Another day, another story about how Nick Clegg is going to lose his seat. Yesterday’s was courtesy of a Unite funded poll that said Labour were going to win Sheffield Hallam by 10 clear points.
Whatever the faults you can talk about in regards to Survation’s methodology (this has been brilliantly covered on the UK Polling website already) versus other pollsters, namely Ashcroft who has Clegg winning in the seat (albeit just), there is no doubt that Unite commissioned the poll in order to slap Clegg in the face. Fine, it’s their money. But I think they and others who are on a mission to “get Clegg” should think about what exactly they want to achieve and then reflect on how they are going about it.
Let’s start with the Labour Party and how they think they are going to do in Sheffield Hallam. They are standing a chap named Oliver Coppard. He seems like a nice enough bloke. He’s also very clearly a paper candidate. Let me explain this briefly: a paper candidate is one a party fields even though they know they are almost certain to lose in the constituency. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories field candidates in all 631 British seats (there are 650 total in the House of Commons with the Northern Irish seats – but the three main British parties don’t stand candidates there for a myriad of historical reasons), even ones where they have no prayer. So Labour has a candidate in Witney; the Tories have one in Doncaster North, to take two extreme examples.
Now I have a lot of respect for paper candidates, so don’t think I mean the term as an insult. The people who are willing to stand in an election, even though they know from the outset they won’t win, are a vital element of modern democracy. I have a million times more respect for them than the carpet-baggers who roam from ward to ward looking for any local party that will give them a crack at the green benches.
But yes, Oliver has all the hallmarks of a paper candidate. And the Labour Party are treating him as such, with what I can imagine is a non-existent budget. Well they should be – with Scottish heartlands suddenly to defend, wasting money on a seat like Sheffield Hallam would be madness.
So back to the main thrust of my article: why are the people who keep commissioning these polls in fact helping their nemesis hold his seat? The danger for Clegg is that he gets squeezed; people who are centre-right inclined vote Tory, centre-left voters unite behind Labour and Hallam essentially ends up as a three way marginal that could go any which way. By scaring the citizens of the constituency with the idea that Labour might win, you convince the centre-right vote there to vote for Clegg. If any sort of significant portion of the Tory vote goes to Nick, he’s held the seat. For make no mistake about it: Sheffield Hallam is prime Tory territory. It was a safe Conservative seat for about a century until the Lib Dems got it in 1997. So there are a whole lot of potential Tories to scare.
In conclusion: by all means haters, keep scaring the horses. You’re only helping Nick in the end.