Polls: Labour’s surging. Non-London doorstep: It’s a “nuclear winter for Labour.” Party braces for worst

by Atul Hatwal

Just over two weeks ago I posted a projection of huge losses for Labour – over 90 seats – based on dozens of conversations with activists, candidates and officials who cumulatively had sight of tens of thousands of canvass returns.

Since then, I’ve continued those conversations as Labour has apparently surged in the polls.

The result is a marked improvement in London but precious little to cheer about outside the capital.

The last few weeks have seen a strong rise in Labour promises in key seats across London, although constituencies such as Dagenham and Eltham remain very difficult.

But in the West Midlands, Yorkshire, North West and the North East, any improvement has been nugatory.

One campaigner from London who spent time in the North East last week described it as a “nuclear winter for Labour.”

The doorstep returns outside of London are saying that Labour is still running substantially below its 2015 vote, that Ukip votes are transferring in huge numbers to the Tories with losses in prospect of the mid-60s to mid-90s and a lingering possibility that the situation could be even worse come Thursday.

What on earth is happening? Are the doorstep results wrong? Or is it the polls?

In terms of the canvass returns, the data is partial. Labour members and supporters have been knocking doors in core Labour wards, in seats that are under threat. In the last week they’ve been focused specifically on Labour voters.

If there was a shift, this could happening out of sight of the canvassers. For example, Labour might be piling up support in safe Labour seats where there is little activity.

It’s possible and there is likely to be an element of this but the scale of Labour’s poll surge suggests this should be something bigger than just a safe seat phenomenon.

One explanation might be a rise in support among those in a household that don’t normally take part in the doorstep conversation but do answer online polls, such as young voters.

The polls themselves indicate that Labour’s rise is being driven by enthusiasm among young electors with a striking proportion saying they are committed to voting.

But since the rise in the polls, Uncut has heard various stories about Labour candidates and campaigners scouring their electoral rolls to identify households with voters under 25 – whether they live in Labour wards or not, whether they or their families have a history of backing Labour or not.

The feedback has been that in the overwhelming majority of cases, this pool of voters is neither sizable enough to make a difference nor are the canvass returns from these targeted efforts tallying with the level of rise that the polls are suggesting.

So perhaps the problem is with the polls?

There has been a debate within the polling community about how turnout, particularly among the young, should be weighted. It’s summarised here but broadly, the higher the turnout for younger voters in poll results, the better things are for Labour.

This explains why different pollsters have Labour at different levels but not why Labour has improved in most polls at a rate not reflected in the party’s canvass returns, over the past weeks.

James Morris, Ed Miliband’s pollster, tweeted a paragraph on Friday from an article by a US academic just before the Presidential election, which might offer a rationale for why the majority of polls are moving in the same way, out of sync with the doorstep.

Ironically, the Rivers of Lauderdale and Rivers quoted above is one Doug Rivers. That would be the Doug Rivers who is now the chief scientist of YouGov, who were the first to report a Labour surge during the campaign and currently have the parties just 4% apart.

This would also explain why positive polls for Labour beget further positive polls and momentum builds – supporters are more and more enthused and respond when polling companies get in touch, while the reverse happens with Tory backers.

If the polls are wrong on this basis then that could signal a deep structural problem for the industry.

However, there might be another option. A scenario where the canvass returns and the polling methodology are both right: respondents aren’t being straight with the pollsters.

This has been mentioned by several Labour officials and candidates as a potential reason for the gap.

After the 2015 election, Mark Textor – Lynton Crosby’s business partner and currently doing the polling for the Tories – said that the pre-election polls were distorted because public pollsters failed to understand two factors.

First, the difference between party preference and desired government outcome. Voters might identify with Labour but they didn’t want an Ed Miliband-led coalition so voted accordingly.

Second, that some voters gamed the polls. They used them to signal a protest before reverting to a different choice in the polling booth. It’s worth taking in, what he said,

“We were polling massive numbers of voters every night and assessing how they looked at their choices, so we knew that in normal public-style polls they were saying they preferred Labour … but at the end of the day the actual outcome they wanted was a David Cameron-led Conservative government, and the only way to do that was to vote Conservative in their local seat,”

“We measured their preferred style of government … they might say: ‘Normally I prefer Labour’, but we asked: ‘Which scenario do you want as an outcome?’…so we knew there were a lot of voters who on traditional voting patterns were Labour voters but had made the tactical decision that the best choice was to vote for David Cameron … we were measuring outcomes and not just voting preference.”

“They were using polling like a protest vote – they might think: ‘I don’t really want Miliband, but I’ll say I prefer him to tickle up the Conservatives’ – or whomever – but we knew at the end of the day when we measured their preferred model in government what they really wanted was the outcome of a stable Cameron-led government.”

Labour campaigners fear something similar is happening right now.

In every seat, canvassers are encountering lifelong Labour supporters who still identify with the party but not Jeremy Corbyn.  This group tends to have voted for Ed Miliband reluctantly and are now either sitting out this contest or ready to vote Tory for the first time to prevent a Corbyn premiership.

These switchers represent a new generation of shy Tories, located deep inside Labour’s core vote. They are embarrassed at voting Tory, sufficiently so to deny their intent to friends, families and pollsters. Some of the older Labour officials and campaigners have reported familiar doorstep cadences from 1992 – “It’s in the eyes,” one said to me.

One last point is worth noting in judging what is happening on the ground.

The Tories do not look like a party that thinks Labour is threatening a range of their seats in England, which is what the polls suggest.

Based on what Mark Textor said after the 2015 election, we know something of what they are doing. Large scale nightly polling, targeted at specific seats, with questioning framed as per the quote above. At this stage in the campaign, postal votes – which have been sampled over the past 5 days, giving them an idea of actual vote performance – will also be factored into the mix.

This is then used to shape their social media targeting on Facebook, local newspaper ad buys and visit schedule for the cabinet and leader.

Last Friday, Theresa May visited Sheffield. Specifically she was in Don Valley, Caroline Flint’s constituency, a seat where Labour led the Tories by 21% in 2015. On Saturday, she was in Penistone and Stockbridge, Angela Smith’s seat, where she won by 14% over the Tories in 2015. Tonight, May was in Bradford South, a seat where Judith Cummins beat her Tory opponent by 17% in 2015.

The fear of Labour officials and candidates, particularly in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire, is that if the Tories are on course to flip seats like Don Valley, many more could be vulnerable. One official in Yorkshire told Uncut that a string of Morley and Outwoods – the seat Ed Balls lost in 2015 – was on the cards for 2017.

The polls might be right. There could be a surge of young voters that rewrite general election rules. This could be the first contest in living memory where a party increases its rating by so much during the short campaign. Labour could be about to poll near its 1997 level at the general election.

After Corbyn’s triumph in the Labour leadership, Brexit and Trump, the old certainties no longer hold sway. This is certainly the desperate hope of Labour candidates up and down the country. Rarely have so many, who have worked so hard knocking doors, hoped that they’re so wrong.

But the evidence from Labour’s own data and the Tories’ campaigning choices is compelling and it suggests that they are not.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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81 Responses to “Polls: Labour’s surging. Non-London doorstep: It’s a “nuclear winter for Labour.” Party braces for worst”

  1. Jack Cattell says:

    Important to look into this but the issue is a lot simpler. It’s all whether your sample represents all voters. The conclusion after 2015 was that the samples were biased. But canvassers by is biased as well (I’ve done enough times before). Probably more so because it biased to those in, have easy to access homes (I.e not in a flat), like to talk to strangers and are known to have voted for your party in the past. My advice – look for the poll that spends the most money to get a good sample. No more, no less.

  2. Michael Aydinian says:

    How come my comment isn’t showing. Do you only publish comments that agree with your drivel?

  3. Leon says:

    Well landless peasant, I can certainly see why all your mates at the job centre tell you they will vote Labour. Seems you live in an area of unemployable. Can’t let anything like the importance of Brexit get in the way of your benefits can we.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    So Taifas gonna vote Tory, shame on you. For you Brexit is the main issue, but I don’t see how the Tories are going to be any use fori us with that, & I disagree, I think brexit is a sideshow. Personally i don’t give a toss about it. For me the main issue of his election ishalting Austerity & restoring our social Security system that the Tories have completely wrecked – abolish thebedroom tax, scrap Sanctions, remove the Benefits cap, scrap universal Credit. Those are the most important things to me.

  5. Nabir says:

    For more perceptive poling analysis from Atul Hatwal who thought Jeremy Corbyn would come last in the Labour leadership contest:

  6. Madasafish says:


    Mighty civil of you…

    I would return the compliment but it’s too wet and windy here:-)

  7. Tafia says:

    Landless Peasant. All the things you say are importanyt to you are reliant entirely on an economy providing the wealth to fund it. If Brexit goes wrong, the economy won’t be able to fund it and it will make 2008 like like a tea party.

    Brexit is going to define our economy (and therefore national wealth and ability to fund public services) for the next 25 years at least. It is therefore the single most important issue of this election – as it’s progress will define how much money there is to fund everything else.

    @Huskey, if you are using ‘English’ to mean British then you are being insulting to the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish. If you are doing it deliberately then you are also being racist.

  8. buttley says:

    Mystic Atul, rides again.

  9. Andrew says:

    Doesn’t look like labour are doing as badly as “Labour Uncut” hoped.

  10. But the evidence from Labour’s own data and the Tories’ campaigning choices is compelling and it suggests that they are not.

    Good to see Atul’s predictions are consistent. Consistently bad that is.

  11. Ryland says:

    Do I here people at Labour uncut preparing to eat some humble pie?

  12. Ben Clay says:

    Congrats Atul on another fantastic prediction – I never imagined a Nuclear Winter would feel so good!

  13. GULAG CUCKS says:


  14. IM says:

    “What on earth is happening?”

    Your Corbyn-hate blinded you.

  15. Dram Ham says:

    Nailed it with this one!

  16. Nelson Muntz says:

    HA HA

  17. Peter Kenny says:

    I posted this in another section. It probably fits better here

    I’m looking forward to the sackcloth and ashes that many of the writers and participants on this forum will be wearing in days to come.

    You were wrong, wrong, wrong!

    Atul, Kevin – bring us your wisdom! Your people wait for your insights, your guidance!

    Hey Taffia – you seem to actually know bugger all about Wales after all! I hope you enjoyed voting conservative!

    Good luck with that hard brexit, now!

    Anyway, after all that – what is is this site actually any good for? You have generally been part of the problem not part of the solution. How about just shutting up shop?

    So – some thoughts…

  18. tyronen says:

    The reason the canvass missed the rise in the Labour vote was simply that it was most concentrated among young voters, who are intrinsically harder to canvas. They move addresses more frequently, they’re much less likely to be at home during canvass times, and they often have many individuals with different views at the same address. The canvass would miss any change in their support. And no canvass can measure turnout before it happens. It’s also possible that older Tories, angry at the dementia tax, failed to turn out.

    But YouGov’s polling model was surprisingly accurate. Pick any riding at random and compare it to YouGov’s forecast; you’ll be amazed at how close it is. Everybody jeered at them for ‘going rogue’; they were right.

  19. Josh says:

    “I don’t believe that yougov poll, Labour have had it”

    Exit poll flashing

    “Yeah, Corbyn is finis….?”

  20. john riches says:

    Well Atul, you and your predictions have been proved, erm, a little bit out – again. Give. It. Up.

  21. Terry says:

    Part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think that describes this website’s relation to progressive politics in this country to a tee.

  22. Mark Flynn says:

    Oh dear Atul. How wrong you were. Oh dear oh dear.

    Any idiot can see that your methodolgy that predicted labours doom was moronic. You spoke to labour activists and campaigners and expected that to be more accurate that sampled and sorted polls with representative slices of the population? Jesus wept.

    Hopefully this is the end of Labour Uncut under your rabid anti-Corbyn editorship. You cant be allowed to carry on holding the Labour title when you are so against Labour.

    Good bye and good riddance

  23. Peter Martin says:

    “Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut ”

    But why? Does the job pay so little, that no-one who is in touch with what’s going on in the party would be interested in doing it?

    Atul isn’t just occasionally wrong. He’s consistently wrong!

    Look, Atul, if you are going to carry on in the job get yourself a new crystal ball! Or better still get out and about a bit more and listen to what you hear!

  24. Peter Kenny says:

    Actually I think Atul should stay, he could be useful.

    He reminds me of a terrible boss I had who greatly helped me for my whole career. Whenever I had a serious work dilemma I used to think about what he’d do – and whatever else I did, avoid that!

    Mind you, very rarely he’d be right – like a stopped clock. I’m not sure Atul’s ever been right!

  25. Nabir says:

    Don’t worry, Atul and friends will carry on with their anti-Corbyn, anti-Labour, anti-progressive crusade, whatever the facts.

    Today we had Chris Leslie on R4 Today claiming the election result was a failure. Despite the biggest rise in Labour’s share of the vote since Attlee. Despite the massive surge in support in his own constituency.

    What irony. Dozens of right wing Labour MPs like Leslie saved, despite themselves, from the electoral consequences of their dreary neoliberal politics, by Jeremy Corbyn.

    Two years of backstabbing by Labour MPs refusing to support a leader with a manifestly attractive, realistic and progressive programme. Embracing the most despicable tactics of the gutter press – smears about antisemitism, sympathy for terrorism and the rest. Plotting, even in the last week, while genuine and committed Labour members were out campaigning their hearts out for victory.

    We’re facing another election within months. An election Labour can win under Corbyn. It’s time for Leslie, Cooper, Umunna, Reeves, Flint and the rest to decide whose side they’re on.

  26. Dave Hansell says:

    Don’t count your chickens on that point Nabir.

    Check out yesterday’s Mail on Sunday…..


    ….as the only person in Britain who makes Michael Howard look like someone who loves daylight touts for Labour “moderates” to prop up an extremist lame duck prime minister using Brexit negotiations as a pretext.

    A National Government in all but name.

    On the subject of the doorstep returns one factor which has not been considered is bias on the part of those canvassing. Some of the seats mentioned in the article ran an abysmal negative campaign based on literature sent to voters telling them that the Tories were going to win a landslide and that a vote for a strong independent candidate, ie someone who did not agree with their own Labour Party leadership, would hold the (incoming) Tory Government to account.

    Consequently any negative about Corbyn picked up on the doorstep was amplified (quote “The usual problem” unquote) because that was what the Progress Mp/Candidate and the tufty club coterie of followers they gathered around them wanted to hear, which they reported back up the chain, and any positives ignored. Conversely, any negatives about the unpopular local Progress candidate were ignored and any positives amplified.

    It is fortuitous that a Constituency which saw only a 1300 majority has an increased membership from the past two years – mainly as a result of the policies associated with Corbyn – which sits at around 700+. Without those members and their families votes that 1300 majority would not have been there. Not to mention the campaigning carried out by those members delivering the totally negative and defeatist messages and literature from the local Progress candidate.

  27. Pam Ryan says:


  28. Peter Kenny says:

    I recommend anyone coming to this article to read the whole comment thread. A lot of the coments pre June 8th are reminiscent of the Bourbons before the French Revolution – hilarious in their pompous certainty, olympian disdain and negativity.

    Also all passed, a world that’s gone, with only Chris Leslie left, sitting in exile, dreaming of the Restoration. A few courtiers at his feet, Atul trying to keep up appearances – ‘people are interested, we are relevant, we do matter!’

    Good riddance!

  29. C Harris says:

    “The defeat will be greater than 1983, with leading figures such as Tom Watson, Dennis Skinner and Caroline Flint facing defeat while many others, including Yvette Cooper, Ed Miliband and Angela Rayner, are teetering on the brink.” Is this guy so overtly anti-Corbyn he’s prepared to ditch Labour? Or is he simply a Tory in disguise? Why not come clean? Where’s the shame in openly stating what you actually stand for? Where is he now? Surely he has something to say post the elections?

  30. Simon Deville says:

    The foot of the article says that Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut, is this still true?

  31. JillyR says:

    Seriously with Atul commenting on the political climate this blog should change its name to Labour Unhinged. His track record of predicting the outcome of elections and correctly grasping the current political mood is second to everyone.

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