It don't mean a thing, if you ain't got that swing. Photo:Getty
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What if the polls are wrong?

Averaged together, the polls still point to a Labour victory - but the picture is more complex.

Who’ll win next week? Frankly, it’s impossible to tell. When we average the polls together, it appears as if Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister in short order. But the reality is that the polls are diverging, making an average less useful than it appears. ICM, Ashcroft, Survation and Opinium tend to show Conservative leads of varying strength, ComRes an effective tie, while Panelbase, Populus and IpsosMori have tended to show Labour ahead. The question of the election isn’t so much “What if the polls are wrong?” but “Which polls are wrong?”

Labour’s campaigners on the ground are privately less positive than the more positive polls would suggest. The party’s own targeting strategy indicates a less than rosy picture. As I wrote yesterday, the party is still jittery about its prospects in Westminster North, Hampstead & Kilburn and Southampton Itchen, all seats that it held in 2010. Seats that ought to fall into the party’s lap, like Waveney and Stockton South look like more difficult fights than Labour might wish. The party underperformed its poll ratings in the local elections in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

That said, that might be as much to do with the lacklustre Labour campaign prior to those contests. This time, Ed Miliband is having the campaign of his life, which you'd assume will help Labour on the day. The bleak forecast of one insider before the start of the campaign – “You cannot make as many mistakes as we will make and not lose” – now looks wide of the mark. Labour's vote, meanwhile, increasingly resembles that of the American Democrats: it's young, diverse, urban and relaxed about turning out in midterm elections. It may be that Labour does better both than the polls and its previous showings over the last five years suggest. 

As for the grim noises being made by candidates in the marginals, that could easily be paranoia.  One Tory MP in a marginal remarks that “the second you relax, you’re dead”, while a Labour MP in a similar predicament says that he “would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t do enough to hold the seat”. So the pained expressions of Labour canvassers in the marginals could simply be a particularly exacting form of professionalism, although it’s worth noting that the same pessimism doesn’t seem to extend to their Conservative counterparts. But, one way or another, at least some of the pollsters will be left with egg on their faces next Thursday.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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He went in to report on crystal meth – before long, Luke Williams was hooked

The journalist moved into a house of meth addicts to investigate the drug. Within a month, he was using, too.

“I got a story, a very good story,” writes the young Australian journalist Luke Williams in the first chapter of his new book, The Ice Age. “Only it wasn’t the one I was expecting.” For three months in 2014, he lived in a house of crystal meth addicts in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to investigate the drug. Within a month, he had forgotten why he was there. He had become addicted himself.

What follows is a dizzying retelling of his experiences, which veers between stories of Williams’s psychotic episodes and facts about his drug of choice. His descent into addiction happened in a nondescript house in Pakenham, a suburb to the south-east of Melbourne – “one of the most badly affected meth areas in Australia”.

Williams, now 36, grew up nearby and went to school there. He already knew two meth users in the area well enough to rent a room with them – an out-of-work labourer called Smithy and his live-in ex-girlfriend Beck. It was they who gave Williams his first shot of crystal meth, less than three weeks into his stay.

The crystal form of methamphetamine, also known as “ice”, is an addictive and powerful stimulant that causes euphoria. It heightens alertness, energy and arousal, with comedowns that can lead to aggression and violence.

It has gained cultural significance in recent years because of the US television drama Breaking Bad, in which an otherwise mild-mannered and law-abiding chemistry teacher “cooks” and sells crystal meth. Yet not much is known about the long-term effects of the drug, which in some countries – such as the Czech Republic – is a graver problem than heroin. In the UK, crystal meth activity is low and mainly linked to the gay chemsex party scene, where drugs are used to enhance group sex experiences.


Photo: Scribe

The drug is linked to severe psychosis, which Williams experienced first hand. Detailed in his book in a neat little list, like a morbid twist on a teenage diary, are Williams’s delusions, entitled: “My psychotic ideas”. Some are harrowing. His conviction that his parents are trying to poison him, for example, which results in him threatening to kill them “with my bare f***ing hands”. Others are amusing: he abandons his journalistic endeavour almost immediately in the belief that his calling is to become a famous rap star.

“I think that I could maybe do spoken word, but rapping? No, no,” he chuckles, when he speaks to me via Skype from Nepal, where he is researching another story. He says that he wanted to investigate crystal meth use partly because he was bored. He had left journalism to work at a law firm, and his life “lacked a bit of kick”.

Although he describes himself as “white, middle-class [and] educated”, he was fixated by the characters from his youth on the city’s outskirts. “I missed [them] in the middle-class world; it seemed so polite and clean . . . I looked forward to getting back there, living cheap, and when I saw the state some of my friends were in, I was very curious to know what was going on with them. Nobody was writing about the working class and the underclass.”

Williams quickly shifted from observer to addict. In alarming and frank detail, his book tells of marathon masturbation sessions (his record was 16 hours), physical altercations and a thick fog of paranoia. He would search his name online and become convinced that anything written by, or about, the name “Luke Williams” involved him.

He became so obsessed with the memory of an ex-boyfriend called Nathaniel that he believed that Smithy had turned his ex “into a transsexual, so that he and his mates could have their way with the new female Nathaniel”.

After three months, Williams was kicked out of the house by an aggressive Smithy, who thought the journalist was stealing his cannabis (he wasn’t). The nearby hospital gave him no help, so Williams ended up on the streets. After a lot of persuasion, he eventually returned to safety with his parents. He has been recovering ever since.

There is talk of a crystal meth “epidemic” in rural and suburban areas of Australia, which has among the highest usage of the drug in the world. The number of people using it there tripled from 2011 to 2016, and 7 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 have reported using amphetamines or methamphetamines (in the UK, it’s 1 per cent).

Although Luke Williams’s story is an insight into one of the world’s most dangerous substances, it’s also a lesson in doing your research. The first time Williams took crystal meth, it was injected by one of his housemates and he believed that it was no different from powdered meth – more commonly known as speed – which he had been using occasionally to give him the energy to write.

The group called everything “meth”, regardless of what they were taking. “Our lingo just didn’t differentiate,” Williams tells me. “People don’t really understand the difference. I got the opportunity to say in the public domain that [crystal meth] is different . . . It eats away at your inside.”

The Ice Age: A Journey Into Crystal-Meth Addiction by Luke Williams is published by Scribe.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era