Wednesday, 8 September 2010

They think its all over ... (and, really, they're right)

So that was the Labour leadership election, 2010. As the deadline for new members to join and get a vote ticks past as I blog, the campaign is pretty much over. In an echo of Labour's great 1945 landslide, most of what now remains is a three-week wait for the results.

Sure, votes can be cast for another fortnight. Not all of the ballot papers have reached everybody yet. I've had my Fabian ballot - with a Dear Mr Katwala letter from myself - but not my party one yet. No doubt, some voters may remain torn between candidates to the last moment, particularly on 2nd and 3rd preferences. But its very hard for the campaigns to identify and reach them specifically. And nobody could seriously claim that the three-month campaign hasn't given them a pretty full chance to come to a conclusion.

So what do the leadership campaigns do now? Do those emails, text messages and phone calls keep going to the wire, or does peace now descend even upon the Labour twittersphere? It will be worth campaigns making any final intensive efforts to check on MPs whose second preferences might still be up for grabs. A get out the vote effort to persuade more affiliate voters to vote might still yield some results. They can check their pledged supporters have voted.

Remaining hustings debates could be interesting beyond the campaign where they press on specific issues - such as the Fabian Women's Network event on equality on Wednesday. Perhaps the candidates themselves can best continue the campaigns by taking the public argument to the government.

Some final-ish reflections as the fighting phase ends ...

The BBC presents ... the ghost of hustings past

Perhaps the oddest moment in this leadership campaign is yet to come, with the Question Time leadership debate on Thursday week, September 16th. In theory, the race is still on - and there are votes up for grab. Though it will have the largest public and party audience of any leadership campaign moment, in reality, the programme can make no difference at all.

(The David Cameron-David Davis Question Time bout, two weeks after the final candidates were known, took place the Thursday night, 3rd November 2005, with members' ballot papers going out two days later. Regional hustings followed. So that could have really mattered, in a close election. Question Time has come back a week early from its summer break, but the BBC schedules couldn't accomodate it even two or three weeks earlier.

Is the national television audience could be about to get an "action replay" of the hustings debates? Not even that. Surely it is now in the candidates' interest - especially whoever is going to win, but also their future collegues - to use the prime-time exposure to move on from the campaign, and to begin to unite. We can all expect a rather boring night.

Vote for who you want to

I have argued that "vote for who you want to" is the best case for preferential voting. AV should abolish the dodgy campaign bar graph. Labour members can and should vote for whoever they think the best leader will be, without having to think much about the tactics of the race.

Yet we have seen that political culture runs deep. Beyond wonky analysis of the second preference factor, it has felt very much like a first-past-the-post campaign. So momentum has mattered a lot in this election, with rival candidates fearing that polling and media coverage suggesting a two-Miliband race strengthens that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have those perceptions shifted not just second preferences, but first preferences too?

No candidate has tried to do anything creative with second preference deals. In truth, mutual affection/destruction pacts were always difficult, when two brothers had an easy way out of that tricky question. And tactical votes can still matter in theory. Andy Burnham should have made an audacious bid, four weeks ago, to hug David Miliband close, say he had his second preference, while arguing that MiliD's legs were going on the final lap - so that swtiching to (1) Andy Burham (2) David Miliband the best way to stop anyone else. But it wouldn't have been doing right by a mate.

Hence the ... Myth of the King-Maker

The dog that didn't bark? The kingmaker theory was massively over-sold. If Ed Balls was going to give a second preference to David Miliband with any form of endorsement to persuade others, he had to do it between August 31st and September 3rd. That never made much sense. It would have been reported and received as abandoning his own campaign just as the ballot papers hit members.

Balls is very clear in The Independent today - in an illuminating interview with Steve Richards - that there have been "no private discussions". By being punchiest on economic policy, and most effectively destructive in scrutinising a key Coalition policy, Balls has established that he will have a significant voice of his own at Labour's top table - even winning several positive notices from his harshest media critics - though his campaign has struggled to attract support in the contest itself.

Known unknowns

My own hunch is that the race could end a lot closer than the bookies have it. We don't know about many MP second preferences. 20% of members are new to the party. The biggest unknown is how the affiliated section comes out. Nobody knows anything - or those that do aren't saying. Beyond complaints about the college's complexity, has there been even a single detailed newspaper report covering what's going on in the trade unions, and how it might affect the result? Which unions have seriously tried to mobilise, and which haven't? Are there split loyalties in some unions? How much difference do organisers on the ground think it has made? Do those Ed Miliband endorsements mean he is now doing better here than among party members? Did Blair and Mandelson hinder David Miliband here. If so, by how much?

Any serious projection of the result needs to take a view on these questions.

So, when will we find out the result

In Manchester on September 25th, of course. Yet I expect it may well be in Peter Kellner's YouGov powers to pretty much declare the result 7-10 days out. (A full projection would require some political intelligence on MP second preferences too). It is a story that The Guardian or Observer might well want to reveal, though the BBC would prefer we all hear about after their Question Time debate. Polling the affiliates section may be hazardous, given turnout factors, but perhaps it might be done on the basis of people who say they have actually cast a ballot in the election.

So the spoilsports may have it. Whatever your candidate preference, the demands of political drama may depend on hoping that any post-voting poll remains on a margin of error knife-edge. So it remains possible that - as in 1981 and 2007 - the Labour tribe could gather in Manchester still not sure of an election result, or who will be their leader that night.


Alex C-D said...

I know you won't say who you voted for - but can you give us a prediction as to the result?

Sunder Katwala said...


Can't make any accurate prediction. I think it is closer than the bookies say. But I'll set out the working.

- I think David Miliband will win the MP/MEP section
- I think Ed Miliband will win the affiliates' section.
- Can't confidently predict who will be ahead overall from those two sections; or who will win the party member section.
- Can't see how any of the other three could knock out a Miliband and make the final two: all seem too far behind on MPs to have the type of members lead they would need. (But AV: people should vote for their favourite candidate).

(i) My guesstimate is that David M will take the MPs section 55%-45%, ie 28 MPs more. He seems to be ahead about 109-79 (40%-31%) on first votes, with about 80 up for grabs. 55-45 IF they split equally. Big if. If David does better than that, he is in a very strong position overall. Were Ed only 10 MPs (3%) behind (he would need 50 of the last 80), DM would have underperformed; would need a strong union result.

(ii) I see Ed M winning the affiliates section. Can Ed M win the affiliates section by 55-45% or more, will it be closer, or could David win? If DM is level/ahead in this section, he will certainly win the leadership.

If Ed does win this section, and could do so by more than David wins MPs, you could argue he ought to be at least joint favourite. (It would be a total guess for me to predict 51-49, 55-45 or even out towards 60-40).

David did better in this section than among party members in the YouGov poll. Saying Ed M will take it is a hunch: YouGov showed DM stronger than is likely: ex-ForSec public name recognition means he will poll better among those least likely to vote, where turnout will be under 25%; that the union endorsements, the campaigning efforts and union members response to campaign have probably helped EM more than DM. Mandelson/Blair profile may also have made some other voters (Abbott, Balls, Burnham) more likely to have a preference between Milibands.

(iii) Party members.

I can't call this section. I really hope the party members do get the decisive influence: likely but not certain. Not many people noticed that the YouGov poll (where DM won the college 55-45) had a 50-50 split of this section in the end, with David 6 points ahead at first, with transfers levelling it. (The small councillor poll had David winning more transfers than Ed).

And that was five weeks ago. So who has won the campaign with party members? Whose volunteers have organised better on the ground (not much discussed) and persuaded members? Are there regional factors? (Eg, might DM be doing particularly well in north-east; is either doing better in London/north-west which have most members?).

DM's campaign: that if the race got closer to neck-and-neck in the summer; they have had momentum later (Jon Cruddas; Daily Mirror and other papers); that party members will have responded to David as most PM-ready, even where this is "head v heart" for some. They will lead on 1st votes, enough to stay ahead, and can split transfers equally anyway.

EM's campaign: That he has had the momentum in the race in which DM began as the frontrunner, staying in contention in MPs, CLPs, etc. Can win/tie first preferences or be close behind, and finish ahead. That argument for 'more change' and lost voites has resonated, esp with 32,000+ new members (one in five).

What does anybody else think? Can anyone come up with numbers for the different sections.

Harry Barnes said...

So where is my Fabian Society Ballot Paper?