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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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser