Tuesday 19 February 2019

On Centrist Party Polling

How well can we expect a new centrist party opposed to Brexit do? Survation are out of the starting blocks with something of an answer. In their standard poll published on 18th February, the Tories are on 40% (up two since 30th January), Labour 36% (down three) and the Liberal Democrats 10% (up one). However, given acres of talk about a new centrist party, in advance of the flounce they asked punters if, well, they’d give a new party a punt. The result puts the Tories on 39%, Labour 34% and LibDems on 6%. Centrism can boast of 8%, which isn’t bad for a new party.

How to explain these figures politically? Contrary to what you might read on Twitter, polling isn't a Tory conspiracy. Not even YouGov. The bread and butter of polling companies is the selling of market research because, well, companies need accurate information about the habits of the customers they hope to sell to. If a polling company consistently gets elections wrong, say, by greater than the margin of error then clients are going to start looking elsewhere. Hence the panic that greeted the 2015 and 2017 general election results. And I’m sure readers will recall it was Survation who called the last election right, which is why we should take their findings seriously.

We have to remember is what a poll is. It’s not a prediction. It’s a snapshot of opinion at a point in time. How then are the Tories, who are falling apart and making the most incredible hash of Brexit, motoring ahead? You can put some of it down to the polarisation of British politics, which I’ve written about too many times to link to. But there is a chunk of personal support for Theresa May. Believe it or not, a significant proportion of the electorate advance her a great deal of sympathy – and this includes Labour voters. As far as they see it, she’s been left a right mess and has battled her way through the crafty moves of Brussels’ bureaucrats and the childish behaviour of her backbenchers. Whether she’s played her dud hand well or poorly, the fact she’s stuck it out and not thrown in the towel at the merest sign of adversity – unlike some – commends her to many people. Secondly, some are quite prepared to accept she’s arguing the UK’s corner so it's our patriotic duty to get behind her. See, for example, how backing “our boys” won out over anti-war sentiment once the tanks started rolling in to Iraq. A similar sentiment applies. This, of course, poses the Tories some unique problems after Brexit – whether we leave on 29th March a some point afterwards. She is their best asset and there isn’t a single Tory who can fill her boots. Not Johnson, nor Javid, nor Rudd, and certainly not Gove, Leadsom and Williamson.

On the centrist anti-Brexit party, there’s no reason for undue concern. Repeat polling of voters find most like to locate themselves in the political centre, irrespective of their political views and party preferences. Those so disposed to novelty will look closely at The Independent Group or its eventual successor in the context of an election to find out more, and I doubt a platform of privatising public services and moar markets is going to set their worlds alight. But what about that pesky eight per cent? Well, here's where the snapshot comes in. We don't know when the next general election is going to be, but it's unlikely to happen while May remains Tory leader. What's even less likely is a snap contest getting called prior to Brexit day. Which means the point is moot. The next election will be the first after the UK has left the European Union, and so the dynamic of Brexit changes from should/shouldn't to what shape it's going to take over the medium to long-term. TIG or the LibDems are, of course, free to campaign on re-entry to the EU, but an electorate heartily sick of it aren't going to bite in large numbers. In all likelihood the big question concerning the EU is going to be what the relationship should be. The Tories want the kind of arrangement granting them their holy grails of economically useless but politically useful trade deals, of Britain rising once again as a great commercial power. Pathetic stuff. Labour, as per its customs deal approach to Brexit, would see the party negotiate a much closer relationship to Europe to mitigate the damage already being done. Like the last election, pro-Europeans will have a choice: they can vote for a prospectus enabling more detachment and increasing irrelevance, or a close, friendly relationship with the world's largest trading bloc seeking to preserve as much continuity as possible. Who knows, perhaps in a decade or two it might lead to the UK's re-admittance. If your synapses aren't totally burned out by FBPE memes, the choice is obvious.

This is why no one should get in too much of a lather about TIG or the electoral impact of a centrist party. You can't forge a new politics on the basis of the old, discredited politics. You can't stop Brexit if it has already happened. And you can't offer anything if you're not in a position to do anything. Like I said, Survation's poll is a snapshot in time. And it's a window in time just about to close.


Jim Denham said...

I have no time for the splitters, but - Phil - what an extraordinary statement from you: "You can't stop Brexit if it has already happened".

1/ It hasn't happened yet

2/ Surely the point of radical politics is to fight for what you believe in, not to capitulate to the easy option on grounds of "realism".

Alan Story said...

My question: what is the difference between the political views of these seven compared to their views of a week ago?

None. Not a single anti-capitalist bone in any of their individual or collective bodies.

And many, many more still-Labour MPs hold exactly the same views as these seven…and now eight.

IF Labour becomes the next government ---- and I do think that is a very big IF despite facing one of the worst UK governments ever and despite Labour being one of the two parties that benefits from the thoroughly undemocratic FTTP voting system --- my expectations of what PM Corbyn and co. will achieve are distinctly muted.

And if Labour loses the next election to the Tory clowns, well, shame on Labour. Talk about “blowing it.”

Phil said...

Well it's not an extraordinary statement because a) the next election will take place after Brexit, so polling now is under different conditions to what will pertain in the future, and b) I don't believe Brexit should be stopped. Which I thought was pretty obvious from everything I've written about a second referendum.

Boffy said...

"You can't forge a new politics on the basis of the old, discredited politics."

True, but as the SDP and Macron have shown, you sure can either win an election, or screw up the chances of others of winning an election, which is all they need to do here, and Corbyn is doing everything possible to facilitate that happening!

Boffy said...

"Not a single anti-capitalist bone in any of their individual or collective bodies."

But socialists, at least Marxists, should not be "anti-capitalist". Anti-capitalism is the programme of Sismondists, and other reactionaries not socialists. Marx is quite clear about that in the Communist Manifesto, and in his Preface to Capital I, he also says,

"In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Western Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development."

In "Value, price and Profit", says workers,

"ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society."

And Lenin says, In Two Tactics of Social Democracy,

“And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”

Marxists believe that capitalism is the necessary foundation upon which socialism is constructed. We are not "anticapitalist", which could simply mean you want to return to feudalism, or like Pol Pot some other kind of more primitive condition, we are pro-socialist, and saying that you are a socialist but anti-capitalist is like saying you are pro child, but anti-parent!

The trouble is that far too many people define themselves as "anti-capitalist" above being "pro-socialist". Its why so many of them associate with thoroughly reactionary forces on the basis merely that they claim to be "anti-capitalist" or "anti-imperialist".

The Misfortunate 7, however, are not even progressive defenders of capitalism in its modern transitional form.

Boffy said...


"a) the next election will take place after Brexit"

Who says? As I pointed out at the start of the year, May would be crazy not to call an election now, given the divided forces ranged against her. The Tory Remainers have jumped before the Tory rank and file dumped them, freeing May to pursue a core vote election strategy. Corbyn will go into the election saying God knows what, whilst he will do so with 90% of the party rank and file opposing Brexit, while he presumably will be arguing the other thing, whilst a chunk of Blair-right former will split the Labour vote as happened in 1983, probably lining up in a "progressive alliance" with the SNP, Liberals, Greens, and Plaid, leaving Corbyn looking like the Brexit also ran party, and doomed to go down to a bad defeat.

What a total shambles, and repeat of the same kind of disastrous tactics and shambles we have seen from Stalinism over the last century that led the global working class into one catastrophe after another.

Alan Story said...


I think those of us who want to build progressive politics in this country can learn at least ONE lesson ---- and I am sure a lot more --- from the establishment of the Independent Group ( now at 11 MPs as of 12.15 p.m. Wed)…and especially from the Labour MPs.

A number of these departing LP MPs have said that reason that they had left Labour was because it was a racist and institutionally anti-Semitic party. What a complete crock!

Some of these MPs have been members of the LP for more than five decades, others for at least 30 years. They have lived and breathed its culture and its way of conducting debates…and of learning how to win arguments and convince others.

The ONE lesson: That the former head of Labour Friends of Israel thinks such self-serving twaddle convinces anyone speaks volumes about that wretched political culture.

By comparison, the reasons given by the three departing Tory MPs seem downright principled!

GW said...

"You can't stop Brexit if it has already happened."

Channelling Comrade Milne there Phil.

What do you say to Comrade Mason's predictions that Comrade Milne's current policy may create a coherent party but not bring it to power?


Boffy said...

Only minutes before Joan Ryan said that anti-Semitism in the LP had only emerged after Jeremy Corbyn became Leader, John Mann had been on the same programme loudly pronouncing that he had been fighting anti-Semitism for the last 16 years in the Labour Party.

This hapless bunch can't even get their smear stories straight. Mann said that thousands were leaving the party due to anti-Semitism, but the fact is they are leaving due to Corbyn's pro-Brexit policy, a policy that Mann himself supports!

Deviation From The Mean said...

“Surely the point of radical politics is to fight for what you believe in,”

No fighting for what you believe in is simply politics, radical or not.

To determine if something is radical we must be more precise. So is defending the EU radical? No, the EU is the very epitome of ruling class interest. Is defending the EU correct? well that is a tactical question!

I have never known anyone to twist Marx in the way Boffy does (well maybe Denham gives him a run for his chauvinistic money), it is as if Boffy finds Marx embarrassing. Boffy will claim that we should do anything which allows the capitalist to accumulate and explains this is what Marx thought was the best outcome for workers in the existing system but Marx says this with the most bitter taste in his mouth, he points out that the best thing a worker can expect in a capitalist system is the scenario where his life expectancy is reduced and his exploitation is intensified! Boffy has turned this scathing into endorsement!

And Marx detested capitalism, but in 1848 (limited by his own experience) he saw it as a necessary development, however in his later years as he looked closer and closer at the situation in Russia he believed that the existing Communes in Russia could avoid the capitalist stage, and regarded this as a blessing. All this is there in Marx’s letters to Vera Zasulich and Nikolai Danielson.

Marx on capitalism:

“One ought to consider how vile it is to estimate the value of a man in money,”

“Hence the greater and the more developed the social power appears to be within the private property relationship, the more egoistic, asocial and estranged from his own nature does man become.”

“Just as the mutual exchange of the products of human activity appears as barter, as trade, so the mutual completion and exchange of the activity itself appears as division of labour, which turns man as far as possible into an abstract being, a machine tool, etc., and transforms him into a spiritual and physical monster.”

“The antithesis between capitalist and worker, between big and small capitalists, becomes still greater since credit is given only to him who already has, and is a new opportunity of accumulation for the rich man, or since the poor man finds that the arbitrary discretion of the rich man and the latter's judgment over him confirm or deny his entire existence and that his existence is wholly dependent on this contingency”

The simple thing is Boffy loves capitalism and loves the most powerful capitalists, which is why he never complains as they murder and thieve their way around the globe, causing immense suffering, misery and devastation in their wake.

bbk said...

I'm not surprised the new group is doing well in polls taken immediately after the announcement and the concomitant fawning media coverage. For whatever reason, a lot of people are rhetorically "moderate" or "centrist" even if they are operationally to the left. That is, they want to see themselves and want to describe themselves as being moderate or to the "normal" centre of politics. But when it comes to the actual policies they support, the poll numbers for the policies this new group wants to run on (in as much as they have any policy positions beyond "hurt Corbyn") are much less impressive.

As social creatures I think people have always wanted to align themselves with the general position of the group. There has been a long running effort by the capital owning class and their representatives to make their interests and preferred policies seen as the "moderate", "middle", "centre" or whatever. Between the two poles. But obviously when it comes to who do those policies help, it's become clear they actually benefit a small minority and potentially harm a much larger group. So those policies aren't operationally "in the middle" at all. Somehow there needs to be an effort by those of us who are actually promoting policies which help the majority to re-frame the policies as actually being the "centre" in that they benefit most people. The capital owners have used concepts like "on average" to frame policies which help them the most as actually being good for everyone (on average of course...).

Economists like Zucman, Saez, and Piketty have helped to re-frame the debate by showing how distribution matters more than the average. And Labour's use of slogans like "For the Many" help too. But the media carries water for groups like TIG by uncritically describing them as "moderate" or "the centre". I'm not sure how we can push back against the endless repetition in all types of media about who is actually "the middle". My only hope is my generation is less believing of traditional media or at least less impacted by their proclamations. We might be more accepting of alternative sources which are more accessible than a daily broadsheet or television. But it's going to be a while for the current reactionary old people all die off and then there's another generation (X) who were still came of age with traditional media and might still be willing to defer to its proclamations. I don't know if we have that time as a planet to wait.

Anonymous said...

"Who knows, perhaps in a decade or two it might lead to the UK's re-admittance"

At which point we would be forced to adopt the Euro, Schengen, the EU army that's hurtling down the pipeline, and God knows what else they come up with in the meantime. Those things won't wash, not even with most Remainers.

Boffy said...

Obviously anonymous responded to Jim Denham's call to use his proper name, by reverting to one of the dozen's of names he keeps in his cupboard, and rather than using his DFTM abbreviation, went back to its full version of Deviation From The Mean.

But, whatever moniker he uses, its still the same ignorant crap intended only to provoke flame wars.

Deviation From The Mean said...

Boffy does his usual tactic of saying something completely irrelevant to the points at hand, its a classic, if lame, attempt at distraction.

Of course Boffy can present nothing in the way of argument but he doesn't have one.

It is good to see that Boffy and Denham have finally found mutual love and respect, they so deserve each other.

Jim Denham said...

" I don't believe Brexit should be stopped": I suspected as much. So sorry to read that a socialist has capitulated to backwardness, insularity and racism.

Phil said...

You old charmer, you.

Anonymous said...

He didn't say Brexit has already happened. He said it will have happened by the time we have an election, so the centrist party's key policy position will be irrelevant. So a poll conducted now when their key policy is still meaningful and popular is a poor guide to the next election.

Anonymous said...

They were happy to be elected on a Labour ticket and also content to cause disruption when we have local elections in key seats. I was out campaigning for the Labour Party with other volunteers yesterday and frankly we are fed up with this focus when we are working to win a local election. How selfish of those who have been given so much.

Martin said...

What puzzles me is why they did this now. Is it only to provide a coherent group of swing voters in the run-up to March 29th, or something more? If the latter, then they must be aware that 'independents' very rarely survive a general election. MPs (with a few charismatic exceptions) are said to be worth 500 votes, at best. What would increase their slim chances of survival would be amalgamation with the LibDems. But even here, unless there is credible political movement toward the centre ground, their future is dim. Success, or rather survival, would seem depend on a break-up of either or both major parties. So far, Corbyn's reticence and May's resilience seem to be delaying those admittedly speculative outcomes. After Brexit all bets are off, of course, but that will be far too late for the break-aways.

Ed said...

"What do you say to Comrade Mason's predictions that Comrade Milne's current policy may create a coherent party but not bring it to power?"

I can't speak for Phil but I for one would like to see Comrade Mason take fewer gulps from the sherry bottle before treating us to his latest brainwave. He's been all over the place for the last 2 or 3 years, his recent lurch into hard-line Remain-ism seems completely opportunistic - not too long ago he was banging the 'legitimate concerns about immigration' drum - and his latest wheeze is now for Labour to campaign in a second referendum with the line 'Brexit is Putin's idea, he wants to undermine NATO'. I don't know if a second referendum will happen or not, but if it does I certainly hope Labour doesn't have a damn thing to say about Putin or NATO in its campaign material.

The idea that 'Comrade Milne' is the wicked adviser responsible for Labour's whole Brexit policy may go down well with liberal and conservative conspiracy-theorists, but it's not something that socialists should entertain. Of all the factors behind Labour's reluctance to call for a second referendum - its own internal polling of Leave and Remain voters; the views of Labour MPs in Leave-voting seats; the position of unions like Unite (not just the peculiar outlook of Len McCluskey, as their line reflects a collective body of opinion) - we can be sure the personal opinions of Seumas Milne don't weigh all that heavily. Labour's position has been worked out and adapted over months and years, not hours and days: it's only in the latter case that advisers tend to have a decisive say (and Milne did by all accounts have a strong input into Corbyn's speech after the Manchester bombing, one of the single best interventions on UK foreign policy in my lifetime, so I'm not overly sympathetic to his detractors).