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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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era