Opinion polls

Get ready for the Great Lammy Firewall

Many of you will be waiting, with much excitement, for the Great Lammy Firewall, which will be introduced by our new Labour government just as soon as they’ve nationalised the internet. Free broadband for everyone, except for those reactionaries who contravene one of 756 stipulations written in the inevitable community code of conduct agreements (i.e. most of the people who pay for this stuff through their taxes). That’s me offline, then — and, after a while, probably you too. Imaginary hate crimes will see you sent to the Lammy Sin Bin or, if they’re considered serious enough, the thought police will be round with their black plastic bags and BBC

Too many facts get in the way of truth

One dietary fad that never made sense to me was the campaign against the consumption of eggs. Now call me an old Darwinist, but here we are having spent a few million years evolving into a bald monkey with prehensile thumbs, perfectly optimised as an egg-stealing machine, and yet the digestion of an omelette somehow came as a horrible shock to our cardiovascular system. What next, I wondered. Perhaps they’ll discover that 45 per cent of cows are allergic to grass, or that sharks are largely sea-food intolerant. And it seems that the opprobrium directed at eggs was mostly wrong. It was based on the assumption that, since some cholesterol

Generation wars

British general elections have often evolved from contests between parties into battles between two opposing themes or ideas. In 1964, it was modernity vs the grouse moors; 1979, trade unionism vs individualism; 1983, Cold War strength vs unilateral nuclear disarmament. This year was supposed to be the Brexit election, yet instead developed into something loosely associated with that, but at the same time quite different: it became the intergenerational election. Jeremy Corbyn was never supposed to have had a shout. Way to the left of any Labour leader who had ever won a general election, his economic policies were considered by many to be simply incompatible with the values of

Barometer | 1 June 2017

Afrodisiac Diane Abbott likened her rejection of earlier pro-terror sympathies to losing her afro hairstyle. To African-Americans in the 1960s, the afro was a rejection of black attempts to ape white styles. Yet 100 years earlier it was seen as an epitome of white beauty. In 1864, a P. T. Barnum show in New York, featured a ‘Circassian beauty’, said to be from the Northern Caucasus. A German physiologist had cited these Black Sea people as the ‘purest example’ of the white race. The woman had a huge ball of moss-like hair. Some say the style came from Circassian women captured as sex slaves for Turkish harems — their hair

James Forsyth

Weak and wobbly

When Theresa May decided to go for an early election, she transformed the nature of her premiership. Up to that point she had been the steady hand on the tiller, righting a ship of state buffeted by the Brexit referendum. By going to the country to win her own mandate, she sought to become more than that. She wanted her own sizeable majority and, in so doing, invited comparison with the two prime ministers who have done the most to shape modern Britain: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. She was asking to be judged against their electoral triumphs. At the start of this campaign, May looked comfortable in this company.

Portrait of the week | 16 February 2017

Home The Queen opened a new National Cyber Security Centre in London. Britain’s contribution to Nato has fallen below the promised 2 per cent to 1.98 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, because GDP has grown. The annual rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Prices Index rose to 1.8 per cent in January, from 1.6 in December; by the new index to be used from March, called CPIH, which includes some housing costs, inflation had already reached 2 per cent. Unemployment fell by 7,000. Joe Root, aged 26, was made captain of England. A YouGov poll for the Times put Labour

Don’t ask the experts

Michael Gove never intended to make his most famous remark. In an interview during the EU referen-dum campaign, the then justice secretary was told that the leaders of the IFS, CBI, NHS and TUC all disagreed with him about Brexit. He had tried to reply that people have ‘had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong’. But he was picked up mid-sentence by his appalled interviewer. ‘Had enough of experts? Had enough of experts?’ Gove’s partial quote was held up to ridicule, as if it embodied Trump-style populist rage; the battle of emotion against reason. As it turned

The Brits behind Trump

It’s the Brits wot won it. That is, the US presidential election was won for Donald Trump with the help of a bunch of British nerds — data scientists from a company called Cambridge Analytica. This was the claim, at least, made by the company in a press release a couple of days after the election. ‘No one saw it coming. The public polls, the experts, and the pundits: just about every-body got it wrong. They were wrong-footed because they didn’t understand who was going to turn out and vote. Except for Cambridge Analytica…’ Frank Luntz, a famous pollster and one of those so embarrassingly mistaken, said: ‘They figured out

The pollster who called it wrong. Again

A few hours after voting started in the European Union referendum, Populus released its final opinion poll showing a ten-point lead for Remain. This carried weight because the founder of Populus, Andrew Cooper, was also pollster for the official Remain campaign. His findings had been passed to 10 Downing Street earlier, leading David Cameron and his team to become very confident. There were reports that the Prime Minister was not even going to stay up for the result: he intended to go to sleep early and wake up to victory. The vote for Brexit, by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, confounded the financial markets and wrongfooted most opinion

Diary – 16 June 2016

Flabby, vaguely disorientated and, more than three years on, still struggling with stroke recovery, I am on a radical diet. No booze, no caffeine of any kind, no lots of other things — sausages, bacon, roast meat, you name it. Not a lot of fun, but the revelation has been coffee: for well over 40 years I have believed that I can only function in the morning after pints of coal-black, extremely strong caffeine. And now, aged 57, I find that it was total horlicks all along — I feel perkier, less tired and less stressed (after a hard few days) without the stuff. This makes me a real oddity

Whoever invented referendums needs a kicking

My favourite quote of the year so far comes from the author Fay Weldon. ‘If this were an all-woman society,’ she said, ‘we wouldn’t have television. We’d just have lots of nice cushions.’ Fay was making the point that it’s men who do all the -inventing and most of the work. She has since profusely apologised for this remark and others made during the same ‘off the cuff’ interview — almost certain proof, then, that what she said is largely true. But only largely, Fay. Without women we might not have discovered either of the unpleasant radioactive elements polonium and radium — both stumbled upon by Marie Curie, who was habituated (unwisely)

The painful truth for Ruth

Minority sects are often more interesting, and more colourful, than their more popular rivals. That must explain why the Scottish Tories continue to be the subject of so much fascination. Barely a month passes without someone, somewhere, asking if this — at long last — is the moment for a Scottish Tory revival. Spoiler alert: it never is. Logic says that at this year’s Scottish parliament elections, things should be different. It is generally agreed that Ruth Davidson, the party leader in Scotland, had a ‘good independence referendum’; generally agreed, too, that after Nicola Sturgeon, she might be the most impressive politician in Scotland. This might be reckoned a low

In praise of the ‘Don’t know’ voter

I am scraping the edges of my memory here, but I am fairly sure that opinion polls in my childhood (for the elections of 1970, 1974 and 1979) quoted four percentages: Conservative, Labour, Liberal and ‘Undecided’. Nowadays no figure is quoted for ‘Don’t knows’, and party support is contrived to add up to 100 per cent. Undecided respondents are variously treated according to each polling company’s methodology: a few ignore them completely; others apply a supplementary question such as ‘Which way would you vote if voting were compulsory?’ Their answer to this may be statistically downweighted, but it will still be added to the total for one party or another,

How (and why) we lie to ourselves about opinion polls

A strange ritual takes place on Twitter most evenings at around 10.30 p.m. Hundreds of political anoraks start tweeting the results of the YouGov daily tracker poll due to be published in the following day’s Sun. Some of them are neutrals, but the majority are politically aligned and will only tweet those results that show their party in front. I often wonder what the point of this is, even though I’m guilty of it myself. It’s not as if anyone is going to see the tweet and say, ‘Ooh, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative, but now that YouGov has them two points ahead I’ve changed my mind.’ I can think

Who are Ukip’s new voters? The kind of people who decide elections

An opinion poll to be published next week will reveal that Labour leader Ed Miliband is slightly less popular with the public than the vibrant Islamic State commander ‘Jihadi John’ and the late BBC disc jockey Jimmy Savile, and only two points more popular than His Infernal Majesty, Satan. The same poll will also put Labour slightly ahead of the Tories and therefore on course to be the largest party in a hung parliament come next May, with Ed Miliband as prime minister. This is but one reason why the next general election will be the most fascinating within living memory; the pollsters do not really have a clue what’s

The next election will break all the rules

Ed Miliband’s aides used to scurry around the parliamentary estate, their shoulders hunched. A look in their eyes suggested that they feared their boss’s harshest critics were right. But times have changed. Now Team Ed marches with heads high. The success of his pledge to freeze energy prices has given them a warm glow. Five weeks on from the Labour leader’s conference speech, his commitment still dominates political debate. It has boosted his personal ratings, helped his party increase its support in the polls and convinced his supporters that he might be Prime Minister after the next election. In these circumstances, one might expect the Tories to be panicking. But