LABOUR peer and former Lothian MSP George Foulkes wants an independent regulator to ban opinion polls in the run-up to elections.
He has unveiled plans to introduce a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords to set up the new body and give it powers to issue guidelines on when and how polling companies can release information.
Edinburgh-based Lord Foulkes introduced a similar Bill in the Lords at the end of last year, following the independence referendum, but it ran out of time.
He said: “It was motivated in part by the YouGov poll which showed the Yes campaign ahead – it was a rogue poll but it produced panic and ended up with ‘The Vow’, which I think was unnecessary.
“I’m going to reintroduce it this session with renewed reason. Almost all the polls in this election were spectacularly wrong but they influenced the outcome. People paid more attention to the polls during the campaign than any of the policies.”
Lord Foulkes – who proposed a Bill more than 30 years ago to ban Space Invaders – said most polls were in the control of millionaire media moguls. “They do as they wish, choose the questions, where to have them, when to publish them and when not to publish them.
“Although there is a professional body, not all polling organisations are members.”
He said the pollsters had effectively admitted there had been errors in the pre-election polls because an inquiry had been set up into what went wrong. Lord Foulkes said his proposed Ofcom-style body would issue guidelines on leading questions, sampling techniques, arrangements for publication and a possible ban on polls a week or two before an election.
The Lords has just adopted the same ballot system as the Commons for dealing with Private Member’s Bills. Lord Foulkes said: “If I came high up, it could have a good chance of becoming law.”
Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, spoke out against a ban, saying: “Polls provide the most scientific way to listen to what voters think. Democracy needs communication between politicians and voters.
“There are many channels of such communication. Without polls, people with bad views and deep pockets would have one less check on their malevolence; and politicians would be more likely to exaggerate support for their views.
“To adapt what Churchill famously said about democracy, opinion polls are the worst way to find out what voters think – except for all the others.”
WHEN FOULKES TRIED TO BAN SPACE INVADERS
According to Hansard, the “Control of Space Invaders and Other Electronic Games” was discussed on May 20, 1981.
It is reported that the then South Ayrshire MP told the House: “I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower local authorities to control by licensing and through the grant of planning permission space invaders and other electronic games in all premises to which the public have access with or without payment; and for connected purposes.
“The Bill seeks to control “space invaders” —of the terrestial kind— and other electronic games. The motivation is not any whim of mine, but the fact that some months ago the head teacher of Cumnock academy, in my constituency, drew to my attention the increasingly harmful effects on young people of addiction to “space invader” machines. Since then, I have seen reports from all over the country of young people becoming so addicted to these machines that they resort to theft, blackmail and vice to obtain money to satisfy their addiction. I use the word “addiction” not in its increasingly common misuse, as being generally fond of something, but in its strictly correct sense of being so attracted to an activity that all normal activity is suspended to carry it out.”