Should pre-election opinion polls be banned? A third of MPs think so

30 per cent of MPs support a ban on polling for a "defined period" before general elections, with backing for the proposal strongest among Labour.

Unlike many other countries, including France, India, Italy and Spain, the UK does not ban the publication of opinion polls in the run-up to a general election. But as a new poll from ComRes shows, a significant number of MPs believe it should. The survey of 159 MPs (carried out following the decision of the Indian Election Commission to ban polls in the final 48 hours of campaigning in the five states holding elections this month) found that 30% support a ban on polls for "a defined period" before general elections. 

Backing for the proposal was strongest among Labour MPs, 35% of whom favour a ban, with 32% of Lib Dems and 25% of Tories agreeing. Based on that, I'd say that Labour and the Lib Dems' justified anger at how right-wing papers often spin polls in the Conservatives' favour was a factor. Labour MPs may also be scarred by the experience of the 1992 election, when polls pointed to a victory for Neil Kinnock (owing to the 'shy Tory factor'), and fear that inaccurate surveys could depress turnout (although it is worth pointing out that polling reliability has improved significantly since then). 

But while there may be some merit to the argument that a ban on polls would help reduce a herd mentality among the electorate, ComRes chairman Andrew Hawkins is certainly right when he says that "the internet, and especially the advance of social and other online media, renders entirely nugatory any attempt to ban the publication of opinion polls in the run-up to elections." The danger of a ban is that selective and possibly unreliable data would leak out anyway. Far better that polls are published transparently for all to analyse. 

Here's the full breakdown of the results.

Would you support or oppose a ban on the publication of opinion polls for a defined period prior to General Elections?

Support
All 30%

Con 25%
Lab 35%
Lib Dems 32%

Oppose
All 45%

Con 49%
Lab 39%
Lib Dems 38%

Don’t know
All 25%

Con 26%
Lab 26%
Lib Dems 30%

 

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday on June 30, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear