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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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland