The tyranny of the daily tracker poll

by Emma Burnell

If, like me, you’re a political geek (and I have to assume that if you’re reading this site, you take at least a passing interest), then you’ll be following the YouGov daily tracker polls. Every night we see how the parties rise and fall. Will we be ahead? By how much? How low will the Lib Dems fall?

Like an underlying drumbeat, the tracker feeds into our daily narrative on the state of politics and the Labour party. Some people celebrate wildly each new time Labour pulls ahead of the Tories and the Lib Dems fall behind “Others”. Conversely, for some Labour supporters it seems to depress them even further, as they convince themselves that Labour is becoming complacent in reading these celebrations.

I try to fall between the two. I think Labour has a long journey still to take, but I take heart from the polls, they make me optimistic for the future. And I channel that optimism into working harder all the time for a Labour victory, taking nothing for granted.

Ed Miliband and his team should be doing the same. That is what the voters – not the hacks – expect. To hear some commentary, you’d think that we were weeks from the next election.  But we’re not, and the public knows it. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition will hold, and as the polls get worse for them are cemented together. No politician – and especially not one as wily as Cameron – would go to the polls by choice with a 20 point disapproval rating. Their programme is clearly designed to ensure that a 2015 election will be at the best possible moment economically. Labour and Ed have time to get this right. There will be hundreds more tracker polls before the only poll that counts, and both optimists and pessimists must learn to take the daily ups and downs for what they really are – a snapshot.

That’s not to say we don’t need a short term strategy. 24 hour news, social media and daily tracking of voter intention are changing the speed with which narratives are set, and Ed’s apparently slow pace worried some. But taking his time and getting it right (and being proved to get it right) has started to become Ed’s modus, and it’s working for him. He’s done humility and voters have heard that. Now he’s taking his time to get the policy right, and that’s the right thing to do. It’s not the public calling out to know what would Labour do – it’s our opponents trying to pin us to policies that may be wildly inappropriate in 2015.

However, we must find a way of maintaining the recent levels of visibility while we are reviewing our policies. Ed’s recent hits have landed well and he’s forced significant U-turns on school sports and Bookstart. His last PMQs was strong, and he landed the best hit yet on Cameron with his Bullingdon jibe. The start of the year has been owned by Ed with his narrative on the VAT rise chiming well with voters. If, next week, Labour can pull off a convincing win in Oldham East and Saddleworth, the continuing transformation of the narrative (both internal and external) from invisible Ed to steady Eddie will give his new team a great place to work from.

Keeping up a high profile dissection of the Tory cuts and Lib Dem embarrassments and the impact they have on communities far from Westminster will be essential. Recent moves to reclaim Labour’s reputation for economic competence must be maintained alongside an alternative economic narrative that shows why the cuts are so damaging to our economy, our public services and our social fabric.

Labour are a nose ahead in the polls. A recent comment on my blog argued that this meant we should fight as if we are behind, but I disagree. One of the strengths the Tories have always had is their belief in their right to rule. This makes them naturally seem like leaders because they believe they are leaders. It also helps them implement the most radical of policy programmes with the slimmest of margins. If we can act with the confidence of a lead without the arrogance of a landslide, we could make true Nick Clegg’s head of strategy’s prediction that this would be the Labour century.

The long term task is to get the Labour party ready to both win and govern again in 2015. We need to be a party of government, but also a Labour party governing with the values of our members at heart and the confidence to implement our own programmes based on a stance as principled as it is pragmatic. This is as easy to say as it is difficult to do, and building this kind of policy platform must take time. When we get it right, it will have been well worth the wait.

Emma Burnell represents the socialist societies on Labour’s national policy forum and is author of the Scarlet Standard blog.

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “The tyranny of the daily tracker poll”

  1. Robert says:

    I remember Kinnock pronouncement of being ready to rule, then sinking like a stone yet the polls showed he was winning. Problem for polls of course the cuts are now having an affect, but we do seem to have really short memories in Newer Labour. I remember Blair and brown telling us about cuts in the public services, My own tax office closed, then we were told the job center would close, nurses started to be made redundant as things started to go wrong, Brown took over and demanded 300,000 public sector jobs would go.

    The real test for labour will be if the recession starts to go, jobs pick up, and things look better, a year before the election the Tories and liberals will start a give away, and labour will do what.

Leave a Reply