even better, turned into people who will vote for us. I think we should revisit Tom Watson and Mark Tami's Fabian pamphlet from a few years back that recommended we introduce compulsory voting on the Australian model. We should introduce prison ships off the coast at Clacton and Margate to house those bastards who won't come to the polling stations and CCTV cameras in the polling booths to ensure that everyone votes the right way. We should create an inspectorate to report on the exact numbers of people who refuse to vote, with all the numbers carefully blacked out, and then get Hazel Blears to come to the dispatch box and laughingly deny the figures.

It's been a very long week and I'm not feeling very well. I think I'll ask Linda to make me a nice cup of Horlicks and then lie down and have a good rest.


Antonia Fitzwalter said...

It all makes perfect sense to me. You adopt Tory policies, you get Tory voters. They adopt Labour policies, they get Labour voters. What's so difficult about that? The only difference I can see is that you lot are so much less polished when it comes to putting your snouts in the trough.

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