Sunday, 24 February 2008

Northern Rock attack misfires

Polling evidence suggest that the ferocious attack mounted during last week by David Cameron and George Osborne on the prime minister's handling of Northern Rock has not resonated with the public. A YouGov polled conducted for The Economist found that only 5 per cent of voters blamed the government for the crisis at the bank, while almost two-thirds thought the Conservatives were playing politics by opposing its nationalisation.

A Populus poll reported in The Times gave a more nuanced picture with blame shared out among Northern Rock's management, the subprime crisis in the States, the regulators and the government. But there is no evidence that this is turning into a equivalent of the 1992 Exchange Rate Mechanism crisis which severely damaged the reputation of the Conservatives as managers of the economy. Indeed, in the Populus poll, Labour has regained its lead over the Conservatives as the most competent economic manager.

All this is resonating in the Conservative Party with the website warning that there were 'real concerns about George Osborne's tendency to be too political.'

However, rich individuals are increasingly throwing their weight behind the Conservatives. £11.3m poured into the Tory coffers in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with £5.9m for Labour, of which 77 per cent came from the unions with nearly half accounted for by the Unite super union.

Admittedly, the biggest sum for the Conservatives came from Monaco-based peer Lord Laidlaw who converted £3m of loans into a donation to the party. The Sainsbury family was split, with Sir Timothy and Lord John giving money to the Conservatives, while former science minister Lord David is one of Labour's most generous donors and gave them £2m in September.

However, a Mr Gordon Brown of 10 Downing Street, SW1 donated £89,708, most of which was left over from his party leadership campaign.

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