Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
So James Chapman has been recruited by George Osborne as his Director of Communications. It’s a big loss for the Daily Mail, where he has been an excellent Political Editor. It will trigger quite a substantial reshuffle in the lobby, which is always amusing to watch. If I were Paul Dacre I’d be moving heaven and earth to tempt Tim Shipman back from the Sunday Times. A keen cricketer, Shippers might like his Saturdays back…
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Let’s face it, it wasn’t just the pollsters who got it wrong. It was the entire political class, including the punditerati and the commentariat. Including me. We have egg on our faces: we were humiliated, and we all need to look at why this happened. How could we all – and I mean all – have misjudged it? Well, I say all. I excuse Dan Hodges and Theo Usherwood, LBC’s Political Editor, both of who, predicted a Tory majority.
Lynton Crosby had a right old go at the punditerati (and Tim Montgomerie in particular) in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last weekend. He said:
“I’ve seen people entitled to comment as they wish but some of the commentators, who claimed to be Conservative supporters – like Tim Montgomerie from The Times [also Iain Duncan Smith’s former chief of staff] – I think in the end, became slightly gratuitous participants. They say about teachers – those who can do, those who can’t teach. Well, I think it’s very unfair – my wife was a teacher and I don’t approve of that. But I do think it’s fair to say in politics – those who can do and those who can’t commentate.”
Ouch. Well, let’s face it, I can be included in all of that too. I put my neck on the line and tried to predict the result of the election seat by seat. In the end, I predicted that 120 seats would change hands. I’ve just gone through all 120 and I had a 67 per cent hit rate. That’s slightly better than Lord Ashcroft’s polls, which I think I saw somewhere had a 63 per cent hit rate although, as he will no doubt point out, his polls were snapshots not predictions. I haven’t got the heart to go through all 650 constituencies, but I suspect if I did the hit rate would rise to nearer 85 per cent or even higher, but then again any fool can predict the result in a safe seat.
Do I regret doing the predictions? Not really, because I think those of us who commentate on politics should put our necks and reputations on the line. So many so-called expert pundits refused to give a prediction or just went along with the flow.
However, I regret not following my initial instincts. When I did my first predictions back in January, I originally had the Conservatives on 302 seats. I decided that this was preposterous given the political climate at the time and what everyone else was saying, and that if I predicted this figure I would be accused of Tory bias and not be taken seriously.
So I changed the predictions in 20 seats to reduce the Tory total. What a stupid thing to do. I should have stuck to my guns, and taken the four months of abuse that would no doubt have ensued. I genuinely felt that the Liberal Democrats would get fewer than 20 seats, yet didn’t have the courage of my convictions to stick to them. That’s a mistake I won’t be making again.
In the end you’re only as good as your last prediction. I may have got the 1992 election result bang on. I may have predicted the 2014 government reshuffle better than anyone. But in the 2015 election I, like virtually everyone else, failed. And I own up to that.
Two weeks on from the election I don’t think we are any closer to the truth as to why the polls were wrong than we were on election night. Was there a last minute switch, or were the Conservatives ahead all along? I don’t know. But I look forward to reading all the academic analyses and books that are no doubt all being prepared as you read this.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the reasons why David Cameron pulled off the political win of the century so far, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there was one key decision which was probably more important than any other – namely, Lynton Crosby’s decision to prevent the him from taking part in more than one debate, and to insist that this was a seven-way debate.
This arrangement allowed Nicola Sturgeon to gain a much higher profile than she otherwise would have, and it allowed her to shine. It meant that the SNP and Scotland came to the fore – and that, as a consequence, the Tories were able to warn constantly of the threat of a Labour government backed by SNP MPs.
It worked even when Ed Miliband ruled it out. I’m not sure that Crosby could have really planned the sequence of events, but he certainly made the most of it. If there had been three three-way debates Sturgeon wouldn’t have got a look-in and I suspect we’d now be in the middle of a big constitutional crisis with no-one able to form a government. All praise, Lynton Crosby!
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So the Budget will take place on 8 July. That seems quite a long way away, until you realise that departments have only a month to come up with ideas for where the cuts are to fall. And fall they need to. In 2010, the government made the mistake of only cutting by a paltry £6 billion in the first year.
The lesson is to do all the unpopular things in your first year. I wonder whether Osborne will also take the bull by the horns and reduce the top rate of tax back to 40p. I suspect not, but he should. There is no economic case for it to remain at 45p. At all. Be brave, Chancellor.
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Breitbart looks as if it is about to go through a slightly difficult time as some of its writers hint at a rebellion over the sudden return of the ebullient Raheem Kassam from his stint as gofer/press officer/chief of staff/ to Nigel Farage.
Kassam was Breitbart’s start-up editor and he assembled an eclectic and talented group of writers for the site, which has become essential reading for many on the right. But several of them think they have managed quite well without him and have not taken his glorious return well. At all.
I’m hearing that two of their bigger name columnists are seriously thinking of abandoning ship, and I’m assuming that this means James Delingpole and Milo Yiannopoulos, who have injected a rather lighter touch to the site. Both are talented polemical writers and would be difficult to replace. Asked to comment, Kassam told me: “I don’t profess to be a unifying figure.” Peace talks, anyone?