Tuesday, May 19, 2009

By-election fever? Blah.

So my theory that the Speaker was not necessarily toast lasted all of twelve hours. Somehow, in spite of the speculation that the SNP could be in with a real chance, I can't quite muster the same enthusiasm for another Scottish by-election that I could last year. The early indications are that the poll might take place in September - four months from now. The general election is (at most) now only eleven-and-a-half months away. Hardly seems worth the effort - and yet experience tells us that by-elections right on the eve of a general election are the most vital of the lot. Look no further than Govan 1973, Darlington 1983, or Greenwich 1987. Perhaps that's what's making me so queasy at the prospect - the outcome of a typically mad-as-a-bucket-of-frogs by-election campaign really could be a game changer for the outcome of the whole general election in Scotland.

Toast, and tripping over words

I'm not sure I entirely buy into the conventional wisdom of the hour that Michael Martin is definitely toast. Aster all, how many times did excitable journalists say the same about John Major in the mid-1990s, only to see him somehow limp on? The fact that nobody seems to have yet divined the way in which a sitting Speaker can be removed without the acquiescence of the government is quite a significant factor.

I may not be a Michael Martin fan, but one thing that has been deeply distasteful in the coverage of yesterday's extraordinary events is the focus on the Speaker's difficulty in reading out his prepared text. I don't know if the likes of Michael Crick and Tom Bradby simply hadn't noticed, but Martin has consistently struggled in that area since the day he took on the job in late 2000. If it hasn't been deemed worthy of comment on the television news any day in the last eight-and-a-half years, it seems somewhat gratuitous to suddenly drive the point home on the day he is fighting for his political life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

YouGov : SNP slip, but retain lead

For the third YouGov sub-sample in a row, the SNP have retained a lead over Labour (that includes one in which it was a joint lead with the Tories). Here are the full figures -

SNP 30% (-8)
Labour 28% (+1)
Conservatives 20% (+5)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+2)
Others 6% (-1)

While the SNP might be a touch disappointed not to be enjoying a somewhat larger lead in circumstances in which Labour are in near-total meltdown, this recent run of sub-samples nevertheless represents a substantial turnaround. In previous months YouGov had shown Labour in a fairly consistent lead in Scotland.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

ComRes sub-sample : Labour slump to third

The Scottish sub-sample of the latest UK-wide ComRes poll shows the Conservatives up a few points, and the SNP down a few points while still retaining the lead. But the startling finding is that Labour has slumped to a dismal third place, and unlike the recent YouGov poll it's by some distance. Here are the full figures -

SNP 30% (-4)
Conservatives 26% (+6)
Labour 19% (-8)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+4)
Others 10% (+2)

Of course the likelihood is that Labour's third place can be explained away by the huge margin of error...but you do just wonder. That's how extraordinary these times are.

Eurovision reflections

I think at this time last year I managed a decent-length post on this topic, but I'm in one of those frames of mind where I think I'd struggle to string together a decent sentence, let alone seven proper paragraphs. Perhaps a numbered list of the main points will do to be getting on with!

1) Still don't quite get Norway, but it was obvious even to me it was going to win. The 'most points ever' thing I do find slightly odd.

2) I'm surprised and thrilled that Iceland finished second - when I predicted fourth place for them last night I actually worried that might be a touch on the high side. It genuinely is one of my all-time favourite Eurovision songs, so I'm glad Europe went for it (unlike some of my other favourites down the years!).

3) On second thoughts, maybe I wasn't so foolish in voting for Out of Control in the Greek national final!

4) The notion that Graham Norton and Andrew Lloyd-Webber were putting about that 'this is a music contest again'...well, any UK Eurovision fan will always be grateful for some positive spin at last, but it might be a touch premature in this case. The result tonight was actually remarkably similar to 2006 - a worthy runaway winner from western Europe masking the huge amount of political voting that was still going on. Romania and Moldova swapped votes, Andorra voted for Spain, Cyprus voted for Greece, Finland voted for Estonia (their neighbours and linguistic cousins), and it was pretty close to business as usual in the Balkans. I'm sure there were plenty of other examples I can't think of off the top of my head.

5) I wanted Paddy O'Connell to succeed Terry Wogan - but I was wrong. Graham Norton was excellent tonight, with exactly the right blend of cynicism, absurdity and positivity where it was warranted. It was only on the latter element that Terry Wogan has been found wanting in recent years.

6) The one area in which Norton was inferior to Wogan was in his failure to anticipate the most predictable political voting. Wogan would have predicted the destination of Andorra and Cyprus' douze points several seconds in advance - whereas Norton was seriously wondering if Andorra might be Patricia Kaas fans!

7) Norton also tried to maintain the tension for the last half-hour of voting on the question of whether the UK would stay in the top five, even though that was never in doubt. What was very close was the race for fourth place between Turkey and the UK, but he seemed totally oblivious to that!

8) As a UK supporter, I thought we had a genuine chance for all of about twenty seconds. When the first set of votes gave us ten points and Norway twelve it looked possible - but as soon as we got zero from the second set of votes I knew it was going to be a patchy night.

9) Why, oh why, oh why didn't I take Keith Mills seriously to task this year rather than last year over his anti-UK agenda? His initial prediction for It's My Time yesterday was 16th-20th, which he very generously hardened up to 16th in his final call. And what do you know? He's brazenly glossing over the fact that he got it so spectacularly wrong. Now there's a surprise.

10) Talking of Mr Mills, he does have this tendency to utterly convince himself that something very improbable is true and then flog the point to death in spite of a mass of contradictory evidence. A good example this year was his assumption that Lloyd-Webber was on the stage solely to impress the juries - from which he concluded it was likely to 'backfire' because the voting public would dislike it. But where is the slightest evidence that was ever the UK's thinking? For my money Lloyd-Webber was on stage to impress both the juries and the public with his celebrity - whether it worked or not I don't know, but I've little doubt that was always the idea.

11) Alsou was a good choice as host (pity she didn't get a chance to sing in place of the unfunny interludes), and I actually quite liked the intervention from space. Wasn't that done when the contest was in Latvia as well?

12) I actually made two slightly different predictions last night (one on Politicalbetting.com and one here), and I should have stuck with the first one because it was more accurate! I got last-minute cold feet about the UK's potential for a top five placing.

13) I'm surprised how poorly both Portugal and Malta did.

14) In the end I simply couldn't decide - so I voted for both Portugal and Estonia! At least Estonia received the decent placing they richly deserved.

So here's to Oslo 2010. As I hinted above, I hope the EBU look at tweaking the voting system a little further. For one thing, what's the point of having ordinary members of the public (ie. potential political voters) on the national juries when the public can vote by televote anyway?