Talking to a number of people who know more about electoral politics than I do at the PSA conference in Swansea confirmed my intuition that we are experiencing one of those sea changes in British politics (of the kind that happened in 1950/1, 1964, 1979 and 1997) that may see Dave Cameron installed in Downing Street. I still think that the result in 2009/10 might be a hung Parliament and that the Conservatives might need a follow up election to get a working majority (as Labour did in 1966 after winning a virtially non-existent majority in 1964 and to a somewhat lesser extent in October 1974).
It seems to me that Labour has made a number of fundamental errors of judgement which show that they are losing touch with the electorate, just as they did in the run up to 1979 and the Conservatives did in the late 1980s.
I haven't got time and space to discuss all of these mistakes, but I want to focus on some of them. First, the increases in taxes on alcohol will do little to curb binge drinking, but have upset many core Labour voters who enjoy a few pints in their clubs or pubs.
It's always a mistake to upset the licensed trade and many publicans have put up posters banning the hapless Alastair Darling from their premises. It has even happened on the Isles of Scilly, where Harold Wilson is buried, according to my friends on Radio Scilly ( Scilly ). Of course, Alastair Darling is hardly going to make a pilgrimage to Wilson's grave any time soon, but that is not the point: publicans can have quite a substantial informal influence on their customers - they are 'opinion formers' in the jargon. (According to Radio Scilly, a recent visitor to St.Mary's turned down an offer on a tour to see Wilson's grave, asking to see the nearby vet's house, followed by the question 'has she got a man yet?')
The other decision which I found quite extraordinary was the abolition of the 10p tax band. Indeed, it has provoked a revolt among normally loyal backbenchers and even one minister which the whips had to smother. Apparently, there has been some talk of amelioration at the margins but this will do little for relatively less prosperous core Labour voters who will be hit quite hard by the change.
According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies the Budget will leave 5.3m households worse off, in particular those earning between £5,345 and £18,500. They will be hit by the changes in income tax and national insurance, while those earning more than £18,500 will gain. The apparent justification is to simplify the tax system, but this seems to be a bureaucratic rationale rather than one understanding of the position of the very people Labour is supposed to be helping.
If that was not enough, Labour is also setting out to offend another group of core voters by holding back public sector pay. This is supposed to be a move to fight inflation, but no semi literate economist believes this explanation. It is because the public coffers are empty.
Middle Britain is currently taking a big hit from higher mortgage interest rates (which are currently not much affected by adjustments in the Bank of England rate), higher utility bills and higher Council tax. It is not a recipe for Labour success in the local elections or the next general election. Like many governments that have been in office for a long time, they seem to have lost the plot.