Lord Ashcroft's corrected poll paints a very different picture for Ed Miliband. Photo: Getty.
Show Hide image

Ashcroft corrects his Doncaster North poll: Miliband ahead by 29

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

For daily news, polling and predictions, explore our elections site, May2015.com.

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496