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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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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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