Marginal No More; Reflections on the 2017 UK General Election and Polling

I was supposed to have voted yesterday in a high priority Tory-target marginal. Instead I voted yesterday as part of a majority of over 13,000. I watched as seat after seat was moved from a Labour held marginal to a Labour majority; from a Labour target marginal to a Labour gain; from a Conservative safe seat to a Conservative held marginal including seats held by prominent ministers, and in particular the case of Canterbury moving from a very safe Conservative hold to a shock Labour gain. Something big happened – in the short election campaign leftist messages cut through a hostile press, and voting turnout was up, especially amongst an engaged Corbyn-loving youth.

I was not expecting such a positive swell, even being the most optimistic of my friends. I entered the election hoping that there would be a pump in the Labour vote from 18-24 year olds yet ultimately believed that the parties would stay at roughly the same level, switching a few seats between them but with no substantial change. I did not think Corbyn would alienate Labour seats, but suspected he may not win over many people outside these areas. Still I appreciated politics done from a position of principle over likeability and thought that it was unfortunate that Labour’s internal politics had likely done some damage.

Having done work with Survation, and so knowing how they conduct their interviewing and knowing their 2015 fatal decision to not release their last “rogue” poll, I did not react with complete dismissal to their polling or final call like some. However I was nervous about whether the clear boost they were showing in young people’s intention to vote would actually transfer into reality and flipped seats. Instead of having more trust that the result could be better than I anticipated, I fell into the cynical trap of assuming hope always equals a profound naivety.

It’s a huge problem on the left, but also just with politics in general the we think optimism is the sign of stupidity. We don’t want to get hurt and then mocked for thinking the future is a great place. To enable us to put on an intellectual veneer we act as if banality is common sense, and as if common sense is the supreme dictator of how politics works. Our logic says that if Corbyn is passionate and states more divisive positions he can’t be electable, ergo there will be a Tory supermajority, ergo everyone who says otherwise is a deluded fanboy.

Survation’s bet was an intriguing one – they knew they messed up last time and decided to stake their reputation on what seemed to be the one huge outlier of all the polling organisations, having changed very little overall in their polling methodology since 2015. Unlike YouGov whose tweaking lead to them wavering in their final poll back to a prediction of a 7% Conservative lead, Survation called the hung parliament. It suggests that what happened in 2015, aside from some places suppressing polls that didn’t fit the general trend, was one of analysis. Rather than assuming that people’s views were in flux, we assume the polls were just plain wrong. It is entirely possible that every poll from 2015 was an accurate picture of a nation that changed its mind. With Brexit the margins were so narrow that pundits calling it for Remain was generally down to the “common-sense” assumption that referenda will always favour the status quo. In effect this general election people were picking the most “common-sense” option and then assessing the validity of the polls based on what would lead to that answer.

If this election shows anything, it is that cynical posturing no longer applies. Hope is not utopian, and if we have a fear of appearing naive then our problem is a lack of imagination. People don’t want a country where there is no true opposition, and are willing to transform themselves into voters when given a party that can offer them that coupled with a strong chance at creating a large parliamentary group. The opportunities now that we can see politics is no longer a game of just appealing with bland centrism to a sliver of floating voters are ones I relish. I was wrong to be so fatalistic this election; next time I’ll try to be better.

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The Secret Ballot is Not a Thing: Talking About Voting

In this UK general election I am voting Labour.

I am not voting Labour because I am a member of the Labour party. I do not want to join any party at the moment. I am not voting Labour because I think they have great policies, since I haven’t read all their manifesto, and there are some I am against or undecided on. I am not voting Labour because I think they will be a great change. If anything I doubt things will shift that much – the difference between the Conservatives and Labour is between 5 years of a lot of austerity measures vs. slightly less austerity measures.

For all my jokes about Ed Miliband and being a groupie I am not actually a paid-up member of the #Milifandom, as he is foremost a politician and though I view him as more sincere and idealistic than a lot of politicians (which poses its own problems), he still just wants votes at the end of the day. No politician is a saviour figure, unless we finally get a politician willing to create a long-term cross party plan on essential services (NHS, Education) that cannot be altered or messed up with each election.

I am not even voting because of the local candidate, though I think she will be a very, very good MP. I recently went door-to-door to convince people to cross the box next to Dr. Rupa Huq’s name and I am glad I did so.

The true reason I am voting Labour is because I am a lefty in a Tory-Labour marginal and that is what I see as the best option.

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I dislike the conversation around secret ballots. When conversation veers onto voting and people say they don’t want to reveal their choices I understand it on some level but ultimately I think it harms public debate. Secret ballots are to protect you from the grip of the government, and other possible avenues of intimidation. However if you feel you live in a situation – as we do here – where that is less likely to happen you are entirely free to discuss your voting choice. Secret ballots aren’t even entirely enshrined in our system – both postal and proxy votes don’t really uphold the principle. And whilst polls may give an indication of intention, polls don’t have the same impact or nuance of talking with someone one-on-one.

Without discussing who we are voting for, and more importantly why we have selected them (or even the reasons we are not voting) with as broad a range of people as possible, we perpetuate the idea of loyal solid party voters. Discussion doesn’t need to be proselytising, indeed people may discover they have identical views but the results differ due to tactics that our political system forces. When people are backed into a system they can react in wildly different ways and just looking at the raw data can create the illusion that there is no strong common ground on particular issues since the votes are split between groups with radically different perspectives. As Wail Qasim wrote recently for Vice there is only a limited pool of parties which non-white people may feel represent their interests. The same is true for many other disadvantaged groups in society. This perspective leads to neglect as the main parties that rely on their support feel like they don’t have to offer anything to compel that support – they assume they will always get the votes regardless of how awful they treat people because they are better than the alternative. And so all the turf of political conversation becomes even more narrowly geared for those already in positions of great privilege.

With my Dad and his siblings composed of four mixed-race black kids growing up in the Midlands during the 80s there is a fundamental notion in the family that you absolutely NEVER vote Tory. As a result the choice becomes often tactical – voting for a smaller party may in a roundabout way introduce a Tory to power so instead the focus becomes on blocking them. This is why I will vote the way I do in my first general election.

My ideal is ultimately to reform the voting system so that people can have more faith in the system. On a smaller level I want parties to actively engage people rather than rely on tactical voting, and move beneficial policies to a wider range of people instead of middle-class swing voters. Part of that is opening up the conversation and honestly talking about how we are forced to vote tactically if we choose to participate in the current system.

I am voting Labour but I want to one day feel like it is more of a choice.