They can’t be serious! Now traditional Tory press in Cornwall predicts Tory losses

An unexpected source, but is this more evidence for a historic surge towards Labour in Cornwall? The West Briton group of local papers is complementing the YouGov prediction of a clean sweep for the Tories with the results of its own survey. Recently, the newspaper group has been considerably less supportive of the Tories than usual. This is partly because Theresa’s May’s handlers wouldn’t allow their reporters to film her or ask certain questions when she visited Helston earlier in the month.

The paper launched a Cornwall Survey 2017 on their website a month ago. In addition to a rather eclectic set of questions, including one asking people which illegal drugs they’d taken recently, they asked them for their voting intentions (presumably when not under the influence of those drugs). The findings, for what they’re worth, back up the YouGov prediction of a sharp rise in the numbers of those intending to vote Labour next week.

Having got over 3,000 responses, Cornwall Live is reporting that Labour is in the lead not only in Camborne & Redruth but also at St Austell & Newquay, which, like Truro & Falmouth, sees a close three-way split between Tory, Labour and Lib Dem. Sheryll Murray remains way ahead in South East Cornwall, which looks increasingly rock-solid for the Tories.

Boris considers jumping on hearing latest polling results

There’s even some good news in this survey for Cornwall’s Lib Dems. In North Cornwall Cornwall Live reports that the Tories’ Scott Mann and the Lib Dems’ Dan Rogerson are neck and neck. Meanwhile, at the other end of Cornwall in St Ives, contradicting the YouGov prediction, Andrew George and Derek Thomas are also too close to call, although an earlier report from Cornwall Live showed Andrew well ahead.

But what are these findings worth? Cornwall Live’s ‘Survey’ may be worth precisely nothing and merely reflect the social media presence of party supporters. Unlike the bona-fide polling outfits, they don’t give us the detailed tables of raw results to check for ourselves. It’s totally unscientific, with a self-selected sample, which is neither random nor properly stratified. As it’s online it’s likely to be skewed towards younger and/or computer-savvy voters, a group that is less likely to be Tory than the inert lump of pensioners who will (famous last words) keep them in power.

Yet, taken together with the YouGov model, one clear message comes through. This is that tactical voting only makes sense in North Cornwall and St Ives (for the Lib Dems) and possibly Camborne-Redruth (for Labour). In the other three seats forget it. There, you can safely vote for what you believe in.


Pollsters predict another Lib Dem wipeout in Cornwall

Typical. On the very day I confidently pronounced that Labour didn’t have a hope in hell of winning next week’s election, based on polling evidence, YouGov launched its election prediction model with the shock news that we’re heading for a hung Parliament and Tory losses. Their model also provides the first relatively solid evidence for voting intentions in Cornwall (although based on a state-wide methodology).

As of today YouGov is predicting four likely Conservative wins in Cornwall and two safe Tory constituencies. In every seat, the Tories are comfortably ahead by more than ten points. There is however a wide margin of error in YouGov’s estimates, as they admit. Thus on a good day, they’re suggesting that the Lib Dem vote in St Ives could be as high as 41% (an increase of 8% on 2015). But on a bad day for the Lib Dems it could slump as low as 25%. And, given that Derek Thomas’s equivalent range at the 95% confidence level is 38-51% Andrew George needs a very good day to sneak past him.

Here are the current details of YouGov’s predictions for Cornwall (estimated % of support and change on 2015).

St Ives Camborne Truro St Austell North South East
Con 45 (+7) 50 (+10) 45 (+1) 50 (+10) 47 (+2) 56 (+5)
Lib Dem 33 (nc) 11 (-1) 19 (+2) 23 (-1) 33 (+2) 21 (+4)
Labr 23 (+14) 37 (+12) 28 (+13) 27 (+17) 17 (+12) 20 (+11)
Green 3 (-3) 4 (-5) 3 (-2)
Ukip 5 (-7)
May gets out and meets her adoring public in Helston.

The big surprise has to be the rise in the Labour vote, which is very bad news indeed for Lib Dem strategists hoping to squeeze that vote. In fact, in Truro & Falmouth and St Austell & Newquay YouGov is suggesting that Labour will come second and even in South East Cornwall, it’s a very close thing, with Lib Dems and Labour tied on around 20% each. Is this really likely? It’s perhaps possible in Truro & Falmouth, where Labour are well organised in Falmouth and Penryn. It’s difficult to imagine an improvement of 17% in the Labour vote in St Austell & Newquay. And it would be a historic first and a symbolic end to Cornish Liberalism if Labour were to edge out the Lib Dems in the South East.

Nonetheless, however sceptical we might remain and however much weight we might give to the ‘local factors’ that YouGov ignore, there are implications here for those being swayed by the calls to vote ‘tactically’. Keep an eye on YouGov’s model, which they tell us will be updated daily. Things may yet change radically in the week left before the election. If you’re considering your postal vote I should hold off until the last moment possible.

Moreover, there’s another far less scientific ‘poll’ that might give a little more credibility to YouGov’s predictions for Cornwall. More on that tomorrow.

Can Andrew George win St Ives? The message of the maths.

Even though the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships turned their backs on a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, we have a de-facto one in Cornwall in St Ives. But how likely is it that Andrew George and the Lib Dems can unseat the Tories’ Derek Thomas? Here are the voting figures for St Ives in 2015.

Derek Thomas Conservative 18491 38.3%
Andrew George Lib Dem 16022 33.2%
Graham Calderwood Ukip 5720 11.8%
Cornelius Olivier Labour 4510 9.3%
Tim Andrewes Green 3051 6.3%
Rob Simmons MK 518 1.1%
turnout 73.7%

Progressive alliance fans tend to approach things a little simplistically. They assume that all the voters for ‘progressive’ parties will vote for the ‘progressive’ candidate. On that basis things look good for Andrew, who can add another 8,079 to his total. Hold on though. The ‘progressive’ alliance is facing a ‘regressive’ one, as Ukip isn’t standing. So on the same basis add another 5,720 votes to Thomas’s total. This gives us

Derek Thomas Conservative 24211
Andrew George Lib Dem 24101
Chris Drew Labour 0

You might have spotted a small flaw in the logic here, with a Labour vote that even the Tory press might not expect. Because Labour is standing. Its local candidate, Chris Drew, is well-known in the Penzance area. It’s hardly likely that no-one will vote for him even if the Labour campaign is extremely low profile. Current polling indicates that around two thirds of Labour voters last time intend to do the same this time, with one in five still undecided and the rest scattering, including 10% to the Tories. But let’s assume that in St Ives only half their voters stick with Labour, while 10% go Tory. This leaves 1,804 for Andrew.

Let’s also assume Andrew picks up 90% of Green and MK votes, which may be taking things for granted a little. This gives him another 3,212. But what will happen to the Ukip vote? Across Britain 60% of Ukip’s voters in 2015 now intend to vote for Ukip-lite – the Tories – in the absence of a Ukip candidate (45% will do so even if there is one!). Eight per cent are considering voting Labour and just 4% for the Lib Dems with the rest undecided. Let’s assume St Ives’ kippers vote the same way but that the non-Tory vote splits evenly between Labour and Lib Dem.

All this surmising gives us the following.

2015 vote Labour GP/MK Ukip  2017 vote
Thomas 18491 +451 0 +3432 =22374
George 16022 +1804 +3212 +343 =21381
Drew 4510 -2255 +357 +343 =2955

Oh dear, it’s still a majority for Thomas, and a fairly healthy one at that.

Moreover, so far this exercise has made the further very questionable assumption that every single Lib Dem voter in 2015 will stick with Andrew. This is very unlikely. Recent polls suggest that Lib Dem voters are more volatile than any other party apart from Ukip. Only half of Lib Dem voters in 2015 are contemplating doing the same in 2017, with nearly one in five saying they’re going for that strong and stable, but nice, Mrs May and one in ten to Labour. The rest are dithering.

So, in order to win, Andrew has to pick up at least nine out of ten Green and MK voters, retain ALL his own voters from 2015 and get at least half the Labour vote. A tall order. But even all that isn’t enough. So he needs to do all or some of the following as well.

  • Attract Tory voters. This will be difficult as Tory voters in 2015 are proving the most resilient to changing their votes. They’re not called conservative for nothing.
  • Attract more of the Ukip vote. This is made more difficult by the Lib Dems’ strong anti-Brexit stance.
  • Pick up support from non-voters. Easier said than done.

There’s one final possibility. In 2015 Andrew went down with the good ship Lib Dem, sunk by the general swing away from the party across the UK. If there were a rising Lib Dem tide this time it could take him back to Westminster. The problem is that there isn’t. Lib Dem support in the polls is stubbornly languishing at levels similar to or even a little down on 2015. The Lib Dem vote in the Cornish local elections also stagnated and was hardly encouraging.

To win, Andrew has to hope that the remaining three weeks of the campaign see an uplift in Lib Dem prospects generally. Otherwise, you can safely place your bets on Derek Thomas.

What to look for in the Welsh local elections

On Thursday voters in Wales and Scotland will elect their local councillors. By popular demand from the Cornish masses (well, one of them anyway), I’ve been persuaded to do a blog on our Celtic compatriots as they troop wearisomely to the polls. Four times within two years in Scotland! Whatever would Brenda of Bristol say? Poor dears must be exhausted by this surfeit of democracy. How will they possibly get the energy required to go shopping?

Two aspects complicate matters if we want to compare the Welsh with the English local elections. Wales has unitary local government so all, rather than some, authorities are up for election this year. And the last elections were five years ago, not four, as the 2016 elections were postponed so as not to coincide with the Welsh Assembly vote. (The exception is Ynys Môn, which held its previous election in 2013). Because this was a year before 2013, unlike in England there was no surge of support for Ukip last time either.

In terms of seats here’s the results of the four Welsh local elections since the devolved assembly was set up.

1999 2004 2008 2012
Labour 563 479 (-84) 345 (-134) 580 (+235)
Independents 295 321 (+26) 334 (+13) 298 (-36)
Plaid Cymru 205 175 (-30) 206 (+31) 170 (-36)
Lib Dems 98 146 (+48) 165 (+19) 72 (-93)
Conservative 75 107 (+32) 174 (+67) 105 (-71)
Other 34 35 (+1) 40 (+5) 41 (+1)

Labour has a bit of a problem in Wales. In 2012 it was riding high in the polls, scoring its best result for years. Now polling between 15 and 20% lower, it faces certain losses. The only question is how many. Roger Scully of Cardiff University suggests over 100. On the basis of the polls this looks decidedly over-optimistic from the Labour perspective. Kernowpolitico of Redruth expects a performance more like 2008, which could bring as many as 200 losses.

[reproduced courtesy of MrPenguin20 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
In 2012 Labour won a majority of seats in all south Welsh urban and post-industrial authorities apart from Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On a bad night they could lose all those authorities save Rhondda and Neath Port Talbot. However, the number of Labour candidates has held up well and they may avoid this scenario. No doubt the tabloids will be sharpening their pencils, ready to plunge them into Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses more than 100. Of course, if they do a lot better, those tabloids will no doubt ignore the result while srtill plunging their pencils into Corbyn’s back. Basically, the rule is Labour mustn’t win.

The Tories are riding high in the polls and in a local election poll in Wales amazingly came just two percentage points behind Labour. At the least, they must be expecting to regain their 2008 position, get a majority in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan and make serious gains in places like Newport and Conwy. Their number of candidates is around 10% higher this time, although still well behind Labour. Yet a lot of them don’t seem to be in particularly winnable areas.

If the Tories gain votes and Labour lose, the Lib Dems in Wales might be hoping to sneak through on a minority vote. But a Lib Dem recovery looks less likely than in England. In Wales their poll rating is fairly dismal and a fall of around 15% in the number of Lib Dem candidates doesn’t suggest a party in rude health. Their best hope for gains is probably Cardiff, where they were the largest party before 2012 and where an anti-Brexit stance might bring more dividends.

Plaid has maintained its number of candidates at 583, rather fewer than the Tories but over twice the number of Lib Dems. They’ll be looking to get back over the 200 seat mark, as in 2008. Yet in many authorities their presence is limited. Indeed, in 10 of Wales’ 22 local authorities they have fewer councillors pro rata than MK does in Cornwall. Their strength is still heavily focused on Cymru Cymraeg (with the exception of Caerffili and the Rhondda) and their main hopes lie in their traditional heartland – Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion, Gywnedd and Ynys Môn.

Ukip is standing more candidates this time – 80. But this is many fewer than the other parties, or Independents for that matter, who are contesting more wards than any party other than Labour. In 2012 Ukip won two seats. It’s unlikely to do much better this time. Meanwhile, the Greens have around the same number of candidates as Ukip and will be crossing their fingers desperate to secure their first Welsh local councillor since 1999.

This may be the last local elections under a first past the post format, as the Welsh Government is toying with the idea of introducing PR for local government elections. Although it’s confusing matters somewhat by maybe letting local authorities decide. So can we expect any remaining Labour-run councils to resist PR and stick with the Victorian system? A test of their essential conservatism looms.

Seat predictions for the English local elections: sophisticated modelling or back of fag packet?

Every year Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher at Plymouth University reveal their seat predictions for the local elections in England. This is based on a model which uses ward-level by-election performance to calculate a ‘national equivalent vote’ which is then converted into seats likely to be gained or lost.

However, a bit like the ‘sophisticated’ computer models Cornwall Council uses when forecasting population and household growth, there’s only one small problem, The predictions aren’t necessarily that accurate. The media focus on the predictions but rarely if ever ask the obvious question – how well did they turn out in the past? As we can see from the table below the Rallings/Thrasher model usually gets the direction of gains or losses right, but the actual number of seats won or lost are sometimes well off.

Rallings and Thrasher’s predictions compared to outcomes, 2013-2016

2013 predicted    actual 2014 predicted    actual
Con -310 -335 Con -220 -236
Lab +350 +291 Lab +490 +324
Lib Dem -130 -124 Lib Dem -350 -310
Ukip +40 +139 Ukip +80 +163
2015 predicted actual 2016 predicted actual
Con -450 +541 Con +50 -48
Lab -50 -203 Lab -150 -18
Lib Dem -80 -411 Lib Dem +40 +45
Ukip +400 +176 Ukip +40 +25

Their worst performance was 2015 when they completely missed the rise in Tory seats at the expense of the Lib Dems and badly over-estimated Ukip’s performance. Last year too, they forecast a gain for the Tories, which turned out to be a loss. In 2015 the local elections were combined with a general election, when the polls missed a swing to the Tories, and a higher than usual turnout, which made predicting the results of the locals more precarious. Of course, this year we have the novel factor of local elections taking place while a general election has already kicked off, which may also affect turnout, but to a lesser degree.

Here’s what they are projecting this year.

Rallings and Thrasher prediction 2017

Con       +115
Lab -75
Lib Dem +85
Ukip -105

There are around 2,300 seats up for grabs in the county and unitary elections in England. On past performance we might expect Rallings and Thrasher to be around 200-220 seats adrift over the four parties. This could be critical for party morale as their predictions are often used as benchmarks by both media pundits and political parties. If a party does better than predicted, then morale is boosted, if worse it’s dampened.

There’s no evidence of any systematic party bias in Ralling and Thrasher’s model. However, in three of the last four years they’ve over-estimated Labour’s performance. Doing so again this year will only stoke the feeding frenzy of the Tory press. So is their prediction of a 75 seat loss for Labour in England feasible?

Four years ago, when these seats were last fought, Labour made 288 gains, although it was only an average year for them as in the previous set of elections in 2009 (under Gordon Brown’s leadership note) they had performed abysmally, losing 313 seats. Labour are now running at 25-27% in the polls, compared with 38-41% in 2013.This is much lower so some losses must be expected. So a predicted 75 seat loss looks to be on the low side and is surely over-estimating Labour’s performance based on current polling. This is particularly the case as the rural shire counties are hardly the best ground for Labour.

I would suggest a more realistic forecast would be for Labour to suffer a much higher loss, of around 170 seats,(which is still a couple of hundred better than 2009). With Ukip likely to lose over 100 of the 147 seats it won in 2013, the gainers will be the Tories and Lib Dems. The Lib Dems had a bad year in 2013, losing 130 seats, They may well claw back the majority of those. Which leaves a gain of around 150-160 for the Tories, with the Greens, Independents and others taking the balance.

So here’s my alternative prediction, drawn up on the back of a fag packet. By this time next week we’ll know which method has worked best.

Kernowpolitico prediction 2017

Con      +150
Lab -170
Lib Dem +110
Ukip -120

Exclusive: inexplicable late swing to Lib Dems (embarrassed cough – comment added morning after poll)

In 2010 the Great British Electorate confounded the pollsters by not voting Liberal Democrat in the expected numbers. Today, they’re confounding the polls once more by indulging in an irrational and whimsical late swing to the Lib Dems. Although this time it’s more the Little English Electorate, as the Scots have tumbled to it and decided not to encourage them any more.

VI MarMay 15

While Scottish polls remain sternly unmoving, and elsewhere the two bigger parties are still locked together, there’s been a noticeable movement in the last two weeks to the Lib Dems. Having bumped along between 7 and 8% for months, they’ve suddenly put on a couple of percentage points to reach 9-10%. They’ve narrowed the gap to Ukip, although still unlikely to close it, especially as up to a fifth of voters have already posted their ballots and fortunately can’t change their minds.

What are the implications of this late shift?

First, if, as is possible, the turn back to Liberal Hypocrisy Democracy is greater in Lib Dem held seats, then the Lib Dems may well be looking at a seat total nearer 35 than 25, thus enhancing their bargaining power in the now smoke-free rooms following the election. If the pundits are right and the Tories are back as the largest party, then the outcome looks more likely to be another Tory/Lib Dem coalition. Suggesting we might as well not have bothered with the whole circus in the first place.

Second, in Cornwall it looks as if St Ives and North are safe for the Lib Dems while even Yellow Tory Gilbert may even have a sniff of saving his seat at St Austell and beating off Blue Tory Double. Retaining all three Cornish seats would be nothing short of miraculous and cause wild jubilation among the Lib Dem faithful. It also means anyone agonising today over whether to vote with ‘head’ or ‘heart’ need agonise no longer. Vote for what you believe in; it’s vital to maximise the vote for the challenger parties in order to keep their issues on the agenda. In any case, this is a false and simplistic dichotomy, as voting with your heart is in the long run also voting with your head.

In that long run of course, all this is mere window dressing. If/when Clegg and Cameron (or his successor) patch up their differences and cobble together another working relationship, the Lib Dems face another five years of attrition, the loss of hundreds more council seats and languishing in the polls. If they escape by the skin of their teeth this time, then surely they won’t be able to do it three times running. Will they? Please?

Meanwhile, the government will have to deal with the consequences of European austerity politics and Grexit, the next financial crash when it inevitably arrives, and the growing contradictions between the infinite growth they all thoughtlessly sign up to and the finite globe we live on. Sooner or later, people will begin to realise there have to be alternatives to the sham democracy that legitimises an ideology ruthlessly and irresponsibly pillaging our planet. In the meantime by all means vote, but then get down to some serious politics and organise.

Polls frozen: royal princess to rescue?

You have to admire the English ruling class. Almost perfect timing for the birth of another royal highness, dear of her. Pity it wasn’t Tuesday, but even five days before a close election a couple of days of wall to wall royalist sycophancy can’t possibly do any harm to the Tory cause. In a tight election even a single percentage point fillip might just do the trick.

And it is a tight election as, back in the real world, the polls remain static with the two biggest parties still locked together. What movement there’s been over the past week has involved a slight rise for the Tories and an equivalent fall for Labour. Labour were ahead in four of the week’s seven daily YouGov polls, compared with a lead in six of the previous week’s seven. All of which indicates a slow shift back to the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems also gained a bit over the last week, while both Ukip and the Greens slipped back. Yet if we compare the polls now with those of a month ago when the campaign proper began, we can see that campaign might as well not have happened for all the effect it’s had, which would would have saved all of us a lot of grief.

w/e May 2 w/e April 5 change
Conservatives 34.0% 35.4% -1.4%
Labour 34.1% 34.6% -0.5%
Lib Dems 8.4% 8.0% +0.4%
Ukip 12.7% 12.4% +0.3%
Greens 4.7% 4.6% +0.1%
SNP/PC 4.7% 4.6% +0.1%

And in Scotland? Here, there does seem to be more of a definite trend as the SNP has increased its lead over Labour for the fourth week running. This is not good news for Ed who gambled the party silver heavily this week on foolishly ruling out any deal with the SNP in order to mollify middle England and the Tory press. By doing so he’s as good as stated openly that he prefers the continuation of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition to an anti-Tory government involving the SNP. Insane.

snp lead