BBC_Question_TimeThat’s the end of the set piece events for this election, so the politicians will be relaxing and not expecting to be facing any more tough questions until around this time next week. Of course then they’ll actually have to come up with an answer to the question Cameron and Miliband ducked last night: just how will you govern if you don’t get a majority? I know I bang on about this, but if you want a picture of what’s wrong with our political system, it’s two leaders who won’t get 40% of the vote, let alone 50% of it, insisting that they’d have a right to govern entirely alone without any compromises. (It’s also a media who collude in those delusions and talk about winners and losers in a system where we all lose)

As for last night, I thought Cameron did the best job in ignoring the question he’d been asked and delivering the pre-prepared responses in the same subject area. It felt like there were a bunch of interns back at CCHQ playing Buzzword Bingo, and he’d insisted that none of them could win unless he unleashed every single one of them. Miliband was a bit rough at the first, especially when the audience were at their most aggressive, but improved as time went on and stayed calm throughout, which contrasted with the tetchiness that always seems to linger just below the surface when Cameron interacts with anyone. Clegg did well, though he looked quite tired at having to explain the tuition fees issue for the umpteenth time, but dealt well with the audience and didn’t pander to them, being willing to point out to the ‘eight countries are leaving the EU’ questioner that he was just wrong. (Like any Question Time, this would have been improved by Dimbleby telling some questioners the premise of their question was wrong)

Will it have changed minds and been a decisive moment in the campaign? Like all the other events in the election, probably not, but perhaps it’s interesting because it’s not been decisive. A lot of the Tory campaign strategy did seem to revolve around the idea that Miliband would fall apart under the strain of the election, but that hasn’t happened and perhaps the improving public opinion of him has been what’s stopped the Labour vote falling away through the campaign as previous experience might have suggested it would.

Perhaps that lack of reaction is what we need to give us the space to discuss how debates and other set piece events are part of future election campaigns. Discussion of the 2010 ones was overshadowed by the effects of Cleggmania and the worry that they’d unbalance the campaign, but that hasn’t happened this time, even if discussions about them did take up far too much time in the run-up to the election. I suspect some form of debates will be part of future campaigns, but I think we’ve seen that a range of formats might be the way to go in the future. As well as debates, more Question Time-type events would be good, but also more interviews where they’re put on the spot. However, I also think we need to cover a wider range of issues and people than we’ve seen this year – did we really need more questions about immigration last night? I know there have been debates with other party representatives on different issues, but these have been buried away in the middle of the day, or stuck on BBC News and maybe deserve a higher prominence. We complain about the presidentialisation of politics, but this could be a way to weaken that, and also to ensure all issues get some coverage and give exposure to other politicians.

Right, can we have the election itself now, please?

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2015 General Election Day 18: Cameron’s Gogglebox strategy fails

Two and a half weeks in, three weeks to go and it feels to me that we might have had the first big moment of the election tonight. There’d been a lot of pre-event discounting of tonight’s debate: Farage was guaranteed to win as the only right-wing voice, everyone would gang up on Miliband, Cameron would look good for staying out of the fray and much more. Instead, it felt like everyone had made a similar calculation: why go for Miliband when he’s there and can fight back when you could take as many free hits at David Cameron as you wanted?

Sure, Miliband had a few clashes with the others but note how many of those were based on ‘if you were Prime Minister’-style questions and except for the clash at the end with Nicola Sturgeon, how he responded pretty well to them all. He got to stand there, look calm, collected, human and Prime Ministerial while David Cameron sat at home, probably gritting his teeth more and more as the night went on. The polling bears it out too – Miliband seems not only to have ‘won’ the debate, but amongst people who watched the debate appears to have edged ahead of Cameron on the preferred Prime Minister question.

The Tory strategy, which seems to have imagined that Ed Miliband would do what he hasn’t done for the past four or more years and fall apart under pressure, is looking worse and worse every day. I mean, Ed Miliband might suddenly collapse into a gibbering wreck in an interview tomorrow, but it’s seeming increasingly unlikely, and probably less likely than the rage that seems to seethe under David Cameron whenever anyone criticises him finally bursting to the surface.

Of course, we now need to see what gets picked up and played on more over the next few days. So far, there seems to be a rather muted response to Miliband’s request to Cameron for a head-to-head debate, but Labour could keep the pressure up on that, as they likely know there’s no way it could actually happen, even if Cameron were to say yes. There’s also the question of how Farage blowing up and insulting the audience is going to be taken up, because it was a moment where he looked like he’d finally realised that he wasn’t speaking for the majority and instead looked like the pub bore challenging someone to a fight. Still, we now know what two hundred people simultaneously having a sharp intake of breath sounds like.

I’ll probably look back on this in three weeks time and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ but things seem to have become interesting at last. That probably means we’ll see everything derailed by ridiculous tabloid claims over the weekend, but for now things might just have taken flight.

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‘Winning’ vs ‘performing well’: Different reactions in leaders’ debate polling


As I said in my post last night, one explanation for the differing results given in the post-debate opinion polls was that they could be asking different questions. Having had a chance to look at some of the reporting of the polls, it seems they were – or, at least, they asked a variety of questions but the headline results given were in response to different questions.

  • ICM for the Guardian are unclear what they asked in the report on their site but the Guardian’s liveblog reports the question as ‘who do you think won the debate?’.
  • YouGov asked “Leaving aside your own political preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight’s debate?”
  • ITV’s coverage of their ComRes poll doesn’t give the exact question (and the data’s not on ComRes’s site yet) but reports it as “The best performers were voted as follows” suggesting a similar question to YouGov.
  • Finally, Survation for the Mirror asked “Who do you think ‘won’ the debate?
  • So, we have two polls asking about who performed best and two asking who people thought ‘won’. While these may seem similar, they’re actually asking people to judge different things. ‘Performing best’ is asking for a judgement on observable factors, while given that there was no objective scoring available, ‘winning’ is perhaps expecting people to think about how other people would have judged the debate.

    So, was there a difference in the results? Here’s the results from the pollsters who asked the ‘winning’ question:

  • ICM: Miliband 25, Cameron 24, Farage 19, Sturgeon 17, Clegg 9, Wood 3, Bennett 2
  • Survation: Cameron 25, Miliband 25, Farage 24, Sturgeon 15, Clegg 6, Bennett 3, Wood 2
  • Both of them put Cameron and Miliband ahead, and effectively tied, Farage just behind them, Sturgeon in the mid-teens and Clegg, Wood and Bennett in single figures.

    Now, those who asked about best performance got these results:

  • YouGov: Sturgeon 28, Farage 20, Cameron 18, Miliband 15, Clegg 10, Bennett 5, Wood 4
  • ComRes: Miliband 21, Cameron 21, Farage 21, Sturgeon 20, Clegg 9, Bennett 5, Wood 2
  • So, we may have a difference in the results based on the question asked. Cameron and Miliband both do worse (but perform closely together) in performance questions compared to winning ones, while Sturgeon does better when people are asked to judge performance. She gets the best result of the night for anyone across all the polls in YouGov when people are asked to leave aside their own political preference and just judge performance.

    This is based on a small sample of four polls and just one debate, so there’s no way the results are conclusive, but there does appear to be an interesting difference between the results from the two questions. When asked about winning, it’s possible some people are more likely to think of it being a battle between Cameron and Miliband than they are when asked to consider who gave the best performance of the night. Election coverage is shot through with the idea that only one of those two can ‘win’ the election, so it’s not unsurprising that a question about winning gives them more support than a question about performance does.

    However, with neither of them having a decisive lead over the other and them not being too far ahead of the others, it suggests there isn’t much expectation of a decisive victory for either of them in the election. Even when asked to make a forced choice between the two of them, the results were evenly split, and going by that evidence, we’re set for a very inconclusive election result.


    Another day, another debate. It didn’t turn into the seven-way shoutathon that I feared, but there were points when there were lots of people talking over each other – usually 2 or 3 of the men – though Julie Etchingham managed to keep them away from the worst of it.

    The polling results seem to be coming up with a variety of results, and I think that’s because of two factors. First, there’s a partisanship factor, as people are inclined to think ‘their’ leader won, but secondly because it’s very hard for people to consistently judge who ‘won’ the debate. A lot of the variation between the polls could well be a result of question design – the criteria people are applying will vary a lot according to how they’re asked.

    I think that to get a more useful response, you’d need to combine the result of various questions, but that would take a lot more time than the snap judgments required by the media. For a simple take, I think the ‘who did worst?’ questions may give a more honest response. Invert the scores from those and who’s ‘least worst’ may be more of an indication of the national mood than ‘who won?’

    For me, there were no knockout blows or career-ending gaffes – though the fact-checking on Farage’s HIV claim could have some interesting results – and I think they’ll all come away from it thinking they did what they needed.

    I think Nicola Sturgeon delivered the best performance of the night, and if she was leading a party that stood outside Scotland, things would get very interesting. Farage isn’t trying to broaden UKIP’s appeal, but is trying to work up their base and make sure it gets out to vote, but I also expect a lot of potential UKIP voters wouldn’t have been watching tonight.

    Clegg, Miliband and Cameron all came out pretty evenly across the night, and while I can see Cameron’s reasons for not going to the debate on the 16th (even if I still think he should be empty chaired for doing so), I don’t know why Clegg isn’t going to be there. Is it too late for him to change his mind? Miliband wins by being equal to Cameron, so he’ll be relatively happy, but someone should tell him not to stare down the camera every time he talks.

    For Bennett and Wood, just being on the stage was a boost for their parties, and like Farage they were aiming for a certain section of the audience. What might be the biggest boost for the Greens is Sturgeon criticising the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour. English voters enthused by her message might well go to the Greens as the nearest alternative.

    And one final thought: I’d love to see a survey that looked at how much people thought the women talked compared to the men. They might be surprised by this finding:

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    2015 General Election Day 3: Fool if you think it’s over

    Opinion poll commentary, too

    Opinion poll commentary, too

    Some really shocking news to start the election today, as the Telegraph does huge amounts of original research gets an email from Tory HQ and reveals the news that rich businesspeople, some of whom are Tory members of the House of Lords, think we should all vote Tory. My only shock is that someone at the Telegraph thought April 1st was the best day to lead with this as a headline, and also that the Tories are going for the ‘vote for us or the economy will collapse’ message this early in the campaign. We’re normally at least a couple of weeks into the campaign before they hit the panic button, but maybe this is just the start, and by the last week of the campaign we’ll be learning that only David Cameron can protect us from Imperial Overlord G’Thxnvarrr and his army of alien ravagers, while if Ed Miliband is elected he’ll invent time travel and go back to give the world the bubonic plague.

    Meanwhile on the Tory battlebus:

    Meanwhile, someone at Lib Dem HQ decided ‘film it like the scenes in Casualty just before the week’s big accident’ would be an appropriate style for a party election broadcast. The general response to it seems to have been that it happened, and now let’s move on to something else.

    We’re now less than twenty-four hours from the Invasion Of The Giant Floating Heads Of Debate Doom.
    However, there’s still no confirmation that the debate’s host will be Sylvester Stewart.

    At some point in the future, we may well have the first virtual reality avatar debate, with all the possibilities that gives for the news graphics people to go completely over the top. Come to think of it, can we find some MPs who’ll admit to having played World Of Warcraft and get them to face off in an online debate battle there? Though now I’ve suggested that, it’ll no doubt be picked up by someone, filtered through eight hundred other suggestions at a pitch meeting and end up with a segment on This Week featuring a cheap animation of Michael Portillo as a barbarian warrior. So it goes.

    Meanwhile, we learn that for UKIP a referendum is only a real referendum if they get to decide who votes in it. They’ll likely back down on that demand later, though, when they realise that it’s much easier to let everyone vote but in the spirit of European football competitions all ‘No’ votes will be treated as away goals and count double.

    Thanks to our local Gazette, I’ve found out some more about our Christian People’s Alliance candidate, but mostly that he doesn’t like to do video interviews. If elected, he promises that he “will uphold Christian principles, as happens in many other European countries”, which is the sort of view that could lead to interesting clashes with the UKIP candidate at any hustings debates.

    It still feels to me like the campaign’s stuttering and not really started yet. Maybe it’s because everybody’s expecting to wind down for Easter weekend, or maybe we need the big seven-way shoutathon that tomorrow’s debate will no doubt turn into to fire us all up. Or perhaps you’re all crazed with election fever and I’m insulated from it thanks to spending lots of time in the library on a very quiet university campus at the moment. However, that did give me this graph (from Paul Whiteley’s Political Participation in Britain) which should give you something to think about when discussing polls.

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    How to be a leading political commentator

    So, we had some news last night that Ed Miliband wants to bring in rules to organise and regulate General Election leaders’ debates. For the avoidance of doubt, here’s what the article says:

    The Observer has learnt that a Labour government, in a significant constitutional move, would put the requirement to stage “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing. The new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts, under which parties are consulted but not given the power to stop them happening. This could be done by establishing the body which negotiates the terms of debates as a trust in statute with responsibility for determining the dates, format, volume and attendees.

    Now, you may agree or disagree on whether we should have leaders’ debates, but I think the proposal is quite clear. It’s not proposing to compel anyone to attend – just as the current system doesn’t compel anyone to submit party political broadcasts – merely proposing an independent body (likely the Electoral Commission) oversee the format and organisation of debates.

    Having read the article that seems pretty obvious to me, but maybe my reading comprehension skills are of an advanced level, because that understanding seems to be beyond some people:

    Yes, this is a man who is paid to interpret and comment on the news completely failing to understand a simple proposal. ‘Compel’ (along wih ‘force’, ‘order’ and other similar words) isn’t anywhere in the proposal or the article, which makes me wonder just where he might have found it from, and if his editors ought to be having a word.

    Of course, I could be misunderstanding things myself and mistaking an overpromoted Tory shill who’ll happily manipulate any piece of news to fit his preconceived ideas and propaganda aims for a serious and objective columnist. But then I might end up calling for my own law that stops columnists pretending that pushing their own agenda is somehow objective.

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    Not Watching This Weekend: The Remake

    "I have a very particular set of broadcasting requirements."

    “I have a very particular set of broadcasting requirements.”

    It has come to our attention that barely weeks after its official release, one of the earliest projects of Not Watching This Weekend Studios is now being remade by a rival fantasy production studio. This gang of young upstarts, apparently known as The Conservative Party have announced plans to remake Not Watching This Weekend’s classic British comedy The Empty Chair.

    Rumours also persist that this remake will change the script of the original debate, and rather than featuring a Prime Minister battling his way across a gridlocked London to avoid an empty chair, this version will instead feature a Prime Minister and his team who are so poor at negotiating that he manages to get himself into a situation where he rules himself out of any debates, and then ends up looking flabbergasted when they go on without him. (There’s talk that this will then lead up to a comic twist where the PM who can’t negotiate with TV companies will insist that he has the ability to renegotiate the entire country’s relationship with the European Union, but we think that would be straining credibility even for the Carry On Voting-esque farce this version appears to be becoming)

    Some hopes for a good film were raised with news that an Old Etonian had been cast as the lead, but it appears that Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne were all unavoidably detained elsewhere when the casting director called, so the lead role will instead be played by one of the current leads of BBC Two’s Wednesday lunchtime comedy-drama Politishout! Whoever this guy is, the next David Tennant he most certainly is not.

    Unfortunately, after consulting with our lawyers, it turns out that we do not have the power to prevent this remake taking place, but they do assure us that it will likely only have a short run in cinemas before disappearing. They also believe that the very existence of it – and its near inevitable box office failure – will prevent any future remakes from taking place, because surely no one would want to recreate a bomb like this.

    We look forward to not watching David Cameron in his Empty Chair, and then continue to not see him for many years to come.

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