Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Dave hit hard in northern parts

Labour's core vote strategy, much contested within the party, appears to be reaping some dividends. After a period when the Conservatives were ahead in the north of England (as recently as October), Labour has taken a 44 per cent to 28 per cent lead according to an ICM poll in mid-December.

It is, of course, no great surprise that any Labour recovery should occur first in its northern heartlands. Dave goes down well in Southern England, but less well the further north you go where he can be portrayed as a 'southern softie'.

I recently watched a re-run of the 1959 general election and early results from places like Salford showed Labour gaining ground. Indeed, Labour did do quite well in the north in that election, but no avail in terms of the overall results.

The Conservatives are well ahead in key southern marginals. A minor concern here might be UKIP chipping away at the vote. Of more concern would be any Liberal Democrat revival which reduced the number of seats the Tories could take off them. Nick Clegg will gain the oxygen of publicity from the party leader debates, although he is quite capable of not making best use of the opportunity.

It seems likely that the Conservatives will make substantial gains in the south and less so in the north, making the Midlands a vital battleground, including seats such as Warwick and Leamington where there is a re-match of the 2005 contest.

Dave Cameron has done a good job at re-positioning the Conservatives and making them more appealing to the central portion of the electoral spectrum. However, some older votes retain a residual suspicion of the Conservatives from the Thatcher years.

Voters are faced with a difficult choice between a Labour Party that may not have the bottle to make necessary public expenditure cuts or at least would make them in a way that protected their client groups and a Conservative Party that might be tempted to undertake a 'slash and burn' approach to public services.

At least in principle that should leave an opening for Nick Clegg and some of the things that the Lib Dems have been saying about public expenditure and taxation are quite sensible. However, one should never underestimate their ability to suddenly turn themselves into the 'very silly' party and shoot themselves in the foot.


Justin Greaves said...

I am far from convinced that Cameron has convincingly modernised the Conservative Party, certainly there have not been the kind of changes that occurred in the transition from 'old' to 'new' labour. To give three examples:

(1) Dave's ideas of promoting marriage through the tax system (now re-inforeced by David Willetts). This has too many similarities with the 'back to basics' agenda for my liking.

(2) Removing inhertace tax on all estates below £1 million. Whatever one's views on this, it is hardly progressive (in a tax sense).

(3) A free vote on removing the hunting ban (which would no doubt see hunting returning). Perhaps this could be justified on 'libertarian' grounds but it is hardly going to attract those moderate swing voters.

This is not to deny that Dave has done some positive things, eg: focusing on the environment. But if they had truly modernised perhaps they would have a poll voting consistently in the mid 40s which is really where they should be given Labour's unpopulaity?

Wyn Grant said...

It is supposed to be a centre right party after all, voters need some choice. Labour moved so far they went to the right of the median voter. It's largely a matter of what people perceive anyway: for example 'vote blue, go green' was a very smart repositioning tactic. Labour has now come out in favour of promoting marriage, if not exactly in the same way: Harriet Harman has said there has been too much emphasis on lone parents. I personally don't agree with the inheritance tax changes, at least on that scale, given that inequality has worsened. As for hunting, we know that a small percentage of the electorate care intensely about this issue (on either side) and most of us are relatively indifferent or at least think one has to balance animal welfare and libertarian issues.

Anonymous said...

There still does not seem to be the clear type of economic policy from the Conservatives that 'New' Labour had in the months leading to the 1997 election. While this was more important for Blair and Brown (financial credibility etc), as far as public awareness is concerned, there is a deficit of clear economic ideas from Cameron and Osborne in the run up to the May(?) 2010 election. Perhaps this is deliberate, but it does nothing to reassure voters.

Does anyone have any predictions as to when the election will be and the potential outcome?

Wyn Grant said...

The Conservatives are supposedly making a raft of policy announcements from 4 January. How much detail this provides remains to be seen. You put a question mark after May (May 6 would the obvious date because of local elections) and I have to record a podcast next week on the possibility of an earlier election, probably in March. I would say the most likely result is somewhere between the Conservatives being the largest party but with no overall majority and a Conservative majority of 30-40 over all other parties. Remember the relationship between seats and votes is distorted by the fact that Labour votes are distributed more 'efficiently'.

Justin Greaves said...

I know this commits the 'individualistic fallacy' but my mother (otherwise quite Conservative inclined) says she could not vote for them because of their policy on fox hunting. I think quite a lot of people could feel the same way, and if it comes down to a close contest parties are going to need all the votes they can get.

I agree with Wyn on his predictions for the election outcome. I don't agree with all the simplistic analysis in the press, however, saying the Tories need to be 10 or 11% ahead in terms of the popular vote to get an overall majority. This assumes a uniform national swing (which just doesn't happen nowdays) and there is evidence to suggest the Tories are doing better in the key marginals they need to win (and the tactical voting which has worked against them in the past few elections will probably start to unwind). Just a hunch but I reckon a lead of 7% or so would get the Tories in with a bare majority.

Wyn Grant said...

What they offering is a free vote on the hunting legislation, it will not be a whipped vote. They do have to offer something to their activists. One of the uncertainties is the Liberal Democrat performance, not just in terms of share of the vote, but also whether they can retain seats where the Conservatives are the main challengers. They could well lose quite a few in southern England.