Today’s YouGov/Queen Mary University poll in London will bring a mix of emotions. It’s undeniably grim that Labour’s lead over the Conservatives in the capital is 22 per cent, and even more troubling that the gap among BME voters is now 62 per cent.
At the same time, even losing by 22 points might be better than some had previously feared. For a start, that’s an improvement on the position revealed by the previous two polls, which Matt Singh argues is justification for Labour to feel somewhat disappointed. More importantly, the detail of the numbers suggests that the Conservatives might be able to hang onto control of Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon, against expectations.
That will be welcome news to many Tories in London, elsewhere in the country and, of course, Downing Street.
But there’s also reason to worry that such findings could be harmful in themselves. As the 2017 General Election illustrated, expectation management is all-important. Talking down your prospects lays the ground for appearing triumphant, while triumphalism tends to cast your eventual results into the shade even when they are quite good.
With Conservative fears about losing flagship councils running high, any hint that things might not be so bad after all is being eagerly grasped by Conservative MPs, councillors and even officials. I understand why, but it’s concerning that desperation for good news might lead people to abandon their political nous. Shouting about it and displaying relief is not only entirely premature, given that most votes are yet to be cast, it also risks losing the expectations war by either throwing away a mildly pleasant surprise or deepening an already grim night. There is no benefit in getting overly positive too early.
So pocket any slight improvements in your expectations (should you have any), and remember: a pessimist is never disappointed.