Sunday, 28 February 2010

Dave in trouble

Dave Cameron has to make the speech of his life at the Conservative conference today after the latest YouGov poll in the Sunday Times showed that his party's lead over Labour had shrunk to two per cent: Poll

One should not make too much of one poll, and certainly not try to read the result of a general election off it, but there clearly is a trend. One point that emerges is that the 'Bullygate' affair has done Gordon Brown more good than harm. On the whole, voters don't want a wimp in Downing Street. The improved economic figures may also have helped.

Dave Cameron thinks that these polls may help him once voters realise that they are faced with another five years of Gordon Brown. However, voters may decide that they don't want five years of Dave Cameron either and not vote at all or vote for a minor party - where they have plenty of choice. The poll suggests that attacks on Dave's background are starting to make an impact in terms of his empathy with ordinary voters.

It seems to me that Dave's messages are overwhelmingly negative: I'm not Gordon Brown; austerity; broken Britain etc. Instead of engaging in more attacks on Gordon Brown's character he needs to give voters more positive reasons for voting Conservative.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lack of enthusiasm for Clegg

One of the great imponderables of the election is how many seats the Conservatives will take from the Liberal Democrats. Once elected, Liberal MPs embed themselves well, but some incumbents are retiring. And in many seats newcomers in the constituency exceed the Liberal majority.

The Times has taken a look at some marginal Lib Dem constituencies in the West of England: Knife edge

It's interesting to read some of the vox pop comments about Nick Clegg: 'wet lettuce' and a 'wimp'. I have to say that I thing Clegg singularly unimpressive. And we know that voters' perception of party leaders does count.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Prime monster

This is the headline in the Currant Bun this morning after allegations of bullying in No.10 Downing Street. I heard the rather whiney chief executive of the Bullying Helpline on Radio 5 last night claiming that members of staff there had rung for help. She stated that she was non-political, and no doubt she is, but the whole episode has given her organisation some helpful publicity. Downing Street has requested that details of the complaints be provided, but no doubt this request will be refused on the grounds of confidentiality.

Downing Street is a high pressure environment. People work long hours in physically cramped conditions and have to respond very quickly to rapidly changing events. It is stressful and no doubt staff do feel the sharp edge of the prime minister's tongue from time to time. But one is reminded of Harry Truman's phrase: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'

All this has, of course, distracted attention from Gordon Brown's campaign slogan launch at Warwick University on Saturday. Sunday's YouGov poll saw the Conservative lead cut to six points, although I am always cautious of reading too much into one poll.

The Sunday Times thought that the cut in Dave Cameron's lead might have something to do with Gordon's rather mawkish television interview last weekend. I think that it has probably more to do with the negative tone of Dave's campaigning: austerity, broken Britain etc. People want some positive messages and some hope for the future.

Friday, 19 February 2010

New votes to seats model

Political have revised their votes to seats model. This gives the Conservatives a 100 per cent chance of an overall majority with a 7 or 8 point lead, and a 75 per cent chance at 6 per cent: Model

Sunday, 14 February 2010

X Marks the Box

An interesting blog here on voting where you can also download a free electronic book on the subject: X Marks the Box

The author was interviewed on Radio 5 yesterday and takes the view that we should exercise our right to vote.

City cash swells Tory war chest

The Conservatives will fight the election on a surge of City cash, according to a Financial Times analysis that shows that donations to the party from the financial sector have more than quadrupled under Dave Cameron's leadership. One would expect donations to increase as an election approaches, if only as a precautionary move to ensure access to decision-makers if needed, but it's an interesting piece of analysis nevertheless: Donations

Friday, 12 February 2010

Interesting choice for Stratford selectorate

The 900 members of Straford upon Avon constituency Conservative association face an interesting choice when they meet to effectively choose the new MP for the South Warwickshire constituency next Friday.

The outgoing MP, John Maples, attracted controversy by advocating all women shortlists as deputy chair of the party. As it so happens, four of those on the shortlist are women, one the daughter of a Conservative MEP and one a former ambassador. Another candidate is the co-founder and chief executive of YouGov who happens to be a British Asian (and one of two candidates who has served on the flagship Conservative council at Wandsworth).

The final candidate, Philip Secombe, is an estate agent, a district councillor and chairman of the constituency association. Will the choice fall to a local man?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

It's being so cheerful as keeps me going

This was the catch phrase of Mrs Mop in the wartime radio show It's That Man Again and it seems that it could apply to British voters who are very gloomy about the state of the country: Broken Britain

I find it difficult to recognise the country represented in the survey as the one I live in. I suppose it's reflective of people who complain that Britain is like a third world country without ever having been to one. For example, Chile may be only a few years off developed status (at least its new president thinks so) but the standard of living enjoyed there is well below that in the UK.

Britain enjoys reasonably good public services. It has world class football (and top events in many other sports). The standard of theatre, opera and other arts is generally good and a wide range of music events to suit all tastes is available. The countryside has a diversity in a small space that is found in few other countries and there are plenty of historic sites to visit if that's what interests you. And if shopping is your life, you are spoilt for choice. The one downside is the winter weather and lack of light.

42 per cent of those interviewed say they would emigrate if they could, perhaps to Australia where they might be greeted with some justification as 'whingeing Poms'.

The survey will be mood music for Dave Cameron and his 'broken Britain' thesis. However, he has to be careful. If Britain is broken, can he put it back together again? Moreover, gloom and pessimism can actually disempower people from working towards effective solutions.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Raising revenues

I always find David Smith's Economic Outlook column in the Sunday Times Business News worth reading and this applies to his latest article: Economy

He refers to the worthwhile efforts of the IFS to offer a menu for possible tax rises and refers to the option of widening the VAT base rather than simply increasing it. There is no logical grounds for many of the exclusions, but politically they are more difficult to remove.

Increasing VAT on books would bring the whole literary establishment down on the heads of whoever introduced it and would be denounced as a 'tax on knowledge'. The exemption of children's clothes is a clear anomaly (some smaller women benefit from it) but originated in a very clever political campaign started by a mother when VAT was first introduced. And that was in the days before the whole crowd became such a powerful political force.

As for placing VAT on food, that would be a clear tax on the poor who spend more of their budget on such items, although I wonder if one could get away with placing it on sugary drinks and other junk foods?

What makes economic sense is not always politically practicable.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Beware of the uniform national swing

Justin Greaves has drawn to my attention an interesting piece which underpins the argument advanced here that the Conservatives might expect to do better in key marginals than the uniform national swing might suggest:

A follow up piece here suggest that a Conservative lead of 5 to 6 per cent could be enough for an overall majority: Lead I'm not sure I agree with that, but read the reasoning for yourself.

A slight easing of the Conservative lead in the latest poll led to excitable media speculation (as reported by Radio Scilly) about the election being called earlier than expected. The real lead hasn't changed that much, although a 2 per cent improvement in the performance of the Liberal Democrats could be significant.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Don't cut too soon

Respected independent research institutes such as the National Institute for Economic and Social Studies and the Institute for Fiscal Policy are now calling for public expenditure cuts to be deferred: Cuts For the IFS Green Budget go here: IFS

This is posing a bit of a dilemma for Dave Cameron. Feedback from the doorsteps was already suggesting that the austerity message was not going down too well. However, restraining cuts has not gone down too well with party activists, many of whom are well to the right of Dave. He also has to soften his tone without seeming to wobble.

One suspects that once again the electorate wants to have its cake and eat it. They accept the idea of cuts in hypothetical terms, but resist most specific cuts. For example, there has been a big row in Warwickshire about effectively ending the county's musical education service. It will save less than one million pounds, illustrating the rule that small programmes tend to cut first and harder. Personally, I think that music has a great deal to offer as part of an educational programme, but it does show how difficult it is in practice to cut anything.

Philip Stephens had an excellent essay on this in the Pink 'Un the other day which is well worth reading: Stephens

Monday, 1 February 2010

The 1992 show?

Peter Hain thinks that Labour could pull of a surprise 1992 style poll victory: Hain

The difficult with this analogy was that John Major was a relatively new face in 1992 and, whatever else people thought about him, they generally found him personally likeable. Gordon Brown has been a major figure for thirteen years, initially in a 'dual monarchy' leadership.

Hain thinks the opinion polls are overstating the Tory lead because it's not 'cool' to admit one is backing Brown. No doubt when it gets to decision day some loyal Labour voters will reluctantly stick with the party, if only for fear of something worse. But it could also be seen as not 'cool' to be a Conservative.

What Dave Cameron has to be careful of is not talking the country down too much, either by predicting a Greek-style collapse of the public finances or over emphasising the broken society theme. If he can't give people some hope for a better future, they may not be enthused about voting for him.

Interestingly, Hain does admit that Labour has been losing ground in Wales, in part as a result of social changes. This is not insignificant given that the principality is somewhat over represented at Westminster: Cymru