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12 November 2019

Evening call: Are the polls tightening?

A pair of surveys have shown the Tory lead cut to six points. But don't get too excited just yet.

By Jonn Elledge

There’s a rule round these parts: we don’t write up individual polls. When you get an interesting poll of voting intention, it’s more likely to be an outlier or a cock-up than a sign that things are actually changing.

Luckily for those of us with daily newsletters to fill, though, the last 24 hours has brought two different polls that on the face things seem to tell a similar story. A Survation poll has put the Tories on 35 (up 1), just six points ahead of Labour (up 3). Meanwhile a ComRes poll has the Tories on 36 (no change), seven points ahead of Labour (up 1).

Both these polls are showing a smaller Tory lead than the one we’ve grown used to. So: game on for Labour?

The sensible answer is almost certainly, “not yet”. For one thing, the two polls cover slightly different time periods – Survation 6-8 November, ComRes 30 October-5 November – which don’t overlap and which are both some way behind us. Recent events, not least the Brexit Party’s decision not to contest Tory-held seats – which, let’s recall, will make polling a nightmare – are not factored in.

What’s more, there’s a long and inglorious history of media organisations over-interpreting polls. Remember the day in 2015 when the Guardian splashed with, “The day the polls turned”? Disappointingly for Ed Miliband, though perhaps not for the paper’s circulation figures, they hadn’t.

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And as Stephen wrote yesterday, only one thing seemed to have changed much in this election so far: that Boris Johnson had gone from historically unpopular to just unpopular. That is not great news for Labour. (Also, it’s worth noting at this point that – shortly after the email version of this newsletter went out, YouGov released a poll showing the Tories extending their lead from 13 to 14. Ho hum. Anyway, on with the show.)

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Set against that, though, there’s the story of 2017, when Labour did gradually increase its vote share as the campaign went on. That may in part be because the party is quite good at campaigning, and Theresa May, at least, was catastrophically bad at it. But I wonder if there was another reason: a high Tory vote share could be self-correcting. It’s all very well for centre-left types to tell pollsters they’re not voting Labour because they don’t like the leadership. That’s not the same as holding back when there’s a three-figure Tory majority in the offing.

You can flip that round too, of course: if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party does start gaining ground, perhaps Tory Remainers will overcome their anger about Brexit and return home, too. That also seems to be the story of 2017, when the two big parties recorded their biggest combined vote share in years, each propped up by the fear of the other.

At any rate: if history repeats itself, we could continue to see both big parties consolidate their vote share at the expense of their smaller rivals. It’s all very well holding an election to break the deadlock. But what if the electorate is deadlocked, too?

Good day for…

Diversity in the media, after the Financial Times named Lebanon-born deputy editor Roula Khalaf as its first female editor. Khalaf, who joined the business paper in 1995 and has been its deputy editor since 2016, will take over from Lionel Barber early next year. More from the Guardian here.

Bad day for…

Living standards, because we obviously need more bad news on those. Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation think tank, wrote a great blog for the Staggers earlier, explaining the UK’s record employment levels. “So why are so many of us working? Because we’re a lot poorer than we expected to be.” Bleak stuff.

Quote of the Day

“You won’t stop people shagging!”

One-time health secretary Frank Dobson, formulating Labour’s response to the AIDS crisis, as quoted in John O’Farrell’s great memoir Things Can Only Get Better. Dobson, the MP for Holborn & St Pancras from 1979 until 2015, died yesterday at the age of 79. The BBC ran an obituary here.

Everybody’s talking about…

The fact that the Labour Party has come under cyberattack from an unknown source. Officials reported yesterday’s attack to the National Cyber Security Centre, and said that there had been no data breach.

How fiendish an attack this was is not exactly clear. A spokesperson described it as “sophisticated”; Guardian tech correspondent Alex Hern described it as “about as sophisticated an attack as the time Corbyn’s press officer left twitter logged in at a German hostel”.

You can find out more in Hern and Peter Walker’s write-up. Stephen, meanwhile, thinks the whole debate is missing the point.

Everybody should be talking about…

Whether Remembrance Day can continue to meaningfully commemorate the victims of the two World Wars even as those horrendous conflicts recede further and further into the past.

Because of a deep-seated desire to have total strangers yell abuse at me over the internet, I wrote something on this subject this morning: “The further we’ve got from VE Day, the less tied Remembrance Day has become to the events that it’s meant to remember, and the easier it’s been for other actors to hijack it for their own ends.” You can read the rest here.


Questions? Comments? Abuse? Tell me. Unless it’s about the poppy thing, in which case I’m probably alright.

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