Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How oppositions should respond to good news

Last week, David Cameron shouted about Ed Miliband’s alleged desire for bad news:

It is only a bad week if you think it is bad that unemployment is coming down. We think it is good. ... Every bit of good news sends that team into a complete decline, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the good news will keep coming.

This is the same David Cameron who, as an opposition MP, once wrote about his own “opposition disease”, in which “part of you actually starts wanting things to get worse. …an enthusiastic Tory backbencher like me can hardly wait to switch on the Today programme every morning in order to listen to all the bad news.” So he knows what he’s talking about.

But it’s tricky. When there is good economic news, how should an opposition party handle it? You don’t want to seem an unpatriotic doom-monger, but you don’t want to gush praise for the government, either.

At PMQs tomorrow, Miliband should take this head-on. He should raise the good GDP number that Cameron was hinting about last week and say something like this:

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the British people for having finally pulled the economy out of recession? Is this not a great achievement for British businesses and British workers – especially in light of government policies that even the IMF now says are more damaging than expected?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Part-time unemployment

Delia Koczwara asks:

Does anyone have the figures to calculate the true rate of unemployment if those holding part-time jobs who would prefer to work full-time were counted as 50% working and 50% unemployed?

Good question. Here’s the answer:

The proportion of  people who want a full-time job but can only find a part-time one is at its highest since records began. If you count them as half-unemployed, this takes the unemployment rate from about 8% to about 10%. If you count them in full, that’s over 12% of people who are under-employed.

One aspect of this change is patterns of self-employment. While the proportion of workforce who are self-employed has risen only slightly, self-employment is increasingly likely to be part-time – more so than being an employee. And the proportion of part-time workers who want to be full-time is at a historic high:

Data from the ONS, covering all adults aged over 16 who are economically active (working or looking for work).

Sunday, October 07, 2012

5.5 million bubbles of polling froth

According to YouGov, 40% of people think Ed Miliband is doing well as Labour leader. A week ago, only 28% thought this. So, in an electorate of 46 million, this means that about five-and-a-half million people have changed their minds. In one week. On the basis of a few headlines and TV clips about one speech.

Do you believe that?

Actually, I do. But what I don’t believe is that any kind of firmly held opinion could change so quickly and easily among so many people.

A lot of survey responses are just froth on the surface of an uncommitted mind, as suggested by this ingenious study that manipulated people into justifying answers that they hadn’t really given.

And this latest boost to Miliband’s ratings? It may well harden, at least in part, but only if he keeps up a better performance and gets decent coverage for it. The longer a vague impression lasts, the firmer it becomes.

But my general rule is that sudden improvements in polling are normally an illusion – like the way that Nick Clegg’s 2010 campaign surge led to only slightly more votes, or the way that Gordon Brown’s impressive honeymoon ratings were blown apart by something as flimsy as an opposition tax promise.