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25 September 2010

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:

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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.

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