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February 03, 2016


Dave Timoney

Some critics will attempt to justify their claim that a candidate or a party is "unelectable" by appealing to psephological data (e.g. Peter Kellner), while others reveal through their intemperate whining that they simply find the candidate personally objectionable (e.g. Peter Kellner).

This is narcissism pure and simple: the delusion that the electorate accurately reflects their own prejudices and that therefore their opinion is decisive. All too often, "unelectable" is merely a euphemism for "impermissible".


I agree with the sentiment, but I find the reasoning flawed. You're essentially saying that because someone's previous prediction turned out to be incorrect, all of their future predictions will be.

Suppose that the prior chances of Corbyn winning the leadership were 5% and yet it happened (which is entirely possible). Someone who said "Corbyn won't win the leadership" was entirely justified to claim that, and would usually have been correct, but got unlucky and was not. Corbyn getting elected was a statistical outlier. Now assume again that the probability of Corbyn being the next PM is 5%. The same individual would again be entirely correct in putting forward the claim that Corbyn will not be the next PM, and yet you are dismissing their view because the unlikely happened before and their previous prediction turned out incorrect, despite the fact that they were just unlucky.

The bigger issue is, however, that the chances before may have been a lot higher than 5% and may again be a lot higher than 5% for Corbyn to become PM, but this message is not apparent in the media because of other factors like groupthink, politicians not understanding probabilities and the media having no incentive to give Corbyn a better chance of becoming PM. Simply dismissing it as "the pundits were wrong before and therefore they will be wrong again" is logically lazy at best, I think.



"You're essentially saying that because someone's previous prediction turned out to be incorrect, all of their future predictions will be."

I not sure you've understood the article, that's not what is being said at all. The point isn't about the previous predictions of a particular person, it's about the inherent nature of predictions and their unreliability.

Nom The Pom

I agree, it's an irritating trope that serves to trivialise and dismiss. It also reduces the whole complex business of political activism to the simplistic and barren matter of winning or losing an election. Something the other Labour leadership candidates seemed incapable of grasping.

GreenEcon, I don't think you summarised the point correctly. It's not about making predictions, it's about patronising the dissenter and refusing to engage with the issues.

gastro george

The Blairites compound their own mythology by insisting on Blair's electoral triumphs when, as you imply, a donkey with a hat on could have beaten Major in 1997.

Deviation From The Mean

"Jeremy Corbyn isn't anti war just anti West"

Totally pathetic on every level. What I would expect from the drone supporting left!

And any idiot with an IQ over 2 can work out the substantial points of this article thanks very much.

You should have written a piece on how the bubble assumes most of the electorate are imbeciles.

City boy tosser!

Roy Lonergan

How about probably unelectable? Sufficient humility?


Jonathan da Silva

It's even funnier largely from a wing of the Labour party who just got their **** handed to them 2 straight elections and whose candidates has absolutely nothing to offer and on Austerity had policies to the right of where Osborne ended up after the laughably 'independent' OBR found a few 10s Bns to subsidise more friends.

I wish Labour could put up a genuine Social Democrat or even someone on right who was at least not a kleptocrat nor neo Liberal (if you say whatever that means please use Google). It can't?

I thus hope the clown show gets its act together. This Govt is eminently opposable.


While I agree with the sentiment you seem to overlook the very real proportion of people who say "he is unelectable" meaning "I'm trying to make him lose by hanging this label on him so you don't give him your support or think about his policies".

It's not just a prediction, it's also an attempt to undermine.

Sadly people don't see through it as readily as we would like.


«Remember the old adage, “oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them”? What if we were to have another recession? Or if the Tories were to split themselves over Europe? Corbyn wouldn’t look so “unelectable” then.»

For the next election there are three main possibilities:

* Southern England house prices go up: G Osborne becomes prime minister on the back of his success.

* Southern England house prices stay the same: B Johnson becomes prime minister promising to push them up.

* Southern England house prices fall: J Corbyn becomes prime minister as southern english voters punish the party who lost them money.

It is mostly as simple as that. Austerity does not matter to winning elections, even cutting benefits does not matter, Europe or a recession matter very little indeed.


I think you are wrong. The Corbyn win and the biased response is not the result of some abstract problem in probability. It reflects the class division of society and the increase in inequality since 1979. The bulk of people who voted Labour in 2015 did so despite not because of the policies of the Labour Party. A gulf has opened up between the comfortable people like most of the Labour Parliamentary Party who only seem to want careers as politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Lots of the people who attack the new Leadership may have been radical in their youth; but have become well off and out of touch. Their former belief in a more equal society is now a youthful embarrassment. Attacking Corbyn is about denying their own former selves as well as doing the work of their employers in the case of the journalists. The silense of the critics as the Tory Government literally pauperise millions and take away social protections created over decades tells you all you need to know. Which side are you on? In the case of the media pundits the wrong side.

The Stigler

It's true that the Conservative majority wasn't the predicted outcome, but Conservatives as the largest party was. The polls weren't that far out.

Corbyn won't win, because his politics have never won. Kinnock couldn't defeat the Conservatives in an election with the economy in trouble, and Neil Kinnock had more moderate policies and didn't mix with the dodgy characters like Corbyn does. It would take something more like a depression for Corbyn to get elected and I think that's extremely unlikely.

And I don't actually believe there's a strong anti-Establishment perspective. There are small numbers of loud people that talk up people like Trump, Farage, Sanders and Corbyn, and the news media, which is much more interested in entertainment, loves to cover them. But they don't win. Jeremy Corbyn's current standing is little more than people who will always vote Labour.

Martin S

You've missed out two things. 1. That the evil Blairites mean what they say. 2. That it's based on evidence - ie polling and election results.

"One is that it presumes that elections are predictable. But they are sometimes not."

So we can cite 1970s-era Margaret Thatcher, 1992 and 2015 as examples when the pollsters and pundits got it wrong. But most of the time, the conventional wisdom is right.

Margaret Thatcher defied predictions because (unusually) she improved as she went on and the winter of discontent happened (ie "events"). If Callaghan had called an Autumn 78 election, the conventional view would have been vindicated.

She's also a wild card because she's a woman. She wasn't anyone's idea of what a prime minister looked like - until she became one.

"'Unelectable' can be used to close off debate, to shift discussion away from policy and towards pseudo-technocratic psephology."

You're at a disadvantage if you're putting forward someone who is outside mainstream ideas (or prejudices) of what leaders should look like (eg Ed Miliband, IDS and William Hague - and pollsters did a pretty good job of predicting their lack of success).

And if you're putting forward a set of non-mainstream policies, you will find it harder to win elections - because most people are risk averse. It would be nice if that weren't the case - but pointing it out is not an attempt to close down debate.

Sensible politicians make a calculation about working for what is achievable. Or they play safe - by presenting themselves as more conventional than they are (as Thatcher did in the 70s).

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