Are Labour up or down today? Photo: Getty.
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How much attention should we pay to daily polls?

The daily numbers are interesting, but the trend tells the story.

This post was originally published on May2015.com.

How much attention should you pay to the polls? This week Labour have led comfortably, then drifted down, and now the Tories “lead”, according to YouGov’s overnight tracking poll.

This is – as some have pointed out – noise. The trend is what is worth watching, along with the results of each polling house, rather than just one. Reporting on the polls throughout the week relies on following the YouGov/Sun tracking poll, published from Monday through Thursday night.

But they are only one of the eight major, active British pollsters. We hear from some of them – ICM, Ipsos Mori – only once a month, or others – ComRes, Survation, Opinium – only every few weeks. Aside from YouGov, only two other pollsters poll weekly: Ashcroft, who often creates a mini-news cycle on Monday afternoon, and Populus, who poll on Monday and Friday mornings.

If you pay attention to YouGov’s daily tracker polls you can write a new headline almost every day. The real story is the trend across all eight pollsters over time. May2015‘s Poll of Polls is keeping a track of all the numbers each day. We like to keep an eye on our rolling four-day average:

If we just looked at the daily averages, we see a more muddled picture - especially in mid-week, when just YouGov are polling.

Daily polls become important over time. Or they can mean something if a number of pollsters show the same sudden shift, as Ashcroft, Populus and YouGov did on Monday, when all three put Labour ahead by at least 4 points. But that seems to have been about a post-Rochester Tory-to-Ukip swing, rather than any lasting change; Labour's vote share never really changed, and the Tories have now "recovered", at least in YouGov's numbers.

Polls are truly informative over months and years.

And while a four-day average is at least something of a trend, polls are truly informative over months and years, rather than days and weeks. Exploring the polls over the last 44 years - as you can do here on May2015, focusing in on any week or month since August 1970 - tells the story of post-1960s British political history.

Click through to track the rise and fall of the SNP, who led the polls for three months in late 1981, or the Blair and Brown years, and the Tories' long, slow, limited recovery since 1997.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.