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Did Labour's internal polling show them behind?

Labour's official pollster has said that the party's private polling had the Tories ahead since before Christmas - but others are sceptical. 

James Morris, Labour’s official pollster, has weighed into the ongoing inquest around the poor performance both for Labour and for the polling industry. He says that Labour’s internal polling showed the party underperforming its public ratings for almost the entirety of the parliament:

From January 2011 to Spring 2013, Labour’s average vote share in the public polls rarely dropped out of the low 40s. We consistently had it around 7 points lower. While the public polls had Labour ahead until early spring of this year, in the party's internal polls cross-over came right after conference season in 2014.  A four point Labour lead in early Sept, turned into a tie in October, followed by small Tory leads; prompting the party to put reassurance on fiscal policy and immigration at the heart of the campaign launch before Christmas. This plan worked through the opening weeks of the short campaign, with Labour pulling ahead in the English marginals following Ed Miliband’s strong debate performances and the non-doms row.

Our final poll, in late April, told a different story. As focus groups showed the SNP attacks landing, we had Labour behind in the marginal seats among likely voters. A public poll in a similar set of seats at the same time showed a 3 point Labour lead.”

The article has drawn an angry response from current and former Labour staffers. They say that the internal numbers showed no such thing and that the party was just as blindsided by the defeat as everyone else. “They [James Morris’ polling company, Greenberg Quinlan Rosler] failed us and are now spinning for themselves,” was the response of one party staffer. They say that Morris is talking up his numbers – which he has yet to publish – in order to save GQR’s reputation with their private sector clients. (Remember that political polling is to polling companies what 3-for-2s are for supermarkets: it’s designed to get customers in the door, not to make money in its own right.)

Are they right? It doesn’t seem wholly likely that Labour figures were being shown polling pointing to a heavy defeat. On the night itself, Harriet Harman had to wait to go on air while a new line was devised in response to the exit poll. The party’s official spinners went quiet for half an hour before responding to the numbers, and, unofficially, howls of dismay were emanating from even the upper echelons of the party. Labour had even gone so far as to assemble a team “working flat out” on constitutional precedents and preparing briefings on an “illegitimate Cameron clinging to power”.

There is also a conflict between Morris’ remarks now and his statements while working as the party’s pollster. In one meeting with an external pollster, with Morris in attendance, a senior aide to Miliband laid into them for asking poll questions about Miliband's leadership, say they were "completely irrevelant and shoudln't be asked at this stage". Morris now says that Labour were performing seven points below their public position in 2011. But in the same year, Morris briefed the party’s parliamentarians on the electoral strategy – to win with a combination of Labour loyalists from 2010 and Liberal Democrat defectors, the so-called “35 per cent strategy”. He argued then that a 2010 performance would ensure a 2005-style share of the vote – 35.7 per cent – despite private polls that would have been showing the party on just 33 per cent. 

Two days before Labour’s defeat I reported a growing mood of worry within that party. Multiple sources were all suggesting the same thing: a one-point swing to Labour. In the end, that’s exactly what materialised – but to make matters worse, there was also a swing towards the Conservatives, turning what would have been a handful of gains into a series of painful losses.

But that unease was largely emanating from the party’s field staff, who were in charge of knocking on doors and collecting data. The picture from headquarters was very different, with staff sent not to bolster Labour’s most vulnerable seats, but out in some of its most ambitious remaining targets. There was worry at the centre, but that was about the survival of Ed Miliband should Labour end up with 270 seats, not the crushing defeat that happened.

That said, there is some evidence that Labour was aware not all was well, with the target seat list being pruned from 106 to 61 well before polling day. The Labour leadership under Miliband did show a remarkable capacity for self-delusion, taking years to attempt to address the Labour leader’s image problem. It's very easy to see how Team Miliband could have been in denial about the party’s dire internal numbers. Unless Labour elect to publish the full data – which is highly unlikely – we will never know for certain.

 

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

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.