As one might expect, I’ve been reading the analyses and commentaries on the local election results.
By reading, I mean exactly that, reading can be done in your own time and at your own pace. Listening or watching the wall-to-wall coverage however, is just too intrusive, so much noise, I’ve never been able to understand how anyone can put up with it. Yet constituents often ask me if I watched so and so on Marr?
Watch politics on TV and on a Sunday morning!
First, I have better things to do. Second, I don’t want to go mad.
Now, having read the commentaries and analyses, they might be right, but they might not. It is, after all merely the opinion of the commentators, and very little science lies behind it. I rather doubt that those who write so much about what voters want, or why they vote in the way that they do, have ever knocked on many doors and engaged with the voters about it.
I have, and it isn’t easy. First of all, it’s quite difficult to find anyone at home irrespective of the time of day that you call -within reason. You can cover a whole street and have just one or two short conversations. I say short, because most people have busy lives with plenty of other things to be getting on with.
The notion that one might speak to a sufficient number of people to be able to come up with a statistically significant sample of opinion is just fanciful.
Often, when you really do encounter a voter on their doorstep, the reason they give for their voting intention just doesn’t fit with any of the prevailing political ‘weather’ or events, frequently it’s just the random caprice of an individual decision. Imposing a credible political narrative on it is equally fanciful.
So instead, increasingly we rely on the science of polling -quantitative (surveys) and qualitative (focus groups). The problem is that sample is often self-selecting and the participants are led by the nose through a template of questions that impose an order on their opinions that, in reality, just isn’t there.
So, what are the lessons to be drawn from the articles by the pundits that I’ve been reading in the papers and online?
Broadly, they conclude that, after this set of local results following on from the 2019 general election, Labour -as we know it- is finished.
Now I’ve heard that before many times over the last 40 years. I’ve heard it said about Labour, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats. At some stage such a prediction may turn out to be right, but not yet. They were wrong then and my hunch is that they’re wrong now.
What has changed in the last 40 years, from my own experience, is the dramatic reduction in party allegiance. When I first started knocking on doors most people appeared to be committed to one of the two major parties and the election would be settled by the movement of relatively small numbers of ‘swing’ voters. This has changed: Overwhelmingly, when you do encounter someone on the doorstep, they don’t know who they will vote for and say they will decide later: more than half the voters now have no residual party allegiance and are open to persuasion. That’s why elections are more volatile with much bigger swings between the parties than we used to experience.
I certainly wouldn’t write any political party off.