Last night was fun. Populus and ICM released eagerly awaited polls from Oldham and Saddleworth, the seat of disgraced Labour MP Phil Woolas. A little later, the new kid on the block, Survation chipped in.
For a while, I had been mystified at the coalition strategy of supporting the Libs while the Tories stood back. If it's indeed true that the Lib Dems have lost something like two thirds of their support since the General Election, whilst the Tories have gained 2% or so and Labour have gained a healthy 12%, then surely it would make much more sense for the Tories to give it a shot? Whatever incumbency factor Woolas cost Labour, surely it would be more than cancelled out by the national image the Libs now find they hold?
Then the penny dropped. Cameron knew, as Lord Ashcroft put it that,
"The idea of the Conservatives springing to victory from third place in a Greater Manchester constituency at a time of tough spending cuts from a Tory-led government always seemed unlikely."
Enter the fall guy. As ever, Clegg was willing to take a hit for his puppet-master. Poor man, it's actually embarrassing now. Is he so a-political that he couldn't see this by-election would merely make him feel a little Old-er and a little Sad-der? Did his boyish pre-election optimism really allow him to believe he could win this seat? When Cameron offered to step back, did he honestly believe he was doing him a favour. Couldn't he see, that if anyone had to lose, it might as well be the Champion of all Losers?
Well, the scores on the doors look bleak - not just for the Clegg Massif, but for the coalition as a whole. If you've read Ashcroft's analysis in the Torygraph, you might be forgiven for thinking that Labour should be doing a little better. But let's remember, this is a three way marginal, where Labour only won by 103 votes, arguably because the Labour candidate played very dirty indeed. The press has been devastating (rightly so in my opinion) and in normal circumstances, the Lib Dem, Elwyn Watkins, should have walked it.
Strategically, the worst thing Clegg could have done was insist the result would be close, that his party could win it.
Here are the Populus and ICM results: ICM have CON 18%(-8), LAB 44%(+12), LDEM 27%(-5) Populus have CON 15%(-11), LAB 46%(+14), LDEM 29(-3)
Anthony Wells analysis at UK Polling Report points out, http://www.ukpollingreport.co.uk/
"The story of the by-election is basically there – almost a third of people who voted Lib Dem in May 2010 have defected directly to Labour, and those defecting Lib Dems are the most hostile to the coalition in the other questions asked (more so than existing Labour voters!). However, this slump in Liberal Democrat support is partially offset by widespread tactical voting by Conservative supporters, with around a third of people who voted Tory in May 2010 now saying they’ll vote Liberal Democrat."
Just as with the national opinion polls, Labour are up 12%. Cons are down much more than they are nationally, but that appears to be Con voters voting tactically for their Lib coalition partners. Add the Con and Lib drop together and you have the same 13% the Libs have lost elsewhere with Cons up 2%.
Crucially, and the main point of me writing about the same subject I'm sure most of t'internet is writing about this morning is the combined Con and Lib scores.
Since the coalition was formed, every Labour rise in the polls saw Tory poll geeks everywhere chorus "Aha, but Add Together Tory And Dem scores (ATTAD) and Labour are stuffed. Well looky-here! Even adding the above scores together, sees only a tiny chance of a win with ICM and a 2% Labour lead with Populus. Helpfully though, Lord Ashcroft (who commissioned the Populus poll) asked the question . how people would have voted had there been a joint Con-LD candidate. The result appears to be Lab 47%, Con/LD38%. Terrible news for any right wingers hoping to consign Labour to the bins of history by forming a yellow/blue consensus.
If you are a poll geek like me, you'll have noticed that the apparent "likelihood to vote" figures amongst Labour voters and disillusioned Lib Dems are extraordinarily high. I'd have to conclude that the public are lining up, positively itching to give the coalition it's first kicking, and it's not going to be pretty.
Seems the future's bright after all - and it's not Orange.
**Any of you harrumphing that I've ignored the rather closer Survation poll, showing my obvious bias, there are, I'm afraid impeccable reasons: They're not a member of the polling council, and in the words of Anthony Wells again,
"ICM and Populus are more likely to give us an accurate impression. Survation seem to have suffered from an exceptionally high refusal rate of 47% (perhaps it was their questionnaire, or introduction to it – ICM typically get about a fifth of that) meaning the final voting intention figures were based on just 225 people, giving a very high margin of error. They haven’t provided their weighting targets, but the weighting regime itself was very simple – age, gender, past vote. Compare that to the more complex regimes used by established phone pollsters, which include social class, tenure, work status and so on. I’d stick with the experienced hands on this one"