Various polling station signs

Since the election was called I’ve been agonising over which way I should vote. While quitting a party has lots of upsides, it’s actually hard work being a floating voter, especially when we insist on using an atrocious electoral system like first-past-the-post1. I’ve found myself flitting between parties and candidates. A week away from the election, I’m still no nearer a decision.

Battersea is spoilt for choice with candidates this time, with the usual selection of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat joined by Green, UKIP, Socialist and a pro-Remain independent.

Arguably first-past-the-post makes the choice of vote easier, since there’s little prospect, based on the 2015 result, of anyone but Conservatives or Labour winning. Indeed, based on the 2015 result it’s easy to assume it’s a Conservative hold.

Until, that is, the publication of the YouGov election model yesterday and listed Battersea as ‘leaning Labour’. Their model had Labour estimated to get 43% (with a 95% confidence interval of 36-51%) and the Conservatives estimated on 41% (with an interval of 34-47%). It struck me as unlikely, to say the least.

However, it did make question if there was any chance it might be right. I could certainly point to anecdotal evidence it might not be totally outlandish. My own experience (admittedly getting older) was that while the response to the Conservatives on the door was still warm, it never felt quite as effusive as it once did. It was certainly my experience at the time and from observation and gossip since that the local party machinery of the Conservatives—historically quite formidable—was a shadow of its former self and unable to compete with a youthful and energetic Labour party.

The mountain to climb…

The evidence of 2015 was, however, that local campaigns don’t necessary win elections. It was commonly accepted that the Labour party outclassed and outgunned the Conservatives on everything. Everything, that is, except votes in the ballot box. Jane Ellison held the seat with over half the votes cast, 52.4% against Labour’s Will Martindale on 36.8%. For Labour to overturn that it would require a swing of 7.8%.

The only published poll for Battersea, commissioned by the independent candidate, had the Conservatives on 46% and Labour on 38%. The poll was conducted before the recent shift towards Labour in national polling, but still showed Labour some way off the pace.

The YouGov model has a swing towards Labour in its national model, but only 3.5% 1.75%.2 That is arguably suspect, since it goes against the consensus of all the polls published thus far. And it’s hard to see where the other 4% 6% or so of swing is coming from, even if you accept YouGov’s close result.

…and how it could be scaled

A few factors? Labour’s campaigning is getting stronger while the Conservatives are getting weaker. It’s hard to see how this would be reflecting in polls, though, since campaigns are far more about getting people out to vote than changing hearts and minds on the doorstep. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to be a factor in YouGov’s model.

The London bubble, in which Labour somehow seem unaffected by the national unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn (and perhaps buoyed by the regional popularity of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London) may be adding a little to Labour total.

The continued Lib Dem collapse may be playing a part. There were about 5,000 Lib Dem votes ‘lost’ between the 2010 and 2015 election. Again, it’s possible these voters may now be flocking to Labour having abstained or flirted with the Tories.

These may individually get a challenging Labour party a little closer, but the biggest gains, surely would have to come from the EU referendum referendum.

Remain, however, has to be the biggest factor in play. Battersea is a young, international constituency. Wandsworth had one of the biggest remain votes in the country and while constituency results were not declared there was some academic and polling evidence suggesting Battersea was the most pro-remain constituency in the borough. Given that Jane Ellison has long been an ardent pro-European there was understandable disappointment when she failed to represent her constituents and her own beliefs and still voted to trigger article 50.

Can Labour win?

Possibly, but then it’s a theoretical possibility that any candidate could win. Would I share YouGov’s projection? Probably not. They might get a few bits and pieces from some factors, and will probably get a good chunk because of the remain factor (something they are clearly pushing for in their literature). There are definitely many who are angry with Jane Ellison for, as they perceive it, putting her ministerial career before her principals and the national interest. My sense, though, is that many of those would not have been voting Conservative in any case.

So, possible? Yes. But likely, even in YouGov’s nuanced language of ‘leaning’? Probably not: so many things have to stack up it would have to be an outlier.

And my vote? I’m still stuck.

  1. Yes, I once was a supporter of first-past-the-post, but people change and I’m older and wiser.
  2. By my reckoning, I’m only using the very simplistic Butler swing model and not factoring in the potential effects of the smaller parties or independent candidate. I also got this wrong in my initial post, meaning there’s an even bigger mountain for Labour to climb.

Redbridge's YouChoose website

One of the consequences of hard times is that people often become more inventive and innovative when looking for solutions, and this seems to have been true when it comes to informing people about the consequences of dealing with the deficit. Several councils have come up with interesting ways of doing this. But to my mind by far the most innovative (at least as far as technology goes) is Redbridge who are consulting through a vehicle called You Choose. It appears it’s a YouGov product, although I’m not aware of any other council that has implemented it. However, it’s fascinating to play with it.

It starts with the premise the basic premise that the budget is overspent by £24,849,000, which would need a 25% council tax increase. However, only a 5% council tax increase is possible. It’s down to you to get it to that figure, and you do that by adjusting the budget for various departments and services.

It isn’t that sophisticated. You can reduce or increase budgets, but you can’t look at many different delivery models (cutting the sports budget reveals that the Fairlop Sailing Centre would have to close, whereas that seems to me exactly the sort of facility you might be able to transfer to a sailing club or community group). But that doesn’t detract from its ability to show that Redbridge, like so many other councils, faces hard decisions.

And that’s the main reasons I think it is excellent, because it has educational value. It’s impossible to get to the magic five per cent without seeing some services go, and it does contrast the different approaches; the salami slice from all services, or making the savings in just a few budget areas so you can protect (or maybe even enhance) some priority areas.

What is good is that they are publishing the results as they come in so you can see what other people are choosing. And these are providing some fascinating insights.

At the time of writing 955 people have submitted their budgets. The headline is a 3% reduction in council tax. At first sight, it seems that people are going for bigger than necessarily reductions to cut council tax, not making the smallest reductions necessary. I’ve not gone through the raw data, so it might be that a few people cutting to the minimum to bring the average down, but the other breakdowns suggest that people are actually making the tough choices.

Social services looks to be (jointly) the second most cut budget (the most cut budget is, unsurprisingly, ‘council support and public engagement’) although there seems to be some competition from ‘regeneration and environment’ and ‘culture, sport and leisure’ for the most favoured for reductions.

And that runs counter to my first instinct when I saw this site; my mind immediately jumped to an episode of Yes, Prime Minister in which Jim Hacker blurted out what is all too often true about the political mentality: “I am their leader, I must follow them.” I have always been of the opinion that one of the reasons people are elected it to make those tough choices, and then defend them to the electorate.

But if the current results in Redbridge are anything to go by, the general public are more than capable of making those tough choices themselves.