Tuesday, 19 January 2016

For accurate election predictions, ask a criminal

Matthew Norman had a great story in last Monday's Indy about a bet he had with one of the Hatton Garden raiders (though he implies he was not aware that he was dealing with a career criminal at the time) over the result of the 2015 general election.

[the bet]was struck last May at the Porchester Spa, the Turkish baths in London’s lascivious Bayswater where Billy and I bonded over shared martyrdom to gastro-oesophageal reflux disorder (please God the screws are giving him his daily 20mg of omeprazole).

We had less in common on the political front, the 60-year-old’s views on immigration and other contentious matters being more robust than my own, and clashed good-naturedly about the imminent election led to the wager. “That Ed Miliband, ’e’s f****** useless,” posited Bill. “The Tories will get a majority.” I pompously cited the opinion polls. “Don’t talk bollocks, Maffhugh,” was the tart rejoinder. “The Tories will win, no question. If they don’t I’ll buy you lunch.”

And if they do, I said, I’ll buy you lunch at the fish restaurant of your choice. Bill loves his fish. As Woolwich Crown Court learned, his Porchester nickname is “Billy the Fish” due to his sadly interrupted habit of going to Billingsgate market most mornings at 4am to buy fish wholesale, for himself and for subsequent resale to fellow spa-goers.

A few days after the election, he strode up to my lounger. “There you go,” he said, handing over a bag, “I was dahn Billingsgate this morning, and picked you out a Dover sole.” It was enormous, and I asked what I owed him. “Don’t be a muppet,” said Billy. “It’s a gift.” I thanked him, and congratulated him on his election forecasting skills. An hour later in the steam room, I mentioned the sole to a third party. “Yeah, Billy’s suddenly come over dead generous,” said this character. “He keeps buying all the boys drinks and snacks. Never seen him so chipper.”

He was nicked the following day, and we never did make that date. So if you’re one of our many readers in HMP Belmarsh, send Billy my fond regards, and tell him I look forward to lunch in six or seven years. Assuming time off for good behaviour.

The anecdote confirmed two things: first, that career criminals are overwhelmingly politically conservative (how altruistic are the Tories in resisting giving prisoners the vote!);
secondly, that the election survey companies had somehow become disengaged from real life, their methods too sophisticated for their own good. Some two years out, I said that it would take a remarkable effort from the opposition parties to prevent a Conservative overall majority and I watched the continuing reports of a neck-and-neck struggle with increasing incredulity. (I cannot lay claim to perfect clairvoyance, because although I predicted a squeeze on LibDem seats, it was not to the extent that actually occurred.)

The sad thing is that the so-called professionals who ran the Liberal Democrat and Labour campaigns based their strategies on the survey returns rather than their gut feelings, those of their members or even of Billy The Fish.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

The industry's own report on its failure is out. In a radio interview this morning, a representative of YouGov admitted that they hadn't felt the need to review its sample selection procedures in 2015 because they had got the 2014 European Parliament election results so right.