Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Kellner conundrum

Michael Portillo was widely ridiculed on Thursday night for suggesting that the Tories' 44% showing wasn't good enough, and that they "should be doing better" if they wanted to win the general election. At the time, I thought the rubbishing of this claim was entirely justified - after all, the Conservatives' lead of 44% to 24% looks remarkably similar to the 47%-25% lead Labour enjoyed in 1995 in the run-up to securing a record parliamentary majority of 179 in 1997. Anthony King (not my favourite psephologist, a subject I may return to another day) confirmed that a 20 point Tory lead in local elections has few historical precedents.

But now Peter Kellner of the polling company YouGov has muddied the waters by suggesting that, in real terms, Gordon Brown's 24% is somehow less bad than John Major's 25% in 1995. This is because, he claims, Labour tend to under-perform in local elections when compared to general elections, while the Liberal Democrats tend to over-perform. This has left me deeply confused. The point about the Lib Dems is undoubtedly true, but surely it's the incumbent government - whether Labour or Tory - that tends to see its vote depressed? Is there really a separate phenomenon that hurts Labour regardless of whether they find themselves in government or opposition? If I ever have a spare month or two, I might try to wade through the figures and work it out.

Positive thoughts on local elections

One of the untold stories of the local elections (untold outside Wales, that is) has been the solid progress made by Plaid Cymru in their first test as a party of government. Across Wales the party scored a net gain of 33 council seats - just one short of what the Liberal Democrats managed across the entirety of England and Wales. That figure looks better still when you realise it was achieved even as Plaid were taking something of a hit in their Gwynedd heartland due to a local controversy over schools.

Not that you'd be likely to be aware of any of this if you live outside Wales, of course. The so-called 'national' UK media's coverage of political life in Wales is so minimal it makes their treatment of Scotland look positively fair (well, perhaps not). The truly historic moment of Plaid ministers taking up office for the first time last summer barely seemed to even register - there was, perhaps, fifteen seconds on it halfway through the Six O'Clock News. On last night's BBC election results programme, there was an extensive interview with Peter Tatchell on behalf of the Green Party of England and Wales. Quite right too - but given that the Greens won just 47 seats to Plaid's 207, that makes the omission of an interview with a Plaid represenative all the more indefensible. I dare say the defence would be the usual line that there was extensive coverage of Plaid's results during the Welsh opt-out segments. This is simply not good enough. If political coverage is to be ghettoised in that way, I really struggle to understand why those of us in Scotland have been subjected to relentless chatter about the London mayoral election for several weeks now. (And, no, repeated contrived explanations from Nick Robinson of 'Why This Matters to You Even If You Live Outside London' do not really alter that fundamental point.)

On the subject of the Ken and Boris show, I hear that Boris has finally been declared the winner, a mere twenty-six hours after the polls closed. We in Scotland set an impressive record of twenty hours last year, but it seems London with its instinctive understanding of its own importance simply couldn't resist taking matters to the next level. As for the result itself, I feel weirdly disappointed. In recent years, I've tended to be allergic to Labour under all circumstances, but the stubbornly progressive Ken is perhaps an exception. It's been quite amusing watching New Labour's finest (ahem) Tessa Jowell forced to defend him to the hilt - if only someone had put her on the spot about his pro-Chavez foreign policy!

Nevertheless, Boris it is. Of course, it's his multiple appearances on Have I Got News for You that have got him to where he is, but I think my own favourite Boris moment was when he won a prize at the Channel 4 political awards two or three years back. For the life of me, I can't remember exactly what he said, but it has to be one of the funniest acceptance speeches ever - and to be fair, I think that time I was laughing with him, not at him. Hopefully somebody might stick it on YouTube at some point.