Harriet Harman’s campaign were so pleased with their specially-commissioned YouGov poll last week that Harman cheerleader Joan Ruddock has sent out their analysis of the results to every member of the PLP in a round-robin email. So far, the only public reaction has been an interrogatory reply from John Spellar (the PLP’s answer to Luke Akehurst) questioning whether Harman is sufficiently in love with nuclear missiles to be worthy of his consideration, regardless of her supposed electoral appeal.
But when you cut through the spin, what do the polling results actually mean? Mike Smithson has already written a pretty solid rebuttal of Harman’s main line of argument over at pb.com and we would (belatedly) echo his points.
A Brown-Harman ticket got the most people expressing a favourable opinion; however, she has the highest name recognition (in itself not a bad result for a junior minister – could this be the benefit of an alliterative name, or is it just that she’s been around for longest?) and probably because of this, the highest number of people expressing an opinion either way; the Brown-Harman ticket also had the highest number of people expressing a negative opinion, and overall the two cancelled each other out.
Benn was also on zero, Hain -7, Cruddas and Blears -8 and Johnson -9. So, in short, there is no deputy leadership candidate who the poll found would make people more likely to vote Labour and not a great deal of difference between any of them. The results were also closely correlated to name recognition, which is obviously going to change hugely between now and the next general election – not least as they will actually be elected in the meantime.
Furthermore, this kind of question is usually considered rather unreliable, because people tend to use them to express an opinion about the candidates rather than say whether the choice of Deputy Leader would really affect their vote; and even with that proviso, most voters indicated that it would not.
There were also a couple of other questions – about whether a “men-only leadership team would show that Labour is old-fashioned” and whether it is important that the next Deputy Prime Minister is someone who voters “already know” not someone they have “never heard of”.
The first proposition got 48-42 agreement, though perhaps unsurprisingly women agreed while men disagreed; because women are more likely to be swing voters, swing voters are more in favour than the population as a whole. However, there is the obvious problem here in defining “leadership team” and that is also the problem with the final question – the poll seems to falsely conflate the positions of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Deputy Prime Minister of the country. The second question is also phrased in a fairly obviously biased way and it is unsurprising that it gets 53-33 approval.
Overall, the poll certainly looks good for Harman, but nor is there a great deal to stack up her claim that it demonstrates her appeal to the voters. The only firm conclusions we would draw are that, while she does have the highest name recognition among ordinary voters, they don’t particularly like any of the names in the frame, nor do they much care.
That does not make it a pointless position by any means, but it does suggest that those who think it is some kind of electoral silver bullet are seriously misguided, and any attempt to assess the electoral appeal of candidates at this stage is foolish even if it were not.
The Daily firmly retains the opinion that, whoever ends up occupying the second slot in government (and there is a strong case for better gender balance across the Cabinet as a whole – not so much on electoral grounds as simple equality), Party and union activists need to seriously consider how we use the deputy election to regenerate as a movement, so that our organisation is in shape on the ground and our government is better connected to our grassroots. No opinion poll is going to tell us how to do that, so let’s get on with the real debate.