Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Elections
25 September 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:12am

The perils of prediction

Remember when Sky News reported that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leadership?

By George Eaton

After 109 days of waiting, Labour finally gets a new leader today. Although the special conference opens at 4pm in Manchester, we’re not expecting a result until around 4.40pm. The announcement will take this long because the results in each of the three sections (MPs/MEPs, party members and affiliated trade unionists) are explained separately. The candidate with the lowest vote will be eliminated and his or her voters redistributed until one candidate achieves 50 per cent of the vote in the electoral college.

Sky News’s Jon Craig reports that Ed Miliband has won the big prize. He tweets: “It’s Ed! A senior Labour Party figure tells me the younger brother has beaten David. Labour’s Cameron? I’d say so.”

I both hope and expect he’s right (my prediction has always been that Ed will win on second preferences), but it’s worth remembering that the same news organisation mistakenly reported that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leadership in 2007.

As Kevin Maguire recalls in his NS column this week:

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Sky did a deal with Alan Johnson’s enforcer, Gerry Sutcliffe, to receive a signal as the hopefuls left a briefing room before entering the hall – if Sutcliffe departed wearing glasses, Johnson had won. Reeling at a narrow defeat, Sutcliffe forgot and emerged four-eyed. So Sky News wrongly reported that Johnson had triumphed.

The ever-cautious BBC won’t make such an error. Nick Robinson told the Today programme this morning that he “simply has no idea” who will win.

I’ll be blogging on the leadership throughout today and my colleague James Macintyre will be reporting directly from Manchester. We’ll bring you the result as soon as it’s announced (we expect) at 4.40pm.