Daily catch-up: I am glad the opinion polls got it wrong because it means we’re not robots

Essential post-election reading brought to you by an actual human

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The Independent Online

1. I am suspicious of any article containing the words “private polls”. James Morris, Labour’s pollster, now claims the party knew all along that its support was lower than the published opinion polls said. Pity it didn’t do anything about it.

I am glad the polls got it wrong, because it reminds us that politics is unpredictable, and that leadership, character and psychology matter as much as the ability to count. James Kirkup of the Telegraph wrote an excellent apology on behalf of politicial journalism.

Anthony Wells has rounded up some of the pollsters’ early observations about what went wrong. We can now see what a huge problem it was that the polls got it (roughly) right in 2010.

Michael Bruter makes some good points about the psychology of the moment of voting.

The star of the pre-election analysis is Matt Singh, who analysed the polls and suggested that they understated Conservative support and overstated Labour. This is all very brilliant and interesting, now that we know it is right, but we have no idea how that model will behave in different political circumstances.

2. Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times (semi pay wall) is very good on the lust for certainty that led commentators astray, and wonders what the British people voted for.

“It is hard to recall an election result whose mandate was so opaque. The numbers say one thing, a subjective reading of the national mood says another. True, stringent manifesto and fiscal plans have earned more votes than Tony Blair managed in 2001 or 2005. But Britain, or at least England, does not feel like a country asking to be turned upside down by zealots. It is not left wing or right wing; it is just anti-Utopian.

“In the days that follow an election, excitable prognostications are made. After 1992, Labour would ‘never win again’. They did, thrice. After 1997, the Conservatives were looking at a ‘generation’ in opposition. Thirteen years is not a generation. It is the arrogance of certainty and it is here again. There is loose talk of a new Tory imperium, with revised constituency boundaries and a divided opposition making the incumbents a shoo-in for 2020. Much of this talk comes from the Labour side, and it is not gallows humour.

“It is not necessarily wrong, but it is premature – and typical of the predictive overconfidence that took such a fall on Thursday. If Mr Cameron rules moderately, with a reformist edge, his party might indeed take out a long-term lease on power. If he tries to do Thatcher’s unfinished business, he could saddle his party with a foul reputation by 2020. If the ‘might’ and the ‘could’ sound mealy-mouthed, that is only prudent. We know what Britons said last week, but not what they meant.”

3. Andrew Adonis and Dominic Cummings have two very different perspectives on how hard it is for governments to change things.

4. Robert Colvile thought Nigel Farage’s unresignation seemed familiar (from Robert Service’s history of Russia):




5. My esteemed colleague and non-Labour person, Sean O’Grady, has some wise advice for the Labour Party. When Neal Lawson called for an “independent” inquiry into why Labour lost, I thought it was a joke. Or, at least, an extreme manifestation of the cognitive dissonance that afflicts those who thought Britain had moved to the left and was waiting gratefully for Ed “The Swede” Miliband to deliver it unto Scandinavia. It turns out that Jon Cruddas, who supervised the manifesto, is organising precisely that. Although if Cruddas is running it, it is not independent, is it? If the Labour Party has learned one thing from its former leader, surely it is that the problem requires a full independent public inquiry, judge-led, with witnesses giving evidence on oath.

6. And finally, overheard in 10 Downing Street by Moose Allain:

“Are you available for a meeting tomorrow Mr Cameron?”


“Yes, I know you are, but about that meeting …”