General Election

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.

An Election Abroad: GE2017

This year I get the particular privilege of organising my general election vote via proxy as my Masters thesis means there will not be time to go back to London to cast it in person. The functioning of a proxy has amused a lot of my colleagues, many hailing from countries where you simply go and vote in your embassy, who find it a hard concept that you would trust someone else with your ballot. Fortunately I do have trust in my proxy – it is the broader public that I worry about making their own choices in the polling booth.

Watching your country’s election from abroad is an interesting experience. So much of the minutiae of campaigning is lost, – no flyers stuffed through letterboxes, or vote canvassers, or – you only get the headline news. This, coupled with late night viewings of the debates, has given me a surface view of what is happening without the fluff that tends to go with it.

As a result the stuff which cuts through generates more intrigue since you feel more assured that this is likely the same messages that are reaching those who don’t really follow politics on a daily basis. Unfortunately this has utilised by terrorists – the dominant message the past few weeks has been pushing out is one of fear, and of the need for more securitisation which over time will help to erode a lot of the liberties I think are vital for us to continue to grow into a proper democracy.

It is no secret that I will be voting for Labour. I want priorities to be focused on the NHS, on a Brexit that does not alienate us from Europe, and I want governments that are committed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and the privileges that a lot of us, including myself, take for granted. Combating extremism requires a more holistic approach than just treating symptoms, and part of that is creating a society where everyone feels like a valued member able to succeed within its bounds.

This is not to say I am an uncritical voter, even with the change in leadership since my last discussion on voting for the least wrong lizard in the race. As it stands the mess of both the PLP and the Leadership these past few years has just continued my disappointment in Labour. Labour are the party I desperately want to love, and instead I’ve consistently found myself just viewing them as the best of the bad lot as a result of their inability to put aside petty differences and work to create a cohesive impression, especially at politically opportune times. Their policies, especially on universalism, align to a large degree with my own beliefs but I continue to have doubts on the ability of everyone there to carry them out.

Sitting down to watch the debates has cheered me a little. For once we had demonstration that there would be a strong defence of positions. When Corbyn answers a business owner who queried Labour over rises to minimum wage and taxes on private schools he appeals to the importance of tax funding to support the broader society, the needs of low income workers and the priority of caring for one’s neighbour over individualism. This is a significant departure from most politician’s tendency when posed difficult questions to just opt for the safety of “the customer is always right”, never wanting to be seen telling a member of the public that they have a full ideological disagreement.

For voters in a lot of areas Labour are the party that will offer meaningful change focused in a positive direction. Ultimately it becomes the first step to a reformed system, included a reformed voting system, that we desperately need. It’s an unfortunate truth that in our political system the link between your vote and impact is quite tenuous. Move a few streets one way and you might go from being one of an 8,000 lead to a crucial decision maker in a marginal constituency where a win was a mere 27 votes. I am fortunate that my vote is in a more significant constituency where I feel that I can actually shape the course of the next parliament.

So now we are here, waiting to find out which polling companies adjustments (or lack thereof) are the most suited to this moment in time. Whatever happens though I am content with my choices and the values I defend. If you share these values make sure you vote in defence of them too.