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As expected, Greens fall back to 5 per cent in Ashcroft’s weekly poll

Today’s poll blast: the Greens fall back below the Lib Dems, as we forecast last week.

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Last Monday we looked at how Lord Ashcroft's weekly poll was probably putting the Greens too high at 8 per cent.

"…we should be wary of the finding: Ashcroft’s data suggests 28 per cent of 18-24 year olds are now planning to vote Green.

"There are only 56 weighted 18-24 year olds in Ashcroft’s poll – so we can’t say 28 per cent of them are actually going to vote Green.

"…this is only one poll. We should hesitate to say 8 per cent of the population are now converts. … We can only take sub-breaks seriously over time. And YouGov’s have shown the party’s youthful support at far lower levels than today’s poll implies."

This didn't stop the Guardian declaring a poll "surge" for the party, and talking of multiple "polls" putting them on 8 per cent. John Harris' anti-establishment roadshow was duly dispatched to Bristol West, which the party is targeting.

Now Ashcroft's weekly poll has put the party back at 5 per cent.

So much for the surge.

The Greens shouldn't be ignored, and perhaps should be in the leaders' debates, but last week was a case study in the way some pundits can blow up the modest findings of pollsters.

The full data tables for each poll can be found here (last week) and here (today).

This is how the percentage of each age group supporting the Greens changed over the two polls:

This explains why the Greens have dipped back down to 5 per cent.

Last week's poll gave a headline of "8 per cent Green" because 42 of the 517 weighted respondents backed the party. 16 of them were 18-24 year olds (out of 56 weighted respondents – i.e. 28 per cent – but this is based on 38 actual replies. Only 11 18-24 year olds would have actually said they would vote Green but the age group's poor response rate meant they were made into 16).

This compares to 4 out of 44 18-24 year olds this week (35 actual replies), and 28 out of 511 respondents overall (i.e. 5.4, or 5, per cent).

These are clearly small numbers, and scarcely ones that should be shaping column inches. The margin of error for 500 respondents is nearly 5 per cent. The data is useful over time. The fault isn't with Ashcroft or any other pollster (we looked at how YouGov's Scottish sub-polls were distorted by the Mail and Breitbart last week), but the way polls are reported.

For a more in-depth look at the Green vote, Peter Kellner today looked at how three weeks of YouGov samples have put the party on around 5, rather than 8, per cent.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war