Today, I found myself in the environs of Westminster and, on College Green, a film crew were patiently seeking to record a scene with some of the cast from “The Thick Of It” while people like me got in the way. Some passing American tourists, on hearing it was the BBC, immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was a news crew interviewing real politicians with the Palace of Westminster in the background. But no, though it may have the trappings of normal politics, it isn’t. It’s just show business.
The same of course, could be said of the Bradford West by-election, where the bizarrely-titled ‘Respect’ candidate, serial showman George Galloway, trounced everybody else who stood. As it was considered a safe Labour seat, the Labour party will feel it most keenly. Is it anti-politics? Is it what happens when you excite the sympathies of local mosques in an area with a high muslim population? Each explanation seems initially attractive, but soon seems beset with problems. At the moment, no-one really knows.
Against this rather unfortunate backdrop the Police Foundation released a study of what might predictably happen under the normal rules of politics (well, psephology actually) in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, based on the last general election and recent opinion polls, which is here, with a methodology here, and a previous worked example of guesstimating second preferences here.
The study predicts results in each of the 41 police areas on the basis of 4 scenarios – the 2010 general election with and without the LibDems, and recent polling with and without the LibDems. If your party wins under all four scenarios in your area then you may feel pleased. If it loses on all four, you may be dischuffed, and if it is more mixed, you may not know what to think.
Please note this is not what my former colleagues in the police would call “bobby-proof”. The warnings about interpreting it aren’t the general terms and conditions of software licences that you might be tempted to skip past. In particular, please note that the 2010 General Election may not be the best place to start when making such estimates. My own suspicion is that turnout may be a lot more like a local election and voter distribution is anyone’s guess in a single-issue election. So, by all means accept that this is a good piece of work marred only by the comic timing of its release, but don’t mislead yourself with the pretty graphs, especially when the real information is in the tables. As Labour’s Sussex hopeful Paul Richards argues, those up for election need to win each vote afresh at each election. Take it from him – he loses on all four scenarios.