Wednesday, 22 April 2009

So what will be the political impact of the budget?

The main site appears to be down so let's continue our discussion here.

From a betting standpoint it's been pretty good. I made money on my SportingIndex sell bets on the number of times "billion" and "education" were mentioned but lost on the sips of water total. Net profit there £240.

My 5/1 William Hill bet on him not having any water came in at 5/1. Overall profit £125.

My 3/1 Ladbrokes bet on "credit crunch" was a winner but "sorry" was a loser. Net profit about £95.

So total winnings on the 2009 budget £460.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Has Labour finally cracked the internet?

It's become a set part of the received wisdom of UK politics that Labour simply does not "get" the internet - that it has simply failed to grasp the way that blogging works with the result that efforts to get involved have appeared cack-handed and ineffective. That might just be changing and this is happening bottom-up and not top down which is the normal way the party operated.

There's been a big row going on in the Labour party over the selection of a PPC for the ultra-safe south-east London seat of Erith and Crayside. The issue has been a high powered campaign to secure the slot for one of the candidates on the all-women short-list, 22 year Georgia Gould daughter of Philip Gould, one of the architects of NuLab.

Last night the party postponed the selection so it could investigate allegations of vote-rigging.
What's interesting here is not whether Ms Gould gets the opportunity or not but the role that the Labour website that isn't LabourList, LabourHome has played.
For it's been this site that's played a key role in highlighting a lot of the issues surrounding the selection and has provided a forum that has been the platform for much of the activist anger. This surely is how credible websites linked to political parties should be.

The move reminds me of what happened in the Tory party in 2005 when the then leader, Michael Howard, tried to change the rules on leadership elections to reduce the power of the membership at large. Out of the resulting internal squabble came ConservativeHome which is as powerful a site as it is today precisely because it is NOT part of the party machine.

Could we see the same now with LabourHome? Has the Erith and Crayside selection given it a crediblity with the movement as a whole that LabourList never managed?

Whether this is appreciated by the control freaks who run the party I don't know but I have little doubt that a strong grass roots site is absolutely central if Labour is to compete. This latest incident suggests something it happening. Well done LabourHome. Well done Alex Hilton - its founder.

Friday, 17 April 2009

South Africa Poll Update

ANC 65%, DA 11, COPE 9, IFP 3

Details from Mail & Guardian, poll conducted by Ipsos Markinor:

"Despite a vibrant and well-resourced election campaign, the ANC could lose its two-thirds majority in Parliament, preventing it from unilaterally altering the Constitution. The survey gives the party a clear majority, with 64,7% nationally.

It predicted that the DA will drop to 10,8%, from 12,4%, while Cope will poll 8,9% and the IFP 2,7%.

Smaller parties such as the UDM and ID will also decline to 0,7% and 1,1% respectively.

Markinor polled 3 531 voters countrywide between February 24 and March 10 this year."

Full article here.

Double Carpet

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

South Africa Election Game

If you would like to enter the South Africa election game, please drop me a line at: and I will send you a copy (released in Excel 97-03, macros & links can be safely enabled).

Simply predict the number of seats won by the big four parties and complete the tie-breaker - form guide and opinion poll available.

Entries close 5am BST Wednesday 22nd April.

The Election Game has a 24-country portfolio and features extensive coverage of British, American, European and international politics, as well as year-long games for Leaders and Finance, all wrapped up in a Formula 1-style championship.

The next two scheduled games after South Africa will be for India and the Euros.

Many thanks

Double Carpet

Saturday, 11 April 2009

McBride is gone - who's next?

Continuation thread for those having difficulty getting on the main website.

Should the default assumption be that this is spin?

Telegraph online

The above story is running in the Telegraph this morning and states that the paper has learned "has learnt that the poll swing to the Conservatives in the main marginal seats is currently about 14 percent - twice the national average recorded by the Conservatives..The seats have been aggressively targeted by a team headed by Lord Ashcroft. Party strategists now believe that Labour has left it too late to mount an effective campaign in these areas."

I have problem with reports of this kind because neither the pollster nor the publisher are ever going to be accountable for the details. We don't know which firm did it and unless this detailed data is made public we cannot make any assessment about its veracity.

The report itself does not add much confidence. To talk about a "swing of 14%" brings us to the verge of the fantastic. The way you calculate these things is to take the difference between Labour 2005 performance at the 2005 general election and the Conservative one. Add the two together and divide by two.
So to get to a 14% swing in a national voting intention survey you would need a CON total of 47% and a Labour one of 22%.
That indeed might have happened but unless we can see firm data we cannot jump to conclusions.

Parties are carrying out private polls all the time - why is it only this one that is being leaked?

So come on Tory HQ - be open here and release the data. Otherwise the default assumption is that this is spin.

Mike Smithson

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Andy Cooke on the poll averaging debate

(This is a comment that Andy Cooke posted on the main PB site on the debate that often flares up here on poll averaging between Mike Smithson and Rod Crosby)

On poll averaging: Rod Crosby would be absolutely correct - if the only variability of the polling were random error (imprecision). If systematic error (inaccuracy) creeps in, then the averaging technique would fail. We can, in fact, use Rod's correct statistical assertion to test the assumption that variations between all the polls from the polling companies is purely random error - if averaging tends to work over a specified technique of selecting a single poll (which we don't have to come up with - Mike has long subscribed to the technique "Whichever one is worst for Labour"), the assumption holds. If the specified technique tends to win, the assumption fails.

Quick test: Looking at the final 3 days polling data from the last 4 elections (information readily available; timescale chosen to provide sufficient polls to actually average (number of 4-7 over the 4 elections), data from most polling companies at each election, yet minimise the possibility of a late swing), we can take the average (Crosby's Rule, or "CR") and worst-for-Labour (Smithson's Rule, or "SR")

1992: (Lead in GB; Con score-Lab score; error)
Actual: Con 7.6%; 42.8-35.2
CR: Lab 1.4%; 38.1-39.5; 9.0% to Lab
SR: Con 0.5%; 38.5-38.0; 7.1% to Lab
SR wins

1997: (Lead in GB; Con score-Lab score; error)
Actual: Lab 13.0; 31.4-44.4
CR: Lab 18.0%; 30.0-48.0; 5.0% to Lab
SR: Lab 10.0%; 33.0-43.0; 3.0% to Con
SR wins

2001: (Lead in GB; Con score-Lab score; error)
Actual: Lab 9.3%; 32.7-42.0
CR: Lab 12.8%; 31.6-44.4; 3.5% to Lab
SR: Lab 10.0%; 33.0-43.0; 0.7% to Lab
SR wins

2005: (Lead in GB; Con score-Lab score; error)
Actual: Lab 3.0%; 33.2-36.2
CR: Lab 4.9%; 32.4-37.3; 1.9% to Lab
SR: Lab 3.0%; 33.0-36.0; 0.0% to Lab/Con
SR wins

SR wins in 4 out of 4 cases. If the assumption that error is purely random were to hold, then in each case, SR would be heavily odds against to win. A 4-horse accumulator all at odds against on the order of 4/1 to 6/1 would seem extremely unlikely (if all were 4/1, for example, we'd be looking at a 624/1 accumulator, which beats Mike's Obama bet totally hollow).

Ergo the assumption that all polling error is purely random fails. Polling averaging (across companies, at least) is contraindicated.

Should Labour follow Ireland's example on MPs' pay?

Harry Hayfield on what's happened across the Irish Sea

Taken from the Irish Finance Minister's speech in Dublin this afternoon:
The Government has decided to introduce a number of additional changes to
the remuneration of Deputies and Senators.
* There will be a 10% reduction in all expenses other than mileage
rates where a 25% reduction has already taken place.
* Deputies will no longer receive long service payments or increments.
* The arrangement whereby former Ministers are paid Ministerial
pensions while they are still members of the Oireachtas will be
* Oireachtas members who are on paid leave of absence as teachers may
no longer avail of the arrangement whereby they can keep the difference
between their teachersâEUR(tm) salary and the cost of employing a
* The allowances paid to Oireachtas Committee chairs will be halved
and the payments to whips and vice-chairs are to be abolished.
* The Oireachtas Commission has put forward its own proposals for a
reduction in the number of Committees and I am happy to leave that matter to
these Houses.
Some of these changes will require legislation which will be introduced
shortly. The members of this Government reduced their salaries by 10% last
October. Ministers of State made a similar reduction. The public service
pension levy was applied to members of the Government and Ministers of
State. As a result, Ministers have seen a reduction of one fifth in their

Harry Hayfield is a regular PB contributor

Mr Smithson - the horse

This is Mr Smithson - the race-horse that is owned by a syndicate of PB followers. It's pictured here in the parade ring just before its first outing last week at Musselburgh - a race that saw it coming in second at 14/1. Those who backed it each way did very nicely.

We'll keep you up to date here on PB2 about its progress and where it is running next.

Hung Parliament Revisited

A PB2 guest slot by Rod Crosby

Discussions of the prospect of a hung parliament have probably caused more disagreements here than any other topic. The preponderance of opinion seems to be that the Tories are very likely to win a majority. All things are possible, but before one commits to a position an objective analysis is called for.

What is the Electoral System saying?
The capacity of FPTP to deliver an overall majority is entirely dependent on two factors – its exaggeration when translating votes into seats, and the number of third party MPs.

The first has been in long-term decline since the demise of the “cube-law” in the 1950s, although it has recovered slightly since 1992 and has now stabilised at around a “square-law.” This change, due to the decline in the number of marginals, means that fewer seats now change hands between Labour and Conservative for a given shift in votes, or swing.

The second has seen the number of MPs not aligned with Labour or Conservative grow from just 8 in 1955 to no fewer than 92 in 2005. This change, due to the rise in the LibDems and Nationalists, and the de-coupling of Northern Ireland from the mainland party system, means that to gain an overall majority Labour or Conservative now need a far larger lead in seats over each other than they did in the past.

Combined, these two factors have dramatically altered the British FPTP system from one where hung parliaments were extremely unlikely to one where they are now increasingly likely.

The rôle of Electoral Bias
The preceding analysis takes no account of electoral bias – the tendency of the system to favour one party over another, other things being equal. In the 1950s there was a modest pro-Tory bias, but by 1966 this had disappeared, and for the next 25 years the system treated the two big parties roughly equally. In 1992 that changed dramatically. Despite obtaining a thumping lead in votes, John Major was rewarded with a majority insufficient to last a full parliament. Tactical voting, and to a lesser degree regional effects, had swung the system significantly towards Labour. And rather than this being an aberration - on the contrary - the anti-Tory bias increased in 1997, 2001 and 2005. It is notable that, but for electoral bias, there would have been a hung parliament in 2005. Boundary changes and a likely small fall in the total number of third-party MPs may reduce this bias fractionally in 2010, but as the following graph shows, the Tories will probably need about 57% of the two-party vote to achieve a majority – a huge handicap only narrowly exceeded in 2005. However, continuing demographic shifts may also improve Labour’s position slightly, relative to the 2005 notional figures, meaning that in practice the Tories could be no better off than in 2005.

In a nutshell, the hung parliament zone has widened from a crack to a chasm, while the power of the system to propel a party across it has simultaneously weakened. Worryingly for the Tories, electoral bias has now shifted the chasm almost entirely into what would otherwise be their winning territory.

Cycles and Volatility
A complicating factor, in arriving at an estimate of the chance of a hung parliament is that the political pendulum does not move in a clockwork fashion. Parties have their great triumphs and abject disasters, and often remain in power for more than one term.

The black line represents an idealised electoral system, with no electoral bias and assumes a swing to the opposition at each election, adjusted for increasing volatility over time. The yellow line is more realistic, incorporating electoral bias and memory of the previous election result.

The first big leap in the chance of a hung parliament came at the February 1974 election, which did in fact produce one, although the objective chance, given a small pro-Labour bias and the closeness of the previous result, was somewhat smaller. It was the unexpectedly minuscule swing to Labour that in reality delivered that inconclusive result. For different reasons, two subsequent elections - October 1974 and 1992 - also came extremely close to producing hung parliaments.

Of course, politics often confounds even the best statistical estimates. In 1983, had there been a swing to Labour, a hung parliament was quite likely - instead there was a swing to the government, resulting in a Tory landslide. Again, in 1997, the system was primed to deliver a hung parliament, but the unprecedented, massive swing to Labour rendered the estimate moot. On the other hand, the graph shows that in 1987 and 2001 the Opposition were simply starting from too far behind to make a hung parliament at all likely, which turned out to be an accurate prediction. But we can see that in 2010 we are once again facing a “peak probability” of a hung parliament. The numbers say about a 67% chance, and we can be pretty confident there will be no swing to Labour to upset that estimate.

What are the Polls saying?
Since, in the final analysis, a hung parliament turns on a single seat we should not be surprised that individual polls give a Yes/No answer, rather than a Maybe. That may be misleading. Of the 335 polls since 2005 exactly 50% of them have indicated a hung parliament, while only 28% have indicated a Tory majority and 22% a Labour majority. That is an unprecedented number of polls indicating a hung parliament.

The following graph visualises the polls. About half the time, we see “islands” of majority government emerging from the Stygian waters of a hung parliament, only to be submerged again. The Tory archipelago seemingly peaked in 2008, and one could be forgiven for thinking they look poised to slip beneath the waves again sometime soon…

The median forecast of the polls in this parliament is Con 288, Lab 277, LD 47, which if reflected in the result could see Labour remain in office with the LibDems as Kingmakers.

In 1951, just a 1% swing saw a Labour majority government replaced by a Tory majority government. Electoral bias, increased third party MPs, and the changing nature of the system mean that to obtain a majority at the next election the Tories require at least a 6% swing, possibly more. Only one of the last sixteen elections has seen such a swing. The polls are narrowing - another fractional shift and the Tories fall back into the NOM zone. Whether you examine the electoral system or the polls, a hung parliament still appears to this poster to be the odds-on favourite.

Rod Crosby is a regular contributor to the main site -

Friday, 3 April 2009

We are having very serious problems on the main site

We do not know what is happening but it has not been possible for large parts of the day for people to get onto the main site.

This is not the normal server pressure that happens from time to time.

I have no idea what the cause is - but please check here for the latest information.

..and please use the thread here for our ongoing discussion.