Tag Archives: Rupert Murdoch

Let’s talk about polls

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Polls. Polls. Let’s talk about polls: Are the Tories really ahead still in them?

I think this is a pertinent question on a number of counts. Firstly – a disclaimer. I used to work in a position (for a fundraising agency) that required me often to analyse data. Analysing data is something that is very subjective – one can skew it in order to get an answer that is favourable to oneself, and/or to a client.

People talk a lot about opinion polls, naturally, in the run-up to a GE. The results of opinion polls are also dependent on the questions being asked. As posted on my Facebook page last week, an utterly biased poll was being sent out by #YouGov, with  some very leading questions. Then one gets on to the people surveyed – how can we be sure that this is genuinely a ‘cross-section’ of society? We only have the polling company’s word for that, and if they are being employed by Conservatives, they will most likely choose the option that appeases their client the most.

Think this doesn’t happen and that this is some conspiracy? Think again. I know that the Tories (for example) at the last election hired at least one telephone fundraising/marketing company to work on their behalf, Return Fundraising. How do I know this? Because they told me so when they attempted to ‘head-hunt’ me (a move motivated by the demise of a former employer). They also told me at the time that they did the canvassing for the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

When call-centres do this sort of work, their scripts will be scrutinised to the nth degree so that, subliminally, the answer will always favour the client. Of course people have their own opinions; but there is much that can be done, in terms of the language used, the questions asked, to subliminally affect the answers in favour of clients. Anyone who works in fundraising and marketing knows that this is the case, and in a sense, that is ok. As much as politics, it’s about the art of persuasion – but let’s be very clear also that an answer elicited for a survey/charity donation doesn’t always hold once the conversation is over and the phone put down. In fundraising, it’s known as attrition. So: pollsters may have an opinion at the start of a call, they may hold to that opinion or have their minds changed during the course of the call (because one of the curious things I found out when telephone fundraising is that even on the end of the phone, people are social animals that often want to be seen as agreeably nice people to the faceless voice at the other end of the phone), but when that phone is put down, they can often change their minds. In that sense, if one is polling people with semi-formed or wholly uninformed opinions, there is a high probability that those opinions are malleable during the duration of a call, but potentially not beyond that.

As well as all of this: how current is the data we are being presented with? How many thousands of people are being canvassed? Is it a genuine cross-section of society, or targeting areas where the answer is more or less a done deal? Who has commissioned the polls (this is important)? Which media outlets are these polls being distributed to, and what is their editorial agenda? (In the UK, this latter point is crucial) With those papers, would it potentially upset their investors/advertisers if the polls projected an outcome they didn’t want? Who are the polling companies being run by (as in who is their CEO), and what is their political agenda? For example, YouGov has as its CEO Stephan Shakespeare, who formerly ran ConservativeHome – immediately there is cause for scepticism there over political neutrality in their polling.

The media are also key in polling in the UK, perhaps more than in most countries, because they are undoubtedly (on the results of previous elections and the influence of Murdoch) able to sway elections. The Sun and Murdoch are the big beasts here as regards this, because to the best of my knowledge there has been not one PM since 1979 that hasn’t had Murdoch backing. Essentially what we’re looking at there is corporate propaganda filtered through politics at the highest level. Murdoch’s other investments (let’s say, like his investment in Genie Energy, as well as Sky News) would be subject to huge unbiased and potentially unfavourable scrutiny if the potential PM was not a Murdoch acolyte.

And then there’s the public. Up until a few years ago, there was little interest in politics among the British public, and often an embarrassment in saying who they were voting for (especially on the more right-wing side of things). This is in marked contrast to, let’s say, Ireland, where, for better or worse, people are incredibly vocal about their side of any given issue, thus enabling more polling accuracy.

This is not even getting into the increasing influence of organisations like Cambridge Analytica, who collate evidence from social media and target voters accordingly. We’ve seen how successful this was in the #Brexit referendum and in the election of #Trump.

So while not dismissing polls entirely, let’s be aware that they are (a) not unbiased at the source i.e. the company that is commissioning the polls and the company that is working on their behalf (b) dependent on media source and editorial bias (c) open to interpretation (d) time-dependent (a week is a long time in politics, etc) and (e) subject to change. It’s that latter point that the Labour Party and other non-Tory parties have to really make the case for.

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Day of Judgement

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By the time this blog is published it will be all decided: Britain will/won’t be at war. It feels very strange writing that. Maybe it should feel reminiscent of WWII; at least that seems to be the aim. There were the bombings in Paris which were truly reprehensible. As reprehensible as the deaths caused by the French retaliation bombings in Syria, with scores of young children, young lives laid out as corpses. Nothing shows the futility of mass murder, through terrorists or governments, as the lifeless body of a corpse.

The propaganda war post-Paris was surprisingly quick as well, with Facebook issuing their ‘temporary’ French flag pin a mere few hours after the bombings. At the time it smacked to me of purposeful emotional manipulation, to gauge what the public appetite was for war. It still does. It gave people the opportunity to feel like they were part of a previous war, part of the French resistance, without doing anything more significant than pressing a button. Solidarity, while necessary in some situations, can lead societies astray in terms of looking at the fine print when tribal hurt has been endured.

There is something strange about this push towards war – it feels totally orchestrated by senior Tories, including the Prime Minister, anti-Corbynites, whose sole purpose in politics now seems to be ABC (Anyone But Corbyn) and Rupert Murdoch. The public don’t want it – after 5 years of Tory austerity and broken promises, and over 14 years of futile and immoral wars in Iraq, the public recognises political subterfuge when they see it. Former hostages like Nicholas Henin don’t want it  and have explicitly said that airstrikes will play into Daesh’s hands, and potentially escalate their recruitment drive. The Express-reading public don’t want it – over 70% of them voted against airstrikes. The Daily Mail doesn’t seem to want it either according to their comment on 27 November 2015. When the Daily Mail has no appetite for war, one should be able to concede that, given the importance of Middle England to any politician, the game is over. This is not a war about glory, or heroism. This isn’t even about waging war on terror – even by Cameron’s own admission, the intelligence services have effectively thwarted seven terror strikes in one year. That seems to be working – so, as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

But Cameron has seemed incapable of accepting this, and this is what is interesting. He has gone so far as to brand the Leader of the Opposition and all who oppose airstrikes as ‘terrorist sympathisers’. Besides this ludicrous and quasi-libellous assertion lies the desperation of a man on whom the screws are being tightened. Some might opine that the real interests he serves are those of Murdoch and Rothschild, with their interests in Genie Oil & Gas. Some might opine that it is the interests of companies like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Boeing, who will surely be beneficiaries of any escalation in the ‘war on terror’. Some might opine this – I couldn’t possibly comment.

But even putting all of this aside and looking at Cameron’s judgement in the past, because essentially when a prime minister sets out the case for war, he is asking us to trust said judgement.  Cameron counts among his friends Rebecca Brookes. He appointed Andy Coulson as his spin doctor. He sold off the Royal Mail for a mere £2bn, which was later proven to have grossly undervalued it, to the tune of £750 million detrimentally to the taxpayer, but to the benefit of George Osborne’s best man. He promised in 2010 that the NHS would remain untouched. He promised in 2015 that tax credits would remain untouched. His party have increased the deficit to £1.5tn, and his enthusiasm in selling arms to Saudia Arabia, Qatar and other reprehensible regimes which should be pariah states diplomatically resemble nothing so closely as a used car salesman. Not to mention PigGate. And this is the man to lead us into an unwanted war and whose judgement we should trust.

The unspoken rule in politics is that we get the politicians we deserve. And in a sense, that is true. No one forced a small majority of the British voting public to put Cameron and his cronies back into power. If the last seven months have shown us anything however, it should have shown us that individual self-interest is not the best foundation on which to cast a vote. As glad as I am that they did it, it was a sad day for democracy when the undemocratically elected House of Lords are the last recourse to hold the Government to account.

And the last five years and seven months should have proven to us beyond reasonable doubt that the interests of the private and public sector – for politicians and Prime Ministers are public servants, after all – should be totally separate. What I will be most interested in after all is said and done, and the votes are counted is who stands to profit from war. Before the UK goes down the path of war irrevocably it would be in the public interest to reveal all those politicians with ties to munitions, banking, energy and pharmaceutical companies, which are all too often mutually dependent. Because as much as politicians and their business bedfellows lie, dissemble, prevaricate and propagandise, money doesn’t. Money reveals the true heartbeat of the war drum and coffers. Let’s uncover that heartbeat.