Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Political Betting moderator "The Screaming Eagles" lies about me, dehumanises me, and then denies me any right to reply. But I'll be generous - I'll tell nothing but the truth about him, and he's free to reply if he wants.

Some of you may have seen the comment left by pro-independence Political Betting poster Mick Pork on the previous thread -

"Just thought you'd like to know James. Your article was as thorough and illuminating as ever, and yet for SOME reason (despite the poll being the main subject of the Smithson thread) trying to link your article from PB brought down the wrath of Smithson with the post immediately deleted accompanied by blustering nonsense trying (and failing) to justify it.

Embargoes, polling and betting James. Eh? ;-) PB better hope nobody decides to take a closer look at that anytime soon."

However, events were about to take an even more Kafkaesque (or perhaps by now we should simply call them PB-esque) turn. You really couldn't make this up - having already banned me for life more than seven months ago (since when I've only visited the site a handful of times), Mr Smithson and his Tory moderator henchmen have seemingly concluded that their actions were insufficient, and that they now need to "ban me again, only HARDER!!!!" (© Mr Kevin Baker). I'm reminded of that line from Blackadder - "A fate worse than a fate worse than death? That's pretty bad..."

Here's how events unfolded this morning -

Carlotta Vance : It also appears to have the "biased preamble" that excites some of our separatist friends:

"If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an Independent Country and this was the question, how would you vote?"

They get very upset when you mention that 'independence' = 'leaving the United Kingdom', blustering about 'the Union of the crowns' - which they forget about when they go on to claim that 'rUK will have to change its name when we separate.....leave.... get independence.

At this point, suspecting from her use of the term "biased preamble" that 'Carlotta Vance' had probably read my blogpost of last night, Mick Pork made a wry comment and linked to the post in question. Not long after, he quoted from and linked to my post about the 9% and 10% falls in the No lead since the early autumn suggested by TNS-BMRB and ICM respectively, to counter the demonstrably silly suggestion from PB Tory David Herdson that the Yes campaign had only managed a "1.5% swing over the last five years" (!). The first of Mick's comments was subsequently deleted by "PB Moderator", which may or may not be an account name used by several different moderators, but in this instance the words used left no doubt whatever that it was the alter ego of "The Screaming Eagles" (TSE).

PB Moderator (TSE) : MickPork

Please do not post links that accuse pollsters of push polling and/or that question their integrity.

Mick Pork : Sorry??? Are you seriously claiming a pollster's methodology is now "off-limits"?

Your choice but if you think it looks good for PB to make certain pollsters immune to criticism then that's a pretty bizarre and revealing stance to make.

Anorak : I rarely agree with you, Mick, but I'm with you 100% here.

Bizarre is right.

PB Moderator (TSE) : No.

It is fine to question their methodology, but not fine to question their motives, and saying they are push polling falls into the latter category.

We apply this stricture to all BPC pollsters and have done so in the past.

See here Mike Smithson's comment, when people criticised another pollster.

Mick Pork : See here TSE's thread where he describes a "pejorative preamble to their question on Independence, which may distort the final result" for...


I note with wry amusement that is the precise same thing being asked of this YouGov poll by the Scottish blog you have banned me from linking to.

PB Moderator (TSE) : That is a methodology issue.

I would also remind you that the blog you linked to, has in the past, been forced to apologise to a BPC pollster for questioning their integrity, so you can understand our caution.

I've also reviewed that site, and note that some of the comments impugn on the personal integrity of Mike Smithson, so in future, no more links from that site.

This ends the discussion.

* * *

Mick's interpretation of "comments impugning the personal integrity of Mike Smithson" was that it referred to his own hint (and it was never anything more than a hint) in the comments section of last night's post that Smithson sometimes takes advantage of his privileged position (with, for example, early access to embargoed polls) to make a personal profit on the betting markets. That's certainly not a claim I've ever made - and frankly I don't really give a monkey's one way or the other. If Smithson is bright enough to screw the bookies over now and again, then good luck to him is all I would say, and I don't particularly care how he goes about it. But if this mildly creepy, cult-like deification of PB's editor (aka "Our Genial Host" or "OGH") has got to the point where a blog cannot even be linked to unless it immediately deletes all comments from readers that are critical of Smithson (even ones that are made when I'm fast asleep!), then you begin to wonder where this is all going to end.

Alternatively, TSE's hissy-fit could simply have been provoked by my tendency to irreverently refer to his boss as Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson - which, for the uninitiated, is simply a reference to the man's habit of using the phrase "can't be arsed" rather a lot. (His other favourite is "Gawd".)

I know that after all the mindless personal (and sometimes downright racist) abuse that I suffered in the days when I was still allowed to post on PB, this kind of nonsense should be water off a duck's back by now. But I'll be honest with you - I'm hopping, fizzing mad about it. What TSE has done today is knowingly tell a flat-out lie about me (ie. "the blog you linked to, has in the past, been forced to apologise to a BPC pollster for questioning their integrity") and then deprived me of any conceivable right to reply on PB, even in the most indirect of forms. He's also used language that has been mildly dehumanising - everyone on PB (except for a small number of newcomers) will know perfectly well that I used to be a regular poster at the site for several years under my own name, but now there seems to an implied suggestion that even mentioning my name or the name of my blog is off-limits. As bizarre as that sounds, it would not be a new departure - usage of the words "Stuart Dickson" was at one time explicitly banned on PB.

But what makes me particularly angry is that this comes from a man who (in spite of his constant provocations) I've actually been honourable enough to protect for a couple of years, during which time I've known his real name and some information that severely calls into question his integrity as a moderator. Given the extreme nature of his actions today, I'm sorely tempted to simply reveal everything and have done with it. However, on reflection, I've decided not to reveal his name - that would simply bring me down to the same level as the PB moderators who colluded with the hounding off the site of the most prolific left-wing poster, after identifying information about himself and his family was posted for a second time. But what I am certainly going to do is reveal the rest of the information about TSE.

First of all, let's lay to rest the cynical lie that he told. What he is referring to is an occasion in 2012 when I wrote a blogpost about an Ipsos-Mori referendum poll, which I suggested might not have been entirely credible because of my suspicion that (like YouGov) they hadn't used the actual referendum question. I was later contacted by a chap called Christopher McLean, who billed himself as a "Senior Research Executive" of something called "Ipsos-Mori Scotland" (is that a bit like "UKIP Scotland"?!), and who claimed that the referendum question had been used in straightforward form and therefore asked me to 'correct' my post. At no point did he ask for an apology, let alone "force" me to issue one (and that, in a nutshell, is the nature of TSE's lie). Even if McLean had been telling me the whole truth, there would have been absolutely no need for an apology, because I hadn't stated as a fact that the referendum question wasn't used - I made clear that it was merely a strong suspicion based on the very limited information available at that time. To put it another way, it was speculation on my part, very much of the sort that appears on PB day in, day out - not least this very morning, when Smithson indulged himself with some highly questionable guesswork about the nature of the new YouGov poll. I have never, ever seen him apologise for any speculation that proved to be unfounded, let alone seen his moderation team demand such an apology. It's perfectly true that I did apologise to Ipsos-Mori, but only as a matter of courtesy, because at that point it seemed to me that McLean had made his request for a correction in a friendly manner. I later had cause to change my mind about that, because he quickly sent me a rather condescending follow-up email implying that in future I should check my facts by visiting the Ipsos-Mori website (which was a load of nonsense, because that website had in fact been my first port of call, but no information about the poll had yet been added at the time that I wrote my post). It then appears that, instead of simply being grateful that I promptly agreed to his request for a correction, he (or another "prominent pollster") was for some reason "amused" by the speed of my response, and bizarrely sent it to TSE to allow him to share in the "joke". This was my reaction when TSE triumphantly told me about what happened several months later -

"I ought to tell you what a prominent PB poster once emailed to me, because he knew I'd be shocked by it, but alas I'm sworn to secrecy.

I was contacted by Ipsos-Mori and asked to make a correction, and I did so immediately. You may be 'amused' by such professionalism, as may your prominent pollster chum, but if I may say so I'm content for my actions to stand comparison to your antics as moderator of this blog.

Let's see if you've got the guts to leave this post up."

The more fundamental reason why I was wrong to apologise to McLean, though, is quite simply that he wasn't telling me the whole truth. It's now a matter of record that Ipsos-Mori do indeed add a preamble to the referendum question, and in some ways it could be argued that their practice is even more reprehensible than YouGov's, because they're not open and honest about what they do. This is how Calum Findlay put it the other night -

"I'd say the exact same about Ipsos as well. They mention in their summaries they ask respondents how they would vote tomorrow (I remember a man from Ipsos even saying that on STV News), but no sign of a preamble has ever been in their results tables. Judging by the No leads they manage to produce, there's a chance that it is very leading indeed."

Incidentally, if TSE seriously reckons that the mere suggestion that a pollster may not have used the actual referendum question in unadorned form constitutes the "questioning of their integrity", then how in God's name are we supposed to interpret the indisputable fact that YouGov DO 'enhance' the referendum question to suit themselves? Presumably according to TSE-logic that by definition means that YouGov have no integrity?

While we're at it, let's turn briefly to TSE's allegation that I called YouGov a push-poller. Again, it's very simple - I didn't. I in fact accused them of "quasi-push-polling". That is not a pedantic distinction - it's as fundamental a distinction as between Mrs Thatcher calling Neil Kinnock a "crypto-communist" and her actually calling him a communist. However, I make no apology whatever for using the term I did, because it's a straightforwardly accurate characterisation of what YouGov are consciously doing. Their preamble transforms a question about independence into a pejorative one (to use TSE's own word) that is primarily about "leaving the United Kingdom". They do that in pursuance of Peter Kellner's own agenda (he has made clear a number of times that he disapproves of the actual referendum question, and is seemingly intent on 'overruling' it!) and also in the full knowledge that such an approach is bound to artificially boost the No vote in their polls. That looks very much like "quasi-push-polling" to me, and I certainly wouldn't use language like that lightly.

And finally to the information about TSE I've helped to suppress for a very long time. Before he was inexplicably appointed as a moderator (although perhaps it's not so inexplicable, given that sycophancy is the only qualification for the job), he left Smithson in the lurch by offering to host a PB get-together in the north of England, and then going AWOL at a very late stage. At roughly the same time, he failed to settle bets with the site's aforementioned leading left-wing poster for over six months, using a series of increasingly bizarre excuses to buy himself time. This is a serious matter in PB-world, because welching on a recorded bet is considered a banning offence (it's almost as heinous a crime as...er, whatever it was that was the excuse for my own lifetime banning). The saga culminated in TSE fabricating two terrible and contradictory stories about his family to excuse what had happened - firstly that his wife had lost a baby (one of twins), and secondly that he'd been forced to consent to the termination of a pregnancy to save her life, and that she hadn't forgiven him. The deceit went so far that "PB Queen" Plato actually collected condolence messages. When the truth came out, TSE's Tory friends briefly turned against him - but he somehow turned the situation to his advantage by hinting that he'd been maliciously lied about by the left-wing poster, and that he had never in fact used the stories about his family as a delaying tactic. Unfortunately, I've seen the full set of emails that prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he did. This is the most damning one -

TSE (in response to the question 'Family OK?') : Not really.

My wife collapsed last weekend, and I had to give the Doctors permission to terminate the pregnancy to save my wife's life.

A decision my wife hasn't forgiven me for.

As someone privately pointed out at the time, the story was never remotely credible because no husband would be asked to give consent in those circumstances.

And this is the man who 'prominent pollsters' are happy to have as a chuckle chum? You're welcome to him, guys.


  1. For the moment I'll simply add this to my somewhat jokey comment about polling and betting.

    "In the early hours when news of the poll came through I wagered several hundred pounds on Betfair that YES will win.

    This polling, surely, will move the betting."

    Not my words, Mike Smithsons.


    Nor is it remotely the first time he has boasted about such bets. So is he impugning himself by doing so? Others can judge for themselves.

  2. Insider trading is illegal. As is insider betting as many former employees of horse-trainers could attest.

    Also Smithson is a proven racist.
    Just like the Tims. Must be why they had their lover's tiff.

  3. I take it the purpose of 'push polling' is for the pollster to get the result the client - who pays, obviously - wants?

    There is then a dilemma for anyone reading the results of any opinion poll. Was it obtained using neutral questions or not? Is there an underlying agenda?

    I appreciate the work that you do here but as someone who has tried to look into the background of polling a few times, it is really hard for the general public ( e.g. me) to engage when the fundamental premise is so flawed. And the data is so obscurely laid out!

  4. Wow! What a lot of dishonest cretins they lot are James, and we are supposed to believe that people who operate in they circles aren't open to having brown envelopes as payment for 'favourable polling results'

    Is there no end to corruption in this UK system?

  5. TSE is a complete prick

    pb.com bans anyone with whom they don't agree. But TSE has demeaned himself through this EU Ref. Instead of writing his bias pro Remain threads and sitting back he then pitches in left, right and centre. When I dared to suggest Ken Clarke wouldn't have made a suitable Tory leader I was banned from the site. Un-bel-ievable.

    It's also hilarious that I was banned in the run up to GE2015 despite correctly predicting the outcome. TSE even pocketed my 15-1 tip that Cable would lose Twickenham. He then banned me for suggesting Cameron would win. He's not got the cheek to claim he was confident about the GE outcome. Actually he posted a thread in October 2014 in which he said 'today marked the last chance the Tories had of winning.'

    pb has become complete crap. There are other, much better, sites out there.