Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Conference Context

Interviewed this morning on BBC Radio about this week's Labour Party conference, and specifically whether this could be used by Gordon Brown to regain the political initiative.

It's not looking good, as the Prescott headline in The Indpenendent will likely convince more voters that Labour is disunited. One of the golden rules of British electoral politics is that disunited parties don't win elections. The latest Times/Populus survey carried out this month reveals just 22% of the public thinks that Labour is united - compared with 55% saying this of the Conservatives.

It is unlikely that even a good conference will dramatically shift Labour's fortunes - rarely do they change the political weather. Although there's a convincing argument that in 2007 the Conservative conference did.

One of the problems for Labour is that its poll ratings have stayed pretty stable over the past few months, similar to the level the party was recoding in June when the Prime Minister nearly lost his job. And the latest polling further shows the problems facing the government. In the Populus survey, on every single measure Cameron is better regarded - often considerably better regarded - than Brown. These include which party leader is seen as strong and decisive: two attributes many people in the Labour Party think ought to "belong" to the Prime Minister.

Elections are won and lost not only on how the public rate the party leaders, but also on their appraisal of the parties' policies on the issues people care most about. Again the Populus survey is bad news for Labour, with the Tories leading on every single measure, including the NHS (albeit only by three points).

Labour will try to use the next few days to set out its plan for the country; to demonstrate to the public that it has the desire and ideas to govern for another five years. We'll know how successful this has been in a few days... ...before the Tories get their chance to respond

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Internal Comms may never be the same again...

We like to talk about the latest thinking in employee engagement, but this offering from Fenland District Council left us speechless.

Now we're off to East Anglia to find out more...

More on Cuts

I was on the Stephen Nolan show on Five Live about the battle over cuts. As well as sticking loyally to Mark's line, it was a chance to explore the potential impact on the Party's activists from Labour being forced into discussing cuts. Labour's core will be much less likely that the rest of the public to believe that you can have significant cuts in public spending without damaging public services. Gordon Brown's speech to the TUC went down badly enough there: how will it have played in constituency Labour parties?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Labour Cuts vs. Tory Cuts

Gordon Brown’s admission that a future government will need to cut public spending marks a significant shift in Labour’s election strategy. The change in strategy not only reflects the economic necessity, but also political realities and the public will.

A recent Populus poll for The Times showed that 81% of the public believes "it is now inevitable that there will be significant cuts in public spending after the next election regardless of the outcome of the election". A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times found that by a ratio of 3 to 1, the public believes "Britain’s deficit should be cut through cuts in public spending (60%) rather than tax increases (21%)".

Labour’s new strategy of recognising cuts are necessary brings them back into the election game. The key issue now for Labour is their credibility as a potential ‘cutting government’. The public will be asking whether a Labour Government could really make the necessary public sector savings, particularly one that has been in power for more than a decade. When it comes to cutting waste, incumbency is a disadvantage. It is also worth remembering that credibility will not just be gained on what the politicians promise. New Labour believed that its success was built on promising not to be a tax raising government. Yet as MORI’s polling showed in 1997, 2001 and 2005 most people did not believe them.

The Conservatives will be pleased that they have won this key battle between ‘Labour investments vs. Tory cuts’, but now the war moves on to somewhat different territory. The Populus/Times poll showed that the Tories had a ten point lead over Labour (38% vs. 28%) on who could be trusted to cut spending in ways ways "that don't harm important public services and that minimise the negative impact on ordinary people". A few years ago the Conservatives would have been delighted by such a polling result. However this lead is smaller than their current voting intentions lead over Labour . This suggests there still remains public uneasiness about the potential Conservative approach to public spending cuts. The battle lines in the next election will focus less on how much is being cut but where the axe will fall.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

End of the Obama Honeymoon?

The Times yesterday reported that President Obama's poll ratings have slumped forcing him into a rethink of his key healthcare reforms. The claim of an Obama poll slump is significant and deserves a more detailed analysis, as this could be the first sign of the end of the Obama honeymoon.

First it is worth looking at how the American public is reacting to the healthcare debate. The Times is right to point our that only a fifth of Americans believe they will be better off from what they understand about the new proposed reforms, according to the latest CNN/ORC polling. The same survey, conducted between 28th and 31st August, also shows that America is divided in its opinion of Obama's healthcare plans with 48% stating they are in favour compared with 51% against. Tellingly, the differences are not just on partisan lines with younger Americans (aged between 18 and 34 years) broadly in favour (60%) while older Americans (aged over 55 years) broadly opposed (60%).

Healthcare is clearly an issue where the President is losing public support. His approval ratings for handling health care policy has gone from 57% in mid March this year to 44% by the end of August. Yet Obama's wider approval ratings, though down over the summer, remain resilient. We've been monitoring the President's approval rating on a daily basis for the past few weeks, in particular focusing on the daily rolling surveys published by Gallup. Towards the end of last month his overall job approval ratings fell to exactly 50% in the surveys conducted between 24th and 29th August . However, since then, Gallup has seen his ratings rise slightly to 55% in the first week of September. The latest published survey, with fieldwork conducted 3rd to 5th September, has 52% of American's approving of Obama's performance.

When, and surely this is just a matter of time, Obama's approval ratings fall below 50% there will be many commentators arguing this demonstrates the end of the Obama honeymoon. While it is true that this will be a symbolic milestone it is worth remembering that statistically an approval of 49% is no different from 52% or 47% from 50%, as most surveys are conducted to be accurate within a margin of error of plus or mins three percentage points. And even when his ratings fall below 50% he will most likely have more in favour of his performance than against as it is usual to have five to ten percent of people not giving an opinion. When the President finds himself with more Americans disapproving of his performance than approving, the honeymoon will for sure be over.

Obama has indeed enjoyed a strong honeymoon - not so much for its duration, but its height. Between January and June this year in virtually every survey by Gallup (in 146 out of 156 polls) between 60% and 70% of the American public approved of Obama's performance - a consistently high rating, particularly given the economic crisis facing the country. July saw his approval ratings slip with his job average ratings for all the Gallup polls published in that month being 57% and slipping to 53% on average in August.

Part of the appeal of Obama has been the contrast he makes with his immediate predocessor, George W. Bush. While the former President governed for most of his second term with a majority of the public critical of his performance, the beginning of his first term was much different. Although he never began with the highs of Obama at no stage in his first year did Bush's approval rating, according to Gallup, slip below 50%. His lowest was recorded in a survey conducted 7-10th September 2001 when 51% of Americans expressed approval. The events of the following day transformed all of this. By the 15th September 86% of Americans approved of George W. Bush as President and by the 22nd this peaked at 90%.

For those of you who are wondering how this compares to our own Prime Minister's ratings, Ipsos MORI's latest survey, conducted in August, showed just 28% satisfied with Gordon Brown's performance - in fact the highest he's ever been rated was 44% in September 2007.

If you are interested in understanding the reasons for Obama's falling ratings this website is an excellent resource on American public opinion.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

"Universal Healthcare Systems Are Better"

A fascinating review of public attitudes to healthcare systems has recently been released by Gallup, and it provides good news for both universal healthcare systems generally and the NHS specifically.

Gallup compared public attitudes to healthcare among those OECD countries with a universal healthcare system and those without. They found that the average satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare in one's own area was 79% in the 22 universal healthcare system countries, but only 66% in the 8 non-universal healthcare countries. In addition, on average, the public in the former are more likely to have confidence in their national medical or healthcare systems (73% confident vs. 60%).

The cross country analysis also finds that in most countries people are more positive about their local healthcare system than their perceptions of the national system. This has been a widely recognised feature in England for some time - and not just in healthcare. According to the Gallup analysis this "perceptions gap" is highest in Germany and the US. However, there are exceptions, for example in Finland the public are more likely to be positive about their national rather than their local system. These findings of course beg several questions, including what sort of gap is desired or should we aim for no real gap in perceptions, as is the case in countries such as France, Sweden and Ireland? And to what extent are the differences (or lack of differences) due to differing levels of service delivery, media coverage, public scepticism about how their own personal experience reflects national reality, or the effectiveness of nationwide branding strategies?

In the UK, 73% of the public have confidence in the NHS nationally - same as the average of all 22 universal healthcare countries in the OECD. In total, 18 of the 30 OECD countries have lower ratings for their national systems than in the UK. In terms of satisfaction with the availability of local care the NHS does even better - 22 OECD countries have the same or lower ratings than the 85% satisfaction in the UK.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

UKOnline - is it transforming how we deal with government or just helping us become better shoppers?

For over a decade now the UK Government has pursued policies to increase citizens use of the Internet in order to usher in the Information Revolution and in the words of Tony Blair not only to benefit the private sector and wider economy but also for public services to use information technology to help create fundamental improvement in the efficiency, convenience and quality of our services.

A major survey for the European Commission provides some insights into how far this has been achieved, at least from the perspective of the general public.

How Many Online?

The UK has done well in terms of public use of the Internet, with one of the highest levels of take-up across the EU. Four in five (80%) UK adults use the Internet at least every three months; only in Sweden (85%) and DenmarK (91%) are the levels statistically higher. The EU27 average is 68%.

However, with just 30% of UK adults using the net "several times a day" we are in line with the EU27 average (31%) and half the level found in Denmark (61%).

What Do We Do Online?

The chart above shows the activities of Internet users in the UK and for the EU27 average. Brits are similar to other Europeans in mostly using the net to search for information, email or send instant messaging (more than nine in ten Internet users do this). In many ways, UK Internet users lead other Europeans - almost four in five online Brits (78%) buy products or services online (the highest level of any European country), use Internet banking (56% in UK vs 51% in EU27) or use social network sites (39% in UK vs. 32% in EU27).

However, online Britons are no different from the European average in terms of using the Internet for "filling out and sending forms electronically to the public administrations" (46% in UK vs. 45% in EU27). France (63%) and Denmark (61%) head up this league table and a further seven European countries beat the UK on this measure.

And What Impact Has the Internet Had On Our Lives?

It seems the Internet has helped the UK become ever more addicted to shopping. Almost two in five (37%) online Brits strongly agree that the Internet has improved the way they shop (this is twice the EU27 average), though even more strongly agree the net has improved how they keep informed about current issues (53%), improved opportunities to learn (48%) and improved access th health-related issues (42%) - the latter perhaps a sign of the success of NHSDirect, especially given the EU27 average for this factor is just 28%.

It's not just about shopping and getting health information where more online Brits believe the Internet has improved what they do. They are also more likely than other online Europeans to strongly agree that the Internet has improved opportunities to learn and help manage finances (both 12 points higher), improved relationships with family and friends (8 points higher) and improved pursuit of hobbies (6 points higher).

Yet this has not translated into more online Brits strongly agreeing that the Internet has improved "the way you deal with public authorities" as just 16% in the UK say it has (the average in the EU27 is 15%). In Estonia, Malta, Austria and Hungary around three in ten of their online citizens strongly agree the Internet has improved access to their public authorities.

The question for the UK Government then is how much can it learn from other European countries which have been more successful at using the Internet to improve how citizens interact with it; as well as what more can be learnt from Tesco and other retailers where online Brits have been among the most enthusiasitc converts to the benefits of transacting online...

You can download the full report here.