Friday, 12 September 2014

Heywood & Middleton

Call me romantic if you like but the seat of Heywood & Middleton took me back to my childhood this morning. I know places like Heywood because I was born and raised in such a place. So as I headed to the Darnhill estate and walked past the park and looked out at the empty playground I paused. Thirty-odd years ago in a place not too far from Heywood I would have been out on the park playing on the roundabout. Turning to walk up Argyll Street I was met by an old man being supported by a not-too-new walking stick. I said "Hello" almost against my will. I stopped myself short. I'm not the kind to say hello to perfect strangers but perhaps I wasn't the cynical world-weary political hack any more. Perhaps I was, if only for a fleeting moment, that ten-year old child again without the cares of the world. The old man walked right past me and didn't say a word. He was right to do so. The last thing he needed was some misty-eyed ten year old asking him how he felt the dynamics of demographic change had altered the political climate in the town. As he moved away he broke wind with alarming force and I smiled. My kind of place. No nonsense.

For many decades the land which now occupies Heywood & Middleton was staunchly Conservative. That was until Manchester City Council selected the area as the site for spillover housing from Manchester. Over the next few years thousands of Manchester residents were dispersed to overspill estates around Manchester to allievate quality housing shortages in the city. In 1964, two years after the first resident moved into the Darnhill estate, Labour won the seat of Heywood & Royton from the Conservatives and two years after that Labour won the seat of Middleton & Prestwich from the Conservatives. The seat had changed forever, and wouldn't go back. The numbers weren't there any more for the Conservatives. Labour dominated both seats until 1983, when they were replaced by the single seat of Heywood & Middleton. Labour has held the seat ever since.

Make no mistake, this is a staunch Labour stronghold. As I will go on to describe there are good reasons to expect UKIP to perform creditably here given the demographic composition of the seat. However it is stretching it a little to anticipate a UKIP victory, despite the apparent worries from Labour sources.

I visited the seat this morning and spoke to both campaigns. The Labour and UKIP offices are located (conveniently) a small walk away from each other in Heywood itself:

The Labour office was a hive of activity as I arrived at 11am this morning. There were half a dozen volunteers on the phones and the candidate had just left to campaign in West Middleton with her team. In contrast the UKIP offices contained (to my eyes) just the candidate and a volunteer at the door greeting passers-by. The contrast was stark and although it's unwise to make inferences based on one visit on a Thursday morning in the rain Labour had the campaign energy edge. In fairness to UKIP their campaign activities are expected to coalesce over the weekend so it's best to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I had a number of objectives in visiting the seat. First amongst them was to walk the streets of those parts of the constituency which my data suggests would see a number of Labour voters drift to UKIP. The map below is an intensity map showing those parts of the constituency where these voters live (i.e the Labour ---> UKIP voters):

This data is drawn from a larger body of work I have recently completed with Rob Ford, which will be published soon. What we have done is identify those demographic groups which have voted for Labour historically but also for UKIP in recent local and national elections. There are a few distinct 'types' of Labour voters which are drawn to UKIP, but I am choosing here to focus on one group: older voters in social housing or vulnerable young parents requiring substantial state support. Many of these voters have stayed loyal to Labour but in recent times they have either chosen not to vote or gone to UKIP. The map below shows where they live in Heywood & Middleton, but also has the ward boundaries. I have included the share of the vote achieved by UKIP in recent elections in May 2014:

You will notice that the two areas with the highest concentrations of these vulnerable residents are in West Heywood and West Middleton, wards which are dominated by the Darnhill and Langley estates respectively. In these areas over three quarters of households are struggling older voters in social housing or vulnerable young parents. In May UKIP performed extremely well in the two wards in Rochdale borough with the highest concentrations of these voters. In West Heywood Labour beat UKIP by just 23 votes and UKIP secured over a 1,000 votes or 42.3% of the electorate. In West Middleton UKIP won 855 votes or 38.5% of the electorate. If these numbers don't terrify Labour then I'm afraid they're in denial.

If you speak to Labour campaigners and supporters about these specific areas of Heywood & Middleton the message is clear; Labour has simply not worked these neighbourhoods. Or at least it hasn't 'felt' as if Labour has worked these areas. Matt Goodwin and Rob Ford have characterised a group of voters as 'left behind'. In Darnhill and Langley estates the effects of this are being felt. Locally Labour recognise this fact, and are working hard to put this right. However there are just days before the by-election, and in the last election in May UKIP averaged 31% of the vote in the eight (of ten) wards they contested in Heywood & Middleton. Take a look at the pictures below of Darnhill.

Now take a moment to consider whether you think UKIP are just a problem for the Conservatives. Because this doesn't look like a Conservative area to me. And consider that in May of this year UKIP took 42.3% of the vote here.....on these streets. Because at some stage somebody in Labour high command is going to need to explain to me how on earth they find themselves in a position where their bedrock supporters, the believers in 'good old religion' as I heard John McTernan call them last week, have simply stopped believing.

In the rest of the blog post I will simply describe the demographic composition of the seat. The chart below shows the proportion of households from each of 69 demographic groups in the seat (see here for a full list):

I want to compare this profile to that for Wythenshawe and Sale East, another by-election which took place in February:

And finally I want to add the coefficients between these demographic groups and UKIP vote share in the 2014 local elections:

You will see, first of all, that the profiles of Wythenshawe and Heywood & Middleton are very similar. In broad terms what these profiles show is that both Heywood & Middleton and Wythenshawe possess high proportions of working-age, blue-collar or struggling poorer voters. You will remember that in Wythenshawe UKIP devoted a good deal of effort to draw support away from Labour in one of its perceived bastions and secured second-place with 18% of the vote, about where I expected them to be.

There are much larger proportions of blue-collar working voters in Heywood & Middleton than there were in Wythenshawe. Around four in ten of voters in Heywood & Middleton are blue-collar households (I43 to K50) compared to just two in ten in Wythenshawe. Take a look at the correlations above. In 2014 UKIP has done very well with these precise groups. UKIP has done similarly well with the poorest voters too (O67 and O69s). They are strongly represented in Heywood and Middleton, as they were in Wythenshawe.

The question is whether the numbers are there for UKIP. I suspect that, despite all of the above, they are going to fall short in their attempt to win the seat. However that's an unfair means to determine their success here. I would argue that anything over 30% in a seat like Heywood & Middleton would be a remarkable return for the party. Conversely anything below 20% would be disappointing. Which is in itself remarkable, because we are loading UKIP with very high and perhaps unrealistic expectations. I suspect the party has decided to focus on Clacton given that it has invested so much political capital there, and has other seats in Essex it would like to win in May.

I will return to the seat between now and the election, and will likely be at the count itself. This is a first clumsy introduction to the seat and I'll add more data and maps as we go. For now, it's time for a cuppa.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The east coast: I can see Parris from here!

See what I did with the headline? I know; I should find someone else to write them in future. As somebody who has found enough favour to be granted the privilege of writing for a national newspaper I know only too well how a dramatic headline can misinterpret your original carefully calibrated comment piece. So when I saw the headline "Tories should turn their back on Clacton" above Matthew Parris's smiling face I cut him some slack. He didn't actually mean that, did he? Well, surprisingly he did. Or at least it said so in the piece I read!

Which got me to work. Suppose the Tories did decide to turn their backs. What would this look like? The map below shows the winning party of those seats on the eastern coastline in 2010. Next to it is a map showing the vote share achieved by the Conservatives in those seats, followed by the margin of victory for each of the winning parties.

There are 38 seats along this stretch of coastline from Cleethorpes on the Humber estuary to Portsmouth on the south coast. In 2010 the Conservatives won 32 of them, with an average vote share of 46%.

This is a remarkable table in some respects, and should concern Labour. Labour have lost 14 seats along this coastline since 1997. For the Conservatives these seats became something of a heartland, going as they did from 19 seats in 1997 to 32 in 2010, and increasing their vote share accordingly. Elsewhere I have noted that if one were to walk the entire coastline from the Humber estuary to Bristol (incl Cornwall and the south coast) you would walk through just a handful of Labour seats. This may or may not surprise some when one considers some of these seats are retirement destinations, and the party has performed poorly amongst older voters.

Which brings me back to Matthew Parris, who has rightly identified Clacton as a seat with higher than average older populations. This is undeniable, as I have shown in another post on Clacton. But which particular demographic groups are most prominent in Clacton, and what do they look like? Below is the demographic profile of the seat:

Two groups jump out, the L53s and L54s. These make up almost a quarter of all households in Clacton. These are retired people living by the sea in retirement communities or bungalows. These households have household incomes of around £20k per year and have some savings accrued from a lifetime in work and possibly equity and report they are coping well financially. They take two or more holidays a year.They are overwhelmingly Church of England and faith is really important to them. They believe strongly it is important to do your duty, and also do not like to be surrounded by people from different cultures or backgrounds. They experience very little crime personally but are concerned about it. They are also very likely to have left school at 15 or 16. These groups have typically voted Conservative since 1979 but in more recent times have been attracted by UKIP. They also have an extremely good turnout record.

These demographic groups are present up and down the eastern coast, but are most prominent in seats like Clacton, Norfolk North, Norfolk North West, Boston & Skegness, Waveney, Cleethorpes and Louth & Horncastle. This alone should concern CCHQ, but more worrying is the transmission of Mr. Parris's world view to seaside communities along the coastline. The worry for them should be that many of these voters have always voted Conservative, delivering seats to the party through thick and thin. However they might well choose, as they have in recent local elections, to take the opportunity to turn their own backs......this time on the Conservative Party itself.

Sunday, 31 August 2014


I start, as always, with the demographic composition of the seat. For those of you unfamiliar with the demographic groups, take a look at this post, or bear with me; all will become clear. Here is the demographic profile of Clacton:

Now take a look at the following chart, showing the correlation between these demographic groups and UKIP vote share in the 2014 local elections:

Next is the correlation between these demographic groups and Conservative party vote share in the 2014 local elections:

And finally the correlation between these demographic groups and Labour party vote share in the 2014 local elections:

So, let's look at the major demographic groups in Clacton. First of all, there are the B5 to B8 groups (in light green on the left of the charts). These groups account for around a quarter of all households in the seat. I describe them broadly as follows:

B5 Better off empty nesters in low density estates on town fringes
B6 Self-employed trades people living in smaller communities
B7 Empty nester owner occupiers making little use of public services
B8 Mixed communities with many single people in the centres of small towns

As you will see from the charts above these groups voted for either UKIP or the Conservatives in 2014, as they have done for a while now. Geographically these groups are concentrated in the east of the country, along the Wash, down into East Anglia and along the coastline. They are overwhelmingly (aside from B8s) old, white and happy with their standard of living. Castle Point is the seat with the highest proportions of these groups in the country (Clacton is 151st). Seats like Rayleigh and Wickford, Dorset Mid & Poole North, Wyre & Preston North, and Broadland have very high proportions of these voters too.

The next major demographic groups are the L52 to L54s. These are active elderly households living in pleasant retirement locations:

L52 Communities of wealthy older people living in large seaside houses
L53 Residents in retirement, second home and tourist communities
L54 Retired people of modest means commonly living in seaside bungalows

Once again UKIP and the Conservatives are in a battle for these voters, as shown from the 2014 local elections. These groups are once again overwhelmingly old and white and relatively happy with their standard of living. However they also exhibit some strong personal traits. For example many of these voters believe strongly that 'little can be done to change life'. Clearly a fairly disillusioned group. In addition they also believe strongly that it it is 'important to do your duty'. L52s and L54s also believe very strongly that 'a woman's place is in the home' and that 'real men don't cry'. They also overwhelmingly read one of either The Daily Express or Daily Mail. When asked if cannabis should be legalised they respond with a very firm NO! Seats like Norfolk North, Louth & Horncastle, Totnes, St Ives, Norfolk North West, North Cornwall and Dorest West have very high proportions of these voter groups.

Taken together, these older, white households account for over half of all households in Clacton. They are voters which only UKIP and the Conservatives can attract.

Which leaves us with those voters UKIP and Labour are competing for. In the chart above you will see that certain demographic groups voted for either Labour or UKIP in 2014. Some of these groups are present in Clacton. They are as follows:

K48 Middle aged couples and families in right-to-buy homes
K49 Low income older couples long established in former council estates
K50 Older families in low value housing in traditional industrial areas
M56 Older people living on social housing estates with limited budgets
M57 Old people in flats subsisting on welfare payments
M59 People living in social accommodation designed for older people
N61 Childless tenants in social housing flats with modest social needs
O67 Older tenants on low rise social housing estates where jobs are scarce
O68 Families with varied structures living on low rise social housing estates
O69 Vulnerable young parents needing substantial state support

Many of these voters are struggling to cope financially. They should be ideal territory for Labour, and in many respects they are. As the chart for Labour support shows Labour does win the support of many of these voters. However UKIP have scored notable success amongst these groups in this years local elections, and also in by-elections across the country since 2010. Seats like Rotherham, Doncaster North, Nottingham North, Easington, Rhondda, Blaenau Gwent, Sheffield Brightside and Hills, and Washington & Sunderland West have very high proportions of these groups.

Perhaps surprisingly given that many of them support Labour many of these households exhibit some of the same beliefs around a woman's place being in the home (M56, M57, M59, O67). Many of them also believe strongly that contraception is a woman's responsibility (M56, M57, M59, N61, O67). As with the other older households in Clacton these groups also state very strongly that 'real men don't cry', and that it is 'important to do your duty'.

UKIP is drawing support away from Labour amongst these groups. In Clacton however these groups make up a relatively small proportion of households, meaning that Labour has little chance of winning the seat if UKIP and the Conservatives 'split the right'. There simply aren't the numbers there for them.

Some have suggested that Clacton is the most UKIP-friendly seat in the country. I wouldn't go that far. However, on the basis of demographic composition and electoral behaviour, it's a seat where I expected the party to eat into the Conservatives 12,000 vote majority in 2015. The defection of Mr Carswell to UKIP means that we have a unique opportunity to test the power of personal loyalty as opposed to party loyalty. After all, the last time this happened was in 1982 when a Labour MP defected to the SDP (and lost!).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

We need to talk about the Green Party

There has been understandable attention paid to the emergence of UKIP as a major factor in 2015. However comparatively little attention has been paid to the Green Party. Typically when I mention the Green Party to politico's there's a palpable shrug of the shoulders and a sigh, as if it's somehow beneath them. I'm a cold fish, so a party taking 6% in national polling, in my view, is at least worthy of analysis. I want to make it clear that I am relatively new to Green politics so if some of the points raised here seem naive it's because they probably are! Go easy on me.

I will start with the polls. Depending on which pollster you believe the Greens are capturing around 5% in voting intention polling. Looking through the crosstabs you find that around 10% of LibDems are intending to vote for the Greens in 2015. Their support is strongest among 18 to 24 year olds, around 12% of whom say they are intending to vote Green.

However national voting intention polling tells us comparatively little about the differential impact the party will have in 2015. Clearly there are some seats where the party either has a strong political base and good demographics, seats where they should expect to poll higher than the 5% recorded in VI polls. Seats like Brighton Pavilion or Manchester Withington, for example. Lord Ashcroft's poll of LibDem-Lab marginals had the Greens at 20% in Norwich South and 32% in Brighton Pavilion, the latter of which surprised me a little given the apparent unpopularity of the council in Brighton.

In terms of areas of the country where the party has a strong political base and a relatively good recent record in local and European elections there is a comparatively long list of successes for a party which claims so little attention in the national media spotlight. The maps below shows their vote share record in the 2014 European elections (I am including the Scottish Greens although I know they are a separate entity to the Green Party of England & Wales):

The party performed strongly across the south east, London, and south west and up into East Anglia. In terms of vote share the party achieved 6.9% of the popular vote and won three MEPs as a result (one each in London, the south west and south east). In local authorities like Brighton & Hove, Norwich, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, South Hackney, Hams, Stroud, Bath, York, Haringey and Lambeth the party performed much better than its national vote share.

As Patrick O'Flynn has pointed out, the Greens could eat into Lib-Lab contests in places like Cambridge:

Of course Mr O'Flynn would say that, given that he has announced his intention to put his name forward as the UKIP candidate in the seat. However the recent local elections in the seat point to a pronounced uptick in support for Labour from 2010. Labour's vote share in the Cambridge local elections was up 16% on 2010. In fact even the Greens saw a slight vote share dip of 1.3% from 2010 to 2014. The two biggest losers in Cambridge were the coalition partners. The LibDems saw their vote share drop from 37.8% in 2010 to a still respectable 29%, whilst the Conservatives saw their vote share fall from 22.5% in 2010 and 14.4% in 2014. UKIP stood just three candidates in the Cambridge local elections, polling 0.4% in total.

Making projections based on local and European elections is dangerous given the relative turnout in those elections compared to a general election. Rather it would be more appropriate to consider which demographic groups voted for the Greens in the May 2014 local elections and to then identify seats where such demographic groups account for a higher proportion of such groups.

My analysis has shown that the following demographic groups voted for the Greens in 2014:

Well educated singles living in purpose built flats
City dwellers owning houses in older neighbourhoods
Singles and sharers occupying converted Victorian houses
Young professional families settling in better quality older terraces
Diverse communities of well-educated singles living in smart, small flats
Owners in smart purpose built flats in prestige locations, many newly built
Students and other transient singles in multi-let houses
Young renters in flats with a cosmopolitan mix

However the Greens are in a fight with the other parties for these voters come the general election. The key for the party is to identify those seats where these groups account for very large proportions of total households. A list of the top ten seats with such demographics is:

  • Cardiff Central (41.1% of households) - 13% LibDem majority

  • Sheffield Central (39.7% of households) - Lab maj. of 0.4% over LibDems

  • Bristol West (37.6% of households) - 21% LibDem maj over Lab

  • Brighton Pavilion (36.7% of households) - Green-held

  • Manchester Withington (33.9% of households) - LibDem maj of 4.1% over Lab

  • Wimbledon (33.6% of households) - 24% Con maj over LibDems

  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne East (30.6% of households) - 12% Lab maj over LibDems

  • Tooting (30.6% of households) - 5% Lab maj over Con

  • York Central (29.5% of households) - 14% Lab maj over LD/Con

  • Hove (28.7% of households) - 3.7% Con maj over Lab

  • In many of these seats the Green Party can reasonably expect to increase its vote share, with the possible exception of Brighton Pavilion where one can plausibly make the case that every percentage point of Green support was maximised to the full in 2010. The assumption at this stage must be that the LibDems will lose many voters from 2010, and a good proportion of them have shown in the local and European elections that they are not averse to voting for the Greens. The challenge for the Greens is to retain those voters in 2015. If the polls are to be believed then 10% of 2010 LibDems have already decided to vote for the Greens in 2015. If these intentions do convert to votes it will hardly shake the political landscape, but it is at least worthy of some attention.

    Monday, 28 July 2014

    Labour and UKIP

    James Kirkup has written a piece for The Telegraph today in which the Labour campaign say that a strong UKIP performance puts Ed into No. 10. The campaign apparently uses evidence from the European elections to back this claim up. It is more likely than not that Ed Miliband will win the next election, albeit I am not in a position to project that.

    However this approach is irresponsible and unprofessional. I'm a cold fish. I use reams of data and logic to predict elections. That's my job. I've done it for over ten years now, mostly very quietly and mostly successfully. I don't want or need to go into details about my methods here. Suffice to say that the coming election in 2015 presents the greatest challenge I have faced when it comes to modelling the result. I know that the campaigns feel the same. How do I know this? Because every day I am receiving requests for data to help to make sense of this election.

    This election is confusing and messy. People need to come to peace with that. I have. I am dealing with it. My models have been tweaked and tested, scrapped, tweaked and tested, re-calibrated, tested.....etc, etc.

    So when I hear Labour make a statement saying that UKIP voters will put Ed into No. 10 I am staggered at how unprofessional it sounds. Labour are in the business of winning campaigns. Their voters, members and candidates want them to win elections. Any other raison d'etre would need to be explained to me. So we are in a situation where Labour is effectively choosing to ignore a party which is polling between 10 and 15 per cent nationally (UKIP). Does that strike anyone as the professional approach? Speaking as a cold fish, that is. Applying cold logic, does it strike anyone as the professional approach?

    It's worse than that. Because [and I'm exasperated just having to explain this again] the impact from UKIP is not randomly distributed. It depends on where you live. So 10 per cent for UKIP nationally translates to between 25 and 38% in seats across the country, depending on the particular demographics and voter behaviours in each seat. Which brings me on to the 'irresponsible' part.

    Put yourself in a Con-Lab marginal. You're a Labour activist or perhaps even a Labour candidate. In your seat, because of the particular demographics present, it is likely that UKIP voters will come equally from the Conservatives and Labour. Oh, yes, by the way these seats DO exist. So this notion you hear of UKIP voters being drawn 2:1 from the Conservatives? Bin it. I repeat - the impact from UKIP is context-specific. The 2:1 statistic is a NATIONAL statistic. I digress.

    So, you're a Labour candidate in a seat where half the UKIP vote is coming from your supporters. Do you really want to hear your campaign HQ saying that they're happy for UKIP to poll strongly? How would that make you feel? Or perhaps you're a Labour activist in that seat. Perhaps you've spent the best part of your life knocking on doors for the party in all weathers, and now you see all that under threat as formerly staunch Labour supporters tell you they're voting UKIP. Would that make you MORE likely to go back out knocking on doors? Let's say in 2015 your seat goes to the Conservatives because they have better turnout anyway, and that 18% UKIP vote just handed the seat to your opponent? Or does it not matter, because after all Ed Miliband is going to be waving at your TV screen from the steps of No. 10?

    The good news for Labour is that there are many 'local' campaigns which are trying to deal with UKIP in a professional manner. UKIP will know this better than most. In certain seats there are efforts to confront the threat from UKIP. However they are being cast adrift by a national strategy which spends its time running around waving Ashcroft polls in the air whilst making simplistic claims concerning the impact from UKIP.

    As I said a week ago the response to UKIP from Labour HQ has been laughable thus far. James Kirkup's piece in the Telegraph today franks this viewpoint. UKIP must be extremely happy this morning that Labour want to see them flourish. They should be careful what they wish for.

    Friday, 25 July 2014

    Lessons from Doncaster; UKIP winning here, Mr Miliband

    Last night UKIP took a seat from Labour in the Edenthorpe, Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun ward in Doncaster. To some of this was not entirely surprising given the results from local and European elections in May, and the particular demographic composition in the ward and in Doncaster more generally. However this result has additional significance because it occurred in Ed Miliband's own back yard.

    The Edenthorpe ward lies in the Doncaster Central constituency, currently held by Labour's Rosie Winterton. Its immediate neighbour to the north is Ed Miliband's seat of Doncaster North. In Doncaster Central Labour have lost 10,000 votes since 1997, with its majority being reduced from 38.7 to 14.9 per cent over the same period. In 2010 a combination of the BNP, UKIP and the English Democrats took 12 per cent of the vote in the constituency.

    In Doncaster North, Mr Miliband's seat, Labour have lost 8,000 votes since 1997, with their majority being reduced from 55.0 to 26.3 per cent over the same period. In 2010 a combination of the BNP, UKIP and the English Democrats took 16.3 per cent of the vote in the constituency.

    As you know I am able to show which parts of constituencies UKIP would be likely to receive a favourbale reception. I have taken the trouble of producing a map top show where UKIP should receive a favourable reception in Doncaster North and Doncaster Central. I have overlaid the boundaries of the Edenthorpe ward, which lies entirely within Doncaster Central.

    This map shows that in both Doncaster Central and Doncaster North the demographic composition of very large parts of both seats mean that UKIP will likely receive a favourable reception.

    So which demographic groups are driving this?

    There are a number of key demographic groups in both seats. Most importantly there are sizeable proportions of blue-collar households in former industrial areas, precisely the demographic group which has traditionally stayed true to Labour but in recent times has started to vote UKIP. This group is approaching (or in) retirement, and has little to show for years of hard work and perceived failings of both Conservative and Labour governments. They reject the Conservatives and the Lib Dems with equal vigour. In both Doncaster North and Doncaster Central these demographic groups make up around a quarter of all households.

    In recent elections UKIP has also been able to draw away support from other traditional Labour groups such as transient single populations, or lower income families in terraced housing, or young families in the early stages of their career. All these groups are present in Doncaster North and Doncaster Central. Again, a good proportion of these voters will stay true to Labour, but many are attracted to UKIP as a means of expressing their exasperation with mainstream political parties.

    The good news for Labour is that the party should expect to hold both Doncaster seats at the next election. However if the party is smart it will pay attention to results such as the one last evening. However, I suspect that the party is burying its head in the sand, no doubt whilst holding aloft a clutch of Ashcroft polls in the marginal seats. These polls point to Labour gains from both the Lib Dems and Conservatives. However this is an illusion. The party will fail to gain a number of seats because of UKIP insurgency. If I were a Labour PPC in seats like Southampton Itchen or Thurrock I'd be kicking the ostrich up the backside and tearing the Ashcroft polls apart.

    Anyone at Labour HQ reassuring themselves with Ashcroft polling should put in a call to Rosie Winterton this morning. It's time for the ostrich to lift its head from the sand. The party needs a context-specific response to UKIP in all its seats. A number of candidates should be concerned at the threat posed by UKIP, and to their credit some of them are. However they are banging their heads against the wall when it comes to Labour HQ. For some party strategists the hope is that by ignoring UKIP they will go away. Some might, but many won't. This threat has been a long time in the making.

    How a party like Labour could allow this situation to materialise is quite beyond me. I'm a geek who spends half his time in my bat cave punching numbers, and I knew about UKIP a year or more ago. Academics like Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin have been ploughing this ground for even longer. The response to UKIP from Labour has been laughable. I fear that in 2015 the joke will be on them.

    Thursday, 12 June 2014

    Mr Miliband, clarity and Twitter

    "So, finally, if you could summarise your thesis in one sentence, what would it be?"

    Anybody who has been through a viva any time recently will have been prepped for that question. Luckily I had my answer ready. But the exercise forced me to reduce my 252 page thesis into just fourteen words. In the process I threw out the preamble, the set-up, the guff, the filler, more preamble, the jargon, all those tables and maps. I laid aside all my academic language and crystallised my thoughts in clear, crisp and plain language.

    "Where you live helps to determine your risk of being a victim of violence." I replied.

    So when Mr. Miliband was asked recently to summarise his leadership in one word his answer gave me a wry smile. First of all he sighed, perhaps understandably. It was a crass question to be asked and like Mr. Miliband I believe politics is bigger than one word answers. Then he gave his reply.

    "I'll give you two words, One Nation", he replied, before describing in some detail what the One Nation idea means. The numerate amongst you will notice "One Nation" is two words not one, so a one-hundred per cent increase in verbiage! :-D

    I thought back to my viva. And I considered the art of oratory. Because whether you study the Gettysburg Address or the murder trials of Cicero, a returning theme amongst the great communicators is clarity. Mr Miliband is comfortable talking about the minutae of policy roll-out. It's his bread and butter. He does it very well. He has even gone so far as to speak of his own 'intellectual self-confidence' and as a relatively young new leader he probably wants to impress us with his knowledge and competence. These are laudible motivations. However the first victim of this approach is clarity. The second victim is the listener.

    Take a look at his Twitter feed. I don't know who is scripting it (I suspect Mr Miliband has more important things to do - I hope!). The subject matter is often serious but the delivery is Oxford Union debating class. Here's one from this week:

    All very laudible, but utterly devoid of clarity. Twenty five words of meh. Twitter is a medium which finds people out. You have just 140 characters. It's a classic exercise in clarity. Many of us get it wrong. I know I do. But in Mr Miliband's case I have stopped paying attention to his tweets [shamefully]. They wash over me and I scroll down. I've got just a few minutes to scroll through the Twitter feed and my brain wants quick fixes.

    Which brings me on to another reason why clarity is so important. The consumption of news and information has changed. We live in an age dominated by System 1 thinking (Kahnemann). People have less and less time for nuance. In an ideal world Mr Miliband would want us to read through his speeches and policy documents and engage in great detail with the issues. I'm sorry but that's hard work, and for most people outside the Westminster bubble entirely unrealistic. Behavioural psychologists could provide Mr Miliband with countless experiments to ram home this point. Most people get their news on the radio in the car while stuck in traffic or from a headline in a newspaper or from the nightly news programmes whilst ironing or tidying.

    Let me be clear here. I don't want Mr Miliband to change. He must be himself, as all political leaders should be. I believe him to be a decent man and thoroughly competent, as I do Mr Cameron. However I firmly believe that Mr Miliband would benefit from speaking plainly and saying less. And what's wrong with occasionally tweeting, as I do, something personal and perhaps [shock, horror] self-deprecating?

    Typically a Miliband speech runs to between 4,000 and 8,000 words. His conference speech last September came in at 7,948. My view is that it could be done in less than a thousand and lose none of its potency. On the contrary such a bold, concise and stark approach would improve his clarity a great deal. I am led to believe he can be very engaging in conversation and I completely understand his reluctance to diminish politics by dumbing it down. I would certainly not advocate that. However the message still needs to be sold. As a friend of mine often reminds me, 'life is one big selling job'. Sadly, there is truth in that. Mr Miliband has to sell himself and his message to the electorate. The methods he uses to do so will define whether he is Prime Minister next May.

    So, can I summarise this post in one sentence? Here goes.....

    If you use three words where one will suffice you dim the message.