Opinion Polls: Your Questions Answered

I’m a bit of a poll geek. I quote them a lot. People are often sceptical.

So here are some questions answered and some myths busted.

  1. “They didn’t ask me, or any of the people I know.” There are 60 million of us in the UK, so the chances of being surveyed are pretty low. I’ve been interviewed twice by polling companies in 30 years. Neither time was I asked my voting intention. Most polls are of around one to two thousand people, with as much of a representative sample across age, income group, gender, region and so on as possible.
  2. “That’s a ridiculously small number, no wonder they are wrong.” Polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. Polling more people does not change that margin of error. Some polls do cover up to 20,000 people (a very costly exercise) but are no more representative. Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report explains it better, using a soup analogy from George Gallup, here: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/faq-sampling
  3. “But the polls have been wrong. Look at some recent elections.” Actually some pollsters have been bang on in recent General Elections, some have been out by around 3% – the margin of error. Polls were out in 1992 and 2015, and each time pollsters have adjusted for specific factors that contributed to that error. For example in 1992 it was found that many people were not keen to admit they voted Tory, so that was subsequently taken into account: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/faq-dont-knows
  4. “Oh come on, we all know the pollsters are biased, and owned/founded by/run by Tories.” No. Political opinion polling is the most high profile thing pollsters do, but it is only a relatively small part of their business. Most of their work is market research and opinion polling on consumer habits for major companies. If pollsters deliberately got political polling wrong, their main customers would not trust them or pay them to find out where and how to advertise their products. Reputation is the main reason the pollsters have to try their utmost to get it right.
  5. “But that poll last week said something completely different.” Remember the margin of error, plus or minus 3% either way. So if Party X is at 37%, they could be as high as 40% or as low as 34%. And different pollsters have different methods of surveying people, either online, on the phone or sometimes in person, which can produce slightly different results. What you need to do is look at trends over time, and across the nine or ten main pollsters. And look behind the headline voting figures, at how the Leaders and their policies on the economy and other key issues are viewed.
  6. “I did a poll on Twitter/Facebook, and fifteen thousand people voted, and that proves the pollsters are wrong.” The people you are connected to on social media, much like your friends down the pub, are far more likely to share your views than the general population, so it’s not a representative sample. And if anyone can pile in and vote, the results can be skewed massively by a campaign group or political party getting their supporters to vote.

In summary, polls are not perfect, but they are scientifically-conducted representative surveys of the views of the population as a whole. They are the best guide we have. Any one poll is a snapshot in time, a series of polls will show a trend. Events happen and views change.

There’s a similar article from The Independent on polling here, if you don’t believe me: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/opinion-polls-should-we-believe-them-trust-truth-real-fake-news-a7704116.html


Labour councils must act now for people who need help today

ManifestoFrontEvery day the council I lead delivers services to all of the 280,000 residents on Brighton and Hove. Roads are patched, care visits are undertaken, rough sleepers are helped into accommodation, streets are cleaned, and new council homes are being handed to tenants.

The demands on local councils are huge and they are urgent. The financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council shows the level of crisis faced by councils like mine in dealing with rising social care costs and falling levels of funding from the Conservative Government.

The Local Government Association says there is a £2 billion funding gap in children’s services alone. Nationally there is a £12 billion backlog of road repairs. Conservative peer Lord Porter warns councils have “no option” but to increase tax bills to try and meet a £2.3 billion social care funding gap.

As the Socialist Health Association said, “Councillors cant wait for the revolution, or even the next Labour Government. They have to take difficult decisions about health and social care and protect their residents the best they can this week.”

There might be another General Election this year, but only if the Conservative Prime Minister (whoever that is) calls one (which seems unlikely given their experience last June), or the DUP abandon their £10 billion deal to guarantee the Tory majority (possible given a “hard border” Brexit, but again less than likely).

Labour needs a clear lead in the polls to win a majority, but is currently level. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the next General Election doesn’t have to happen until 2022.

So like every other Labour council leader, I’m desperate for a Labour Government, but have a Budget to pass in two weeks time. I’ve got dozens of people sleeping rough on our streets, with more coming every day. I’ve got long waiting lists for homes and house prices continuing to rise. I’ve got residents just about managing who face the impact of Universal Credit and increased council tax bills in the next few months. I am not about to let them down.

We are building 500 new council homes, with the latest handed to tenants this month. We are going ahead with 1000 new homes on offer for shared ownership or rent at 60% of household income on the National Living Wage, truly affordable housing in partnership with a local housing association. I’ve called for the HRA borrowing cap to be lifted by Government to enable us to do much more.

We are taking hundreds of people off of the streets or saving them from getting there each month. We are investing in jobs and support to stop people slipping into poverty and protecting our core services. We are putting our most valued assets and the valued staff that run them into a not-for-profit charitable trust to protect them from ongoing Tory austerity cuts.

We may well have to deal with the crippling impact of those Tory cuts for another four years. We have a responsibility to prepare for that probability, and find what solutions we can to the austerity we face. That doesn’t mean abandoning our Labour values, it doesn’t mean privatisation or repeats of the Carillion debacle. It does mean the kind of innovation and policy development that Labour councils have consistently proven they are good at.

The people who need our help can’t wait another day for it. It is the duty of Labour councillors to do whatever they can with the resources at their disposal now, that is the municipal Socialism our communities expect and deserve.

I can’t say it better than Cllr Nick Forbes, the Leader of Newcastle City Council and of the LGA Labour Group: “As Labour councillors, elected by people who look to us for help today, we cannot wait for the next Labour government – we have to act today, and we do act, with courage and determination, and are we proud to do that for the communities we serve”.


While you are here – we are recruiting an organiser to help deliver a Labour majority in Brighton and Hove in 2019, could that be you? http://www.w4mpjobs.org/JobDetails.aspx?jobid=64482

Reasons To Be Cheerful

imagesThe Tory press’s favourite “Labour supporter” Dan Hodges wrote this week that the Conservatives had achieved “crossover”, a point where they had a consistent lead over Labour in the polls, from which point they were on course for victory in May.

These Tory leads lasted for three polls with one pollster, never amounted to more than a lead of one point, and were all well within the margin of error of plus or minus three points. A range of other polls still had Labour in the lead by one point or a dead heat, and then in the YouGov poll for the Sunday Times this week Labour led by three points, 35% to 32%, their highest share this year. For those with long memories, that was the national share of the vote in 2005, when Labour won a third term with an overall majority of 66 seats. Overall the broad trend in the polls hasn’t moved since September.

Let’s say though, for arguments sake, that the two main parties are tied on polling day, at 34%. On a uniform national swing that would result in Labour being just 3 seats short of a majority. To achieve an overall majority over Labour, something which has eluded them for almost a quarter of a century, the Tories need to be some 7% ahead. A range of election predictions put the race too close to call, with many saying that both main parties will emerge with around 280-285 seats.

Of course we are no longer in the days of uniform national swing, and there are a number of individual regional and local battles involving the Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens that will to some extent affect the result. The biggest factor will, as we all know, be Scotland, where many of Labour’s 41 seats are at risk from an SNP lead in the polls that currently stands at around 20%.  How that plays out on May 7th will be key to the UK wide result.

Keen to make the General Election far more interesting than 2005, and with the Tories doing badly, the media have talked up the Labour collapse to the SNP, the threat to Labour from UKIP particularly in the North and the East Coast, and most recently the “Green surge”.

UKIP may well have peaked. Their highs of polling regularly in the low twenties and upper teens seem to have gone, though they are likely to score well above the tiny percentage they got in 2010 come polling day. They will hold or gain less than five seats, but of course could influence the result in several more constituencies.

The “Green surge”, which has seen them rise from their base of 2% up to at points 10% also seems to have peaked in the glare of media scrutiny over some of their policies, as well as wider publicity around their appalling record in Brighton and Hove. They have dropped back to six per cent and are likely to be competitive in only one or two constituencies at most. There is every chance they may emerge with no seats at all.

Let’s look at some other pointers. Recent polling in London has shown Labour ten points clear of the Tories, and on course to make significant gains in the capital on an 8% swing since 2010. In Wales Labour are marginally ahead of where they were four years ago, and set to make modest gains, leading the Tories by around 16%.

In England overall, Labour were eleven per cent adrift of the Tories in 2010, but are now level-pegging or at best 4% ahead. In 2005 that gave Labour 92 more seats. Even 4% ahead, they would lose 43 seats to Labour. Unless the Tories can make gains from Labour in England, they can’t win, and the UKIP factor makes it even harder for them to add the votes needed.

Despite some 2010 Lib Dem support leeching to the Greens rather than Labour, Labour remain likely to win most of their Lib Dem targets, whilst the Tories will struggle to take many of theirs. Amongst first-time voters Labour have a massive 15% lead, which if turnout can be maximised, would boost chances of an overall majority considerably. Significantly, the NHS now tops the list of voter concerns, an issue on which Labour has a considerable lead.

So, for any Labour supporters gloomy at recent polling, some reasons to be cheerful. Still on course to be the largest party, and if a recovery in Scotland can be achieved, on course for a majority of 25 seats or more.

2014 – a Brighton and Hove Labour year in review

Campaign launch.3A lot has happened since I wrote my review of 2013. Every year has its ups and downs, and if you are an Albion season ticket holder like me you’ll know what I mean. Yet every time I walk on the Downs, in view of the sea and the city centre, I’m reminded of how lucky we are to live here.

Of course, our location between the sea and the South Downs National Park make building the homes we need very difficult, and being so close to London makes housing increasingly expensive. One of the tough choices we faced this year was on our City Plan; deciding how best to build homes for local families without losing our open spaces. Others involved opposing the Greens 5% council tax increase, their £36 million loan to the i360, and recently their council tax benefit proposals.

One of the highlights of 2014 was May’s European elections. Labour in the city doubled its vote on the last elections in 2009, from nine thousand to over twenty thousand, pushing the Greens into second place and helping to elect our fantastic new MEP Anneliese Dodds. Our positive offer to the electorate and strong local campaigning paid off. Despite topping the poll nationally, UKIP came fourth in Brighton and Hove.

Opinion polls have continued to show Labour in pole position to beat both the Greens and the Tories next May. We are not complacent though, and have worked hard in the past twelve months to put the foundations in place for success at the elections next May.

Over the course of this year I’ve spoken to over fifty key organisations and leaders across the city, whilst colleagues have knocked on thousands of doors from Portslade to Saltdean, the seafront to Patcham. We have put what we learnt into our ten key pledges; our Contract with Brighton and Hove, which will form the foundation of our offer to voters next May.

Beach candidatesWe have chosen over forty of the fifty four people needed to fight the local elections; a great team to stand alongside our three excellent Parliamentary candidates Purna Sen, Nancy Platts and Peter Kyle.

Together we have campaigned for new rights for tenants in the private sector, for our local firefighters, for new play area facilities, for more local GP surgeries, for a safer city and for an end to violence against women, for a Living Wage, allotments, food banks, payday loans and much more. Throughout the year we have urged the Greens to do better on keeping our streets clean, collecting the city’s refuse and reversing the decline in recycling.

We’ve pledged to set up a Fairness Commission to tackle poverty and inequality in the city during our first year in office. Our team is in place, our priorities are clear, our campaigns are stronger than ever.

2015 will be a very challenging year for Brighton and Hove, but also one of opportunity to put our co-operative values into practice. As our local politics becomes more polarised between the Greens on the left and the Tories and UKIP on the right, and despite the huge financial challenges Brighton and Hove faces, my New Year’s Resolution is to try an offer our city hope for positive change in May.  We will deliver a fairer, better Brighton and Hove.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.


Could the Green Party collapse in Brighton and Hove lead to a new coalition?

A “lame duck” administration in Brighton and Hove is riven with splits, led by a councillor who has said he won’t fight the next election, and which can’t face up to difficult decisions.

With ten months to go until the local and General Election, things are beginning to look very bad indeed for the Green Party in Brighton and Hove.

In the past few weeks their Leader – the only Green council leader in the UK – has announced he will stand down next May, leaving him and his colleagues open to the accusation of being a US-style “lame duck” administration. This follows three years of attempted coups and public divisions in the Green Group that led to the billboard headline “counsellors being brought in to counsel the councillors”.

With 300 days to go until the end of their term, their major manifesto pledges to recycle 70% of the city’s waste (rates have actually dropped to nearer 25%) and provide 1000 new homes (struggling to deliver even half that total) are looking undeliverable. Crises over school places, house building, social care provision and infrastructure are being put off until after the election.

At their citywide selection meeting last weekend, the Green Party were only able to find enough candidates to fill just under a half of the 54 seats up for grabs at the local elections. Sources close to the Green Party say their members now believe they are only likely to hold between three to eight council seats, down from the 23 they won in 2011. Almost all of the dozen or more seats they could lose would fall to Labour.

Three local opinion polls, one commissioned by the Greens themselves, have put them behind Labour both in terms of the city council and voting in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat. Bookmakers Ladbrokes now make Labour’s Purna Sen the favorite to take the seat.

The European elections in May saw the Greens pushed into second by Labour, who the Greens beat by a clear ten thousand votes in the previous European elections in 2009. Despite some Labour voters staying at home or voting for the Greens or UKIP, the Labour vote more than doubled. Last July the Greens lost a council seat for the first time to Labour, in a ward they had thought was safe.

Now the Greens have been dealt a serious blow by the furore over one of their councillors calling members of the armed forces “hired killers” on Armed Forces Day, a controversy that has again split the Party, and drawn national media and public condemnation. A petition calling on him to resign has been signed by over two thousand people.

With many now calling for a removal of the “numpties” running the council, it is odd to find that the Greens have friends in the most unexpected of places; the Conservative Party.

When Labour moved a motion of no confidence in the Green Administration, it was Tory councillors who led the attack – on Labour. When Jason Kitcat announced his resignation, it was a Tory councillor who jumped to the letters page to praise him. When the Greens proposed a £36 million taxpayer guaranteed loan to fund a seafront viewing tower, it was the Tories who lined up to support it against huge public opposition. While our seafront needs tens of millions of pounds in urgent repairs, it is the Tories who vote through more vague Green traffic improvement schemes like the £8m one for Valley Gardens approved this week.

The Conservative vote in the city is in decline, as the two published polls have shown (Tory vote down 4-6%). They have no hope of winning control of the council next May, and face an uphill struggle to retain their two highly marginal parliamentary seats where their MPs have under 2% majorities.

What do they gain from any alliance with a Green party in meltdown? With political philosophies poles apart, is the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” what is driving this cosying up between previously sworn enemies? Could we see a Green/Blue “stop Labour” coalition emerge next Spring? A case of vote Green, get Blue, or vice-versa.

Whatever happens with the opposition parties, Labour has a strong team in place, and is putting forward policies to tackle poverty, support tenants in the private rented sector and meet the challenges in housing so that residents of Brighton and Hove have a positive choice next May.


Labour and the challenge from UKIP

ukipMany questions will be asked about UKIP and their impact on the political scene in the coming weeks, and what the implications are for the General Election in twelve month’s time,  particularly for Labour.

Its claimed that voters are looking for something new, something outside of the political establishment. UKIP is made up of many like Farage who are rooted in the Establishment, contested elections within the Tory Party for years, and whose ultra-conservative policies hark back to a golden era that never was, rather than a hope for a better future.

Voters still believe that the recovery isn’t benefiting them and their families, but the right-wing owned press is happy to persuade them that it isn’t the wealthy and their tax-avoiding multi-nationals driving the UK into a low-wage economy that are to blame. Instead it is migrants coming here in ever larger numbers, taking housing and benefits, whilst causing a disproportionate amount of crime. In fact net migration is static, migration has a positive effect on the economy, and the Eastern European crime wave is a myth. In fact, perceptions of the public on many of the issues on which UKIP campaign do not match reality.

Voters are told that UKIP “won” the local elections when they came fourth, that they are a new force in British politics when they have fewer MPs than the Respect Party (none) and fewer councillors than Plaid Cymru.

Overall Labour won more councillors on May 22nd than the Tories, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP put together. It gained well over double the number UKIP did. The Lib Dems and Tories did badly, yet the media claimed it was Labour that had performed poorly. Labour all but wiped out the opposition in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and elsewhere, with its best results in the capital for decades. Labour gains in Crawley, Cambridge, Hastings, Ipswich and other towns have been played down.

It is claimed UKIP have connected with the voters where others have not, when in fact they have very little in the way of a ground operation, relying instead on big donations to buy billboard posters and full-page newspaper advertisements.

Meanwhile on the doorstep it is harder than ever for any party  to connect with voters. Fewer read local papers than ever before. Leaflets get lost between estate agent and takeaway flyers, fewer people attend community meetings or are contactable by phone, the costs of direct mail are becoming prohibitive, and when voters are in and do answer the door, many are unhappy at being disturbed. All these factors can be overcome, but it takes time, hard work and money.

UKIPs policies would deny many voters workplace rights to maternity leave, sick pay and holidays built up over generations, and have them paying more tax for the privilege. However, beyond the EU and immigration most voters have no idea what UKIPs policies are. They are portrayed as being more honest than other parties, yet patently and demonstrably untrue claims about migration and the number of laws made by the EU go unchallenged.

Having given UKIP unprecedented exposure the media seem surprised at their “success”, and delight in saying what bad news it is for Labour, when half the UKIP vote comes from the Tories and just one in seven from Labour. A strong UKIP performance is far more likely to deny the Tories a majority than Labour. Unless they can focus more than 30% support in any one seat, as the Greens did in 2010, they will remain unrepresented in the Commons.

The polls have narrowed and UKIP have, for now, won some support from Labour. Yet Lord Ashcroft’s poll shows that where it matters – in the key marginals – Labour is well ahead and set to have a majority. Despite everything, Labour is still ahead. The results in the elections to the European Parliament, on a 35% turnout, are unlikely to be a predictor for next May’s General Election.

No one in Labour can take any vote for granted, and we should work to gain the support and trust of every resident based on good leadership, excellent community contact, and sound and realistic policies.

However we are up against a hostile media either defending some vested interests, or looking for something new, some drama and competition ahead of next May. Now we are also up against a populist party winning support on arguments that are false, policies that are uncosted, promises that are undeliverable. A level playing field this is not. Was it ever?


Can Labour win in Brighton and Hove? Part Two: Labour’s priorities for 2015

seafrontIn a year’s time the residents of Brighton and Hove will elect 54 councillors to run the city until 2019, in a time of unprecedented challenges for our local council.

The task of a Labour council under my leadership, if Labour wins the most seats on May 7th 2015, will be to restore confidence in local government in the city, to ensure the council gets the basics right, and to begin delivering the solutions on jobs, homes, schools and cost of living challenges that Brighton and Hove needs.

Getting the basics right is vital if we are to win back the trust in our local council that the Greens have squandered. We will listen to residents and work with them and their communities, our communities, not impose the solutions we think best as the Greens have done. Satisfaction with the Green council stands at under 50%. Labour in Hackney has taken resident satisfaction levels with the Council from 23% in 2001 to 74% last year. Labour in Brighton and Hove want to do the same.

As one of our first priorities, during our first year we will ensure that rubbish is collected, that streets are kept clean and that recycling levels begin to climb again. Less recycling is collected now than in 2007, and Brighton and Hove is recycling less than half the waste of most similar cities. This must change. Residents expect their refuse and recycling to be collected, and their streets cleaned; the most basic and universal of services people expect in return for their council tax.

Brighton and Hove has weathered the recession well but too many people are in jobs that don’t use the talents they have, or are in jobs that don’t give them the pay and security they need to get on the housing ladder or avoid falling into debt. We will promote the creation of jobs paying the Living Wage or more in all parts of the city and all sectors of the economy, not just the city centre. No young person should be unemployed for more than a year; we will help meet the commitment made by Ed Miliband that a Labour government will provide jobs and training for people under 26 and out of work.

Labour will work with communities, developers, tenants, landlords and other partners to deliver more affordable housing. It is not right that the city has dropped into the bottom ten places for new housing starts under the Greens. We want to make sure that fair rents and decent, affordable rented accommodation are within reach for those that need it in the city. Labour has pledged action on this that will benefit thousands of private sector tenants in Brighton and Hove. Homelessness in our city is simply unacceptable, and a Labour council will do whatever it can to help people off the streets and into secure housing.

The demands and rising costs of social care are a challenge for the city, and Labour will not shirk it’s responsibilities to the vulnerable residents who rely on care services the council provides. Working with partners in the NHS we must ensure care focuses on the person.

We need schools providing enough places, enough choice and the highest standards of education for our young people. We will end the political games played by the Greens and the Conservatives with our schools. If elected Labour will strive to ensure children are taught in excellent schools where staff are valued and qualified, and the potential of every pupil is brought out. The new strategy announced this week is a way forward we support.


Council funding is being cut by tens of millions, but Labour councils around Britain have shown that local services can be protected and run in a financially responsible way, and we will do that here. A responsible council, delivering the basics, focussing on jobs, homes and schools, and helping those that need it most; that is what Labour will seek to deliver for Brighton and Hove.

A recent local BBC poll put Labour in the city on 38% of the vote, the Conservatives on 24%, and the Greens on 21%, so Labour is best placed to get the Greens out next May on the same day as the General Election. (UPDATE: Labour came top in the European elections in the city, winning well over 20,000 votes – up from 9,000 in 2009 – and beating the Greens into second place, with the Tories some way back in third.) So Labour can win, but that victory must be earned. We will show, in the coming twelve months and in our election manifesto, how we will achieve these goals and why we deserve the trust of residents to run the city.

Our candidates and volunteers are knocking on doors across the city every day listening to residents and sharing thoughts and ideas on how to get our city back on track. You can have your say via www.brightonhovelabour.com/contact/