Is Michael Howard really in a big hole?

Is Michael Howard really in a big hole?


    Are Peter Kellner’s benchmarks correct?

The political commentator and head of the YouGov polling organisation, Peter Kellner, has posted an article asking this question – How deep a hole are the Tories in?

He starts:- The short answer is: very. Here are some benchmarks by which to judge the Conservatives. Their vote share in 1997: 31%. In 2001: 33%. Needed to form a bare majority in the House of Commons: at least 40%. Needed six months before the start of an election campaign, based on past experience, to protect against a late swing back to the Government: 45%. Current support: 29%

While accepting the main thrust of his article we are not too happy with some of his numbers.

“Needed to have a bare Commons majority: at least 40%.” This is a classic case of looking at the next election through the eyes of 2001. That figure is based on taking what happened last time and appyling a uniform national swing to calculate what the Tories need to do. It’s not as simple as that and if you check out the Andy Cooke projection you can find many scenarios where the Tories need a much smaller vote share. With the Lib Dems on 25% then Michael Howard could be marching into Downing Street with just over 36%.

“Poll margin needed to protect against a late swing back to the Government: 5%.” That might have been the case with Labour during the 80s and early 90s but there is no evidence that the same applies to the Tories. In modern times, whether in opposition ot Government the Labour poll share has fallen sharply before General Elections – the Tory share has risen. This even happened ahead of Labour’s landslide victories in 1997 and 2001.

“Current Tory support: 29%.”. Although we like YouGov’s interviewer-free approach our confidence has been knocked by the over-stating of UKIP which this poll puts at 9%. For whatever reason YouGov’s methodology seems to give R K-S’s party much bigger figures compared with other pollsters or real results. The classic was YouGov’s massive 7,000 person survey on the day of the Euro Elections when many people had, presumably already voted. YouGov predicted CON 22%(-4.7), LAB 22%(-0.6), UKIP 20%(+3.9), LD 14%(-0.9). The figure in the brackets shows the variation on the actual result. Thus for every four people who voted UKIP YouGov was predicting just under 5. It was the other way round with their Tory figure – approximately 5 people actually voted against the the poll prediction of four.

But the real reason why Michael Howard is in a hole is not about numbers. His problem is that he’s facing Tony Blair – the most brilliant political strategist for a generation. As soon as the Tory leader develops a popular policy Blair moves in to steal it or close it down. Just look at the annoucement on when he will step down or the decision to hold a referendum on the EU constitution and how Blair always manages to trump whatever the Tories are planning to campaign on.

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