Lord Ashcroft's corrected poll paints a very different picture for Ed Miliband. Photo: Getty.
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Ashcroft corrects his Doncaster North poll: Miliband ahead by 29

A weighting error has disproven last week’s headlines – but what happened?

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Last week, Lord Aschroft created a stir when, in his latest round of constituency polling, he showed Ukip within 12 points of Ed Miliband in Doncaster North. He put the party on 28 per cent, up from 4 per cent in 2010.

But the eagle-eyed Anthony Wells – YouGov's chief political analyst, editor of UK Polling Report, and provider of May2015's historical polling data – spotted an error. The poll was weighted to include too many Tories and too few Labour voters. Ashcroft has always been unerringly impartial in his reporting of his polls, this was a simple data entry error.

The new weightings have put Miliband ahead by 29 per cent, not 12, and give him a higher share of the vote than 2010, rather than a lower one. Our recent, pre-poll suggestion that Miliband could face a battle for his seat now has little support.

The graph below shows how the new poll differs from Ashcroft's previous poll, and the results of the 2010 election.

This wasn't an inconsequential poll. Ashcroft's pre-release tweet was shared on Twitter nearly 600 times.

But how exactly did Ashcroft wrongly weight the poll? There are two steps to creating a representative poll: an initial sampling of the population and then a weighting of them to make sure they are demographically representative (e.g. the correct proportion of age groups, gender, party ID, etc.).

 

The error in Ashcroft's poll was at the weighting stage. His weightings are meant to begin with the 2010 result in Doncaster and make some allowance for the past recall of voters (he asks those he has sampled who they voted for in 2010, which will differ slightly from the actual result). The problem with his first poll was that the past recall numbers for the Tories and Labour were mixed up.

The new weightings are shown below (here are the tables for the first and second poll). As the graphs show, the old weightings implied the Tories won the seat in 2010. The new weightings are close to the 2010 result (past recall accounts for the slight difference), and mean more Labour voters are in the poll.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.