New opinion polls ask some interesting questions for Lib Dem strategy

Opinion polls throw up more questions than they answer but sometimes the questions are very interesting. It is interesting questions where progress is made as shown by the head of Google who says that he runs his company on questions not answers. So the recent MORI results have shown up some interesting questions too about the baseline support of the main Parties, which is lower than is usually reported, and who then go on to vote for the Party. It asks whether those people who are not inclined to vote for any particular party can be persuaded to vote for the Lib Dems?

The recent Opinion  Poll from Ipsos-MORI shows the Lib Dems on 15%, consistent with the ICM poll (which has them on 17% after weighting and 15% before) but not with any others. But when people were asked who they are inclined to vote for the results were very different:

The surprise is not the Lib Dems, as there has been talk of the baseline support for the Lib Dems being about 10% for a while. It is the low levels of support for Labour and the Tories which is surprising. Usually reported of being somewhere around 30% each it has been a reason cited for the difficulty in the Lib Dems breaking through, electorally. They went on to ask who they would vote for if there were a General Election tomorrow which again showed different results:

While the Lib Dems only pick up 1%, Labour nearly double their voting intentions and the Tories get more than double. With such small sample sizes it is difficult to tell if this has any meaning and I would like to see a larger sample used to see if this is significant or not. I just found it surprising that the scores were so different than previously believed. Does it mean that there has been a change in the mindset of the public around who they are most inclined to support? Does it mean that they are reverting to ‘type’ when it comes to voting? even if they are no longer inclined to vote for that Party? Does it mean they are more susceptible to persuasion to another Party? If so then what would it take to persuade them to the Lib Dems? particularly as the Lib Dems are seen as a centrist Party more similar to the profile of the country than the other Parties.

If Google run their company on questions, then maybe the Lib Dems need to stop giving people answers and start asking some questions? Maybe it would help?

In Praise of the Telegraph: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Daily Telegraph write Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg focuses on wealth as he eases out of bed with the Tories in which they highlight some strengths Clegg has shown in recent days:

Hence the timing of the Deputy Prime Minister’s impassioned (and impressive) defence of the Human Rights Act and the schisms appearing on immigration, abortion, rights for agency workers and even on the economy after Mr Clegg’s hint that pro-growth reforms are being executed too slowly. Buoyed by their success in derailing Andrew Lansley’s health reforms, the Lib Dems will seek other such defining causes… Mr Clegg’s dare-to-be-different approach, which may yet rescue his dented standing, is born out of conviction as well as expediency

While the Daily Express observing the same issue write what can only be described as absolute fantasy in an attempt to attack the Lib Dems but did manage to praise Clegg’s phrase which is rare:

Nick Clegg even came up with a term to describe the people he claims to champion: alarm clock Britain. It’s not a bad phrase, for anyone who works for a living the alarm clock holds us all in its thrall.



What if the Lib Dem Party was wrong and Clegg and the Tories were right? Academy schools could be a solution to poor education

The Academy schools programme has been a contentious issue for the Lib Dems. While the idea was introduced by an ex-Lib Dem turned Labour politician and now trumpeted by Tories, it has generally be opposed by most in the Lib Dems. Conference voted against the Academies policy, yet the Coalition Government went ahead with it and Nick Clegg argued for it. But the recent results suggest that maybe those in support of the Academies policy have a very good point?

There are some in the Lib Dems who are extremely opposed to the Academy plans

The coalition government is engaged in nothing less than a war on children, on young people and on education itself.

They suggest that the dismantling of the comprehensive system marks the death of an egalitarian ideal and that the Party has gone against the Lib Dem vision for ‘a good local school in every community’, funded centrally and administered locally.  Yet there are some who are in favour. It has been a battle between those who are supportive of the policy and those who are opposed which culminated in Conference voting against the policy while Clegg argued for it.

The evidence for Academies has always been a bone of contention with caveats and reasons attached to opposing arguments. However, in 2010 there were some good results in Academy schools. Now, in 2011 there have again been some good improvements. In fact we can compare the results against how the schools performed from when they were last under the Local Education Authority:

These results are only for the Harris Academies but it does show that improvements can be made where little improvement had been made previously. In fact there have been reports that Academies don’t just raise standards for the pupils that attend them, but also for surrounding schools, even as they lose pupils to the new academies. So there is an ever increasing body of evidence that perhaps this is a policy which does improve the achievements of the pupils who attend the schools (and potentially, and for some reason, of children in surrounding schools).

There are many things I don’t like about the policy and I have generally been against it. However, when I look at the results it does show a compelling story that change can happen, and happen quickly. If the end result is for children to have better qualifications, which will enable them to have more opportunities later in life, then these are the kind of results I would look for. Yet, the full effect of an ever increasing number of Academy schools will be unknown until it happens and there are some genuine concerns. However, results such as these do provide some promise. There is evidence elsewhere too that in areas of significant deprivation that Academies can significantly improve the children’s life chances.

While the Liberal may argue that this is a policy which is the death of an egalitarian ideal, perhaps we need to think whether we were ever close to that ideal anyway? For many in poorly performing schools, where most are then disadvantaged for the rest of their lives because of it, it seems strange to champion a system that wasn’t working; for them at least. Perhaps we need to drop the ideal and start with practicalities and the evidence? The issue the Lib Dems will find is that distancing themselves from a policy they have introduced, which then goes on to show some good results, will not be credited to the Party come election time. Clegg can say he championed the idea, but there are too many in the country now who don’t see Clegg as a Lib Dem.

So the ‘Lib Dems’ need a credible alternative that convinces people that their policy will improve education. Going back to the old system will no longer seem credible, perhaps we should look at the Academies programme and take the bits that work i.e. drive standards of education up, and address the concerns with it. Then add other bits that work to improve education, particularly in disadvantaged areas, and there are such ideas here or here.

In Praise of ConservativeHome: Finding stengths in Chris Huhne and the Lib Dems

We must thank ConservativeHome who have outlined very nicely how the Lib Dems are being very effective in government. They have given a breakdown of how the Lib Dems have stopped, prevented, or watered down some of the more right wing policies and pushed through some of the more green ones and made some policies much fairer. So their run down goes like this:

  • We have Nick Clegg in The Guardian arguing that the human rights laws are essentially sound… Cameron’s promise to Sunday Express readers looks impossible for him to meet.
  • Vince Cable has agreed to a controversial European directive to give agency workers the same rights as full-time employees of British companies
  • The big four centre right newspapers all agree that the Coalition is unlikely to fulfil Cameron’s promise to reduce net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.
  • The Chancellor hoped to frontload the spending cuts as Eric Pickles has done in local government. The Lib Dems said no – meaning pain is spread across the parliament.
  • Even if a renegotiation opportunity occurs the chances of Britain winning a very different relationship with Brussels are likely to be vetoed by Britain’s most pro-EU party.
  • Baroness Shirley Williams and other members of the Lords may yet further dilute Andrew Lansley’s reforms.
  • Repeated concessions [were given] to the Liberal Democrats [on tuition fees]

Under the post With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto they specifically highlight strengths in Chris Huhne:

Certainly if George Osborne had had his way the climate change measures announced by Chris Huhne would be a lot less costly to businesses. Reducing Britain’s carbon footprint is the lowest priority of the new generation of Conservative MPs but the arithmetic of the Coalition has tipped the balance in favour of unilateral action on global warming. Huhne may be unpopular with Tory activists but I’d suggest he was one of the government’s most effective ministers

Thank you ConservativeHome, this was very kind of you.

In Praise of the FT: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

The Financial Times write Is Nick Clegg getting back on the front foot? where they suggest that Clegg’s tactics are improving his own ratings as well as those of the Lib Dem Party:

It is all part of Clegg’s attempt to carve out more of a Lib Dem voice within the heart of government following his painful drubbing at the polls in May. And the evidence suggests that such broadsides are beginning to pay off: this month he enjoyed an uptick in approval ratings among the party, after hitting all-time lows at the beginning of the year.

More than half – 55 per cent – of his own party’s supporters are now satisfied with his performance, while the dissatisfaction ratings are also well below a third, according to figures released this week by Ipsos/Mori. At his all time low in February, 43 per cent of his supporters were dissatisfied with him.

With significant debate about the differing polls (YouGov show 9% while ICM show 17%) and political betting have a good post on this here where they conclude:

For years, as PB regulars will know, I’ve said that ICM is the “gold standard” irrespective of whether I have liked their findings or not.

Clegg’s language is unconsciously turning people off him: Changes needed for his poll ratings to improve

The Lib Dems believe in community and the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ are important to us. When Clegg was vying for the top job he seemed to reflect these values well and his choice of words were in line with these values. However, now he is in DPM it may be these words which are contributing to his horribly low opinion poll ratings and he needs to change things to reverse these.

Clegg wrote recently that the Lib Dems are

a party which knows we can do more together than we can alone.

Which certainly rubs the Lib Dems up the right way. However, the tendency to use ‘we ‘rather than ‘I’ has profound implications for how people perceive you without them even knowing it. People who use ‘I’ more are seen as more personable, warm and more honest whereas those using ‘I’ at low rates are often very self-confident people, but this is often perceived negatively. Barak Obama is a good example of this as he uses ‘I’ at a lower rate than any other American President and there are reports that he is a very self-confident person. However, he has been seen as aloof and insensitive at times by his electorate.

This video explains it well:

The trouble is that this use of pronouns is not noticed by the conscious mind so as Clegg has values associated with portraying a Lib Dem collective, or a Coalition decision, his use of pronouns are turning people off him. There is a clash between his value base and the perception of the public. Ass he starts from a very low base people are not willing to give him any slack and so add into this using pronouns which subconsciously make people believe he is less personable, warm and honest then he has no chance of improving his situation. If he is to regain some ground then he should look at how he is presenting the information and begin to look at the words he is choosing.

In Praise of Peter Mandelson: Finding strengths in Nick Clegg

It is a rare time when Peter Mandelson makes any positive remarks about the Lib Dems and again he has made some fairly negative remarks in the Times but he does give one observation which ties in with the Lib Dem change of strategy that happened earlier in the year, which is worth highlighting:

Since May, Mr Clegg has succeeded in looking less meek and hard done-by. He has found a stronger voice and has benefited from this.

You can of course read more of what he has to say here.

Is Clegg turning out to be a good leader? Opinion polls which suggest Clegg needs to take some risks

The latest ComRes survey results are out which shows a poor but steady opinion for the Lib Dems who stand at 11% (+1%) but a continuingly awful opinion of Nick Clegg when people were asked  “Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader” Agree or Disagree? But what may be more worrying is that nearly a quarter of Lib Dem voters rated him negatively. The survey also showed that there was a negative opinion of both David Cameron and Ed Miliband so perhaps we should be asking what would a leader need in these situations to be considered good? What would Nick Clegg need for him to be seen as successful starting where we are today?

This is a list of characteristics academics consider to be important for a Prime Minister to possess in order for his/her period in office to be considered to be a success.

Leadership skills 64%
Sound judgement 42%
Good in a crisis 24%
Decisiveness 23%
Luck 23%
Stable parliamentary majority 20%
Understands the problems facing Britain 16%
Good quality colleagues 18%
Integrity 11%
Practices Cabinet government 10%

It may be that none of the Party leaders are really showing much leadership at present and that people question their judgement considering the economic situation. So for a leader to do well, they would need to say somethings which people agreed with and believed would be beneficial to the country/them.

Clegg’s problem may stem from the classic deputy trap. How would a deputy show good leadership skills in a system that doesn’t allow him to take decisions of leadership? Other than being in conflict with the PM the major contributing factor to being considered successful is removed from his role. So he was considered to be doing well when he was in conflict with the PM over the NHS (see here or here) as this was a time he could show leadership skills and sound judgement. So it is no wonder that there are calls from inside and outside the Party for him to take a tougher stance.

While Clegg initially said that he would not manufacture disagreements with the Tories there is now a growing need for a Liberal voice which offers Clegg the perfect opportunity. The Tories seem to be moving rightwards in response to the riots and it would not be manufacturing disagreements to say that Liberals do not agree with some people being treated unfairly, no matter what the circumstances. I doubt there are many in the Party who see this as a moral issue – a Tory hobby horse – and I doubt many in the Party want lots of people to go to prison for a few months (remember Clegg on TV saying less than 6 months is a waste of time).

If Clegg wants to be seen in a positive light by the public, surely key to improving the situation, then he needs to take these opportunities to show he has leadership skills and sound judgement. Over on Iain Dale’s blog there is a good argument for Clegg to champion restorative justice but there is also civil liberties and a message that Britain is not falling apart but there are areas where we need to work hard to improve.

In reality, Clegg is probably being judged by someone else’s criteria i.e. the PM’s. But people are not going to take the time to think about the role of the DPM and whether he is performing that role well. They see a man who seems to tow the Tory line e.g. defending police cuts after the riots. If Clegg thinks that this shows good leadership skills then the Party really is doomed until he is gone. This is not the Lib Dem message and never was and saying this now looks like a lack of leadership, not showing leadership.

The meaning of a message is the change which it produces in the image. — Kenneth Boulding in The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society

Clegg’s frame of reference for success may be showing the Coalition’s can work, but then at the same time we have to ask at what price if this is conflicting with the Party’s values. Clegg has a good opportunity right now to show some leadership skills and he badly needs to take it.

Were the riots caused by the police? A compelling case of CCTV and poor tactics (Opportunities for the Lib Dems)

How come we spend more on policing as a proportion of GDP than any other OECD country and yet they were not able to manage the riots effectively? Even after the cuts there will still be as many police as we had in 2004 along with twice as many special constables yet they complain they won’t be as effective as they are today! While there is significant support for the police there is a compelling case that perhaps it was the police tactics which allowed the riots to escalate which begs the question of how to reform the police? The Lib Dems need to outline a better way of policing.

In relation to the riots you can read a lot about the support of the police in places such as here but there is also another narrative beyond the ‘they messed it up at first and then responded well to the riots’ which should be heard. It begins with this

The [police] have stumbled from disaster to disaster in recent years, despite lavish funding and unyielding political support. Undermined by poor leadership, they have bungled high-profile cases, botched investigations, shot dead people without cause, misled the public, misused terror legislation and harassed ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, poor handling of low-level crimes has eroded public support.

So what is the Tory answer? Bring in a man who has shown himself to be totally ineffective at making any difference to policing because he has a misplaced reputation (good PR?) i.e. Bill Bratton. You can read here why the Lib Dems should oppose any suggestion of his appointment. But let’s get back to the riots and let us start with sound Lib Dem Territory:

The real story for me is about … the total failure of CCTV to deter people from committing crimes… After all, that’s how we were sold on CCTV – not mere forensics after the fact, but deterrence.

Britain has become the CCTV capital of the world, which ensures that the vast majority of the rioters, looters and arsonists would be tracked down and brought to justice; a small comfort to those that are losing everything during each night’s rampage. What this has meant is that the police have come to rely on Britain’s extensive 5 million strong CCTV camera network for evidence and the evidence has become so reliable that it is often better to wait for someone to commit the crime under CCTV than to prevent or stop them in the act.

The police are better able to convict after the fact with the evidence than attempting to intervene which results in lesser charges and fewer convictions. CCTV allows for more evidence and a harsher sentence. This has resulted in the police being incentivised to allow crime to take place when they could have prevented/intervened. Some would argue that they have had a policy of letting civil disorder/crime take place as a result. In fact some have suggested that elements of the police have been actively engaged in inciting crime and demonstrations using the recent case of undercover police infiltrating climate change activists and inciting criminal behaviour as evidence.

The Police, by standing back and letting riots take place for several days with little action other than filming the perpetrators is just a continuation of this policy of letting rioting / looting fools generate evidence against themselves.

The lack of police response sent a green light to many more people fell into the police evidence generating trap and in the process have now likely wrecked their futures.

Whilst many in the media have focused on the social causes such as economic austerity cuts, social exclusion, lack of jobs for possible reasons why. The truth is that the real reason for 90% of the looting masquerading as rioting was because the Police let it happen.

Studies have concluded that CCTVs don’t deter most crime (a famous San Francisco study showed that, at best, street crime shifted a few metres down the pavement when the CCTV went up). Evidence-led CCTV deployment shows us where CCTV does work, and that’s in situations where crimes are planned, not pulled off in the heat of the moment.

This is a classic case of authoritarian Governments inappropriately pursuing a policy which has led to inadvertent results. However, the authoritarian regime in the police has not worked and has actually shown itself up to be dangerous and irresponsible. The Lib Dems need to be more vocal about this issue. They need to show they are for a more accountable and reliable police force. They need to show they want policing that works. The police need a liberal voice now more than ever. This is a good opportunity for the Lib Dems.

Bill Bratton did not bring crime down in New York: Lib Dems should fight Cameron on the issue

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David Cameron has been pushing for Bill Bratton to come and lead the Metropolitan Police believing he will be able to reduce crime and disorders such as the ones we have seen recently as his zero-tolerance policy has been credited with reducing petty and violent crime in the US. I have noticed that some in the Lib Dems have also been supporting this move. However, the Lib Dems should distance themselves from such an appointment for the simple reason that he did not bring crime down.

For anyone who has read Freakonomics, they would be aware of the damning report it gives of Bratton’s policing in New York despite a significant reduction in crime at the time. And just to be clear Freakonomics is a book based on the academic research of Steve Levitt who is a well respected economist. The book outlines very clearly how and why Bratton’s policing did nothing to reduce crime

He introduced technological solutions… a computerised method of addressing crime hot spots. The most compelling new idea that Bratton brought to life stemmed from the broken window theory… Most New Yorkers loved this crackdown on its own merit… Homicide rates fell from 30.7 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 8.4 per 100,000 people in 2000, a change of 73.6 percent. But careful analysis of the facts shows that the innovative policing strategies probably had little effect on this huge decline.

There are many reasons why he comes to this conclusion including the fact that crime was falling before he was in post and after he was in post and the fact that the NYPD grew by 45% at the time, which he says is a proven technique to reduce crime. But there is an even bigger reason why, which you can read all about in “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors That Explain the Decline and Six That Do Not

The Guardian continues to suggest his reputation is accurate calling him ‘One of the leading US police chiefs of the century‘ and writing much about how good he is and he seems to think he would be good for the job too. Yet it seems ridiculous to suggest that we should bring over a man from the US on the basis that he has a reputation for bringing down crime, when in actual fact that is a false reputation.

Let’s work on the evidence and let us say that he would not be welcome to lead the Metropolitan Police. But then the evidence would also suggest that if you want to bring crime down, hire more police officers! Maybe the Lib Dems should advocate for that?


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