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Does Labour's rising vote share suggest the polls are wrong?

I've looked at some of the thought-provoking responses to my piece. 

What’s up with Labour’s increasing vote share? I wrote at length about the increase in Labour’s poll rating since the election was called last week, which attracted a number of interesting responses, which I thought I’d go over here.

The end of multi-party politics

Labour are putting on extra votes if the polls are to be believed, but so are the Conservatives. Why? Because Ukip seem to be in an advanced state of collapse and the Liberal Democrats have fallen back since the local elections, boosting both parties, though the Conservatives are overwhelming beneficiary.

This is the most straightforward interpretation of what’s happening, as it is exactly what we’re seeing in the polls.

Labour MPs are fighting good local campaigns

Always-readable Phil Burton-Cartledge made this suggestion and goes into further detail on his blog, that Labour incumbents are by and large fighting campaigns based on their own local records. The polls, which consistently put Labour at least 14 points behind the Conservatives, mean there is little fear of Corbyn.

Labour is in a perfect storm: people who like Corbyn can vote for him, people who don’t like him don’t fear him.

Recent pollsters have a pro-Labour slant

I don’t mean that in a conspiratorial way. Pollsters have what are known as “house effects”: Throughout the last parliament, Panelbase tended to produce higher scores for Ukip than their competitors – their last three before May 2015 produced Ukip scores of 11, 17, 16 and 17 per cent – and the same tends to be true of all the major pollsters.

Throughout this – admittedly rather shorter – parliament, four pollsters have tended to produce the worst Labour scores: ICM, ComRes, IpsosMORI and Kantar/TNS. ICM and Kantar have continued to put out worse figures for Labour, MORI haven’t put out a poll since before the local elections. Of the most “Labour hostile” – I cannot emphasise enough I am talking about the effects of the pollsters, not the politics of the actual people who work there – pollsters, only ComRes has published a poll showing an increase in the Labour vote outside of the margin of error.

This is perfectly plausible, though we obviously have insufficient data to know whether or not this is the case.   

The polls are wrong

The thing about political polling is that people only really care if you spot the result and are willing to forgive you getting the score wrong.

Take the 1992 election: taken together, the polls taken the month before the election forecast a hung parliament with Labour in the box seat as far as coalition or minority government was concerned. But the pollsters overestimated the Labour vote by five points, and underestimated the Conservative vote by three points. The result was a narrow Tory victory.

Fast-forward to 1997. The polls forecast a huge majority for Labour. But the pollsters overestimated Labour by close to five points, though they got the Conservatives about right. (There was, of course, some sharp variation, with some pollsters underweighting the Conservatives and some overweighing. Every pollster overestimated the Labour vote to a degree.) But the result was a huge majority for Labour, so no-one really noticed.

Could 2017 be a similar polling disaster? It’s worth noting that if all you knew about Britain in 2017 was the history of polling, you’d probably bet on the polls overestimating Labour, as did in 2015, 2005, 2001, 1997 and 1992. Forget the questions about the political context – whether Labour are polling 48 percent, 35 per cent or 31 per cent, no-one has ever gone broke betting that the party will do worse than its polls suggest.

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.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

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.

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