Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Economy is where dividing line is opening up

The economy is where the dividing line between the political parties is opening up, said Manchester University's Jane Green at the Political Studies Association conference in Edinburgh. The Conservatives had a slight edge on the economy, but Labour was somewhat more trusted on the issue and it was thought that they would do a better job on the economy if they won. This sounds paradoxical, but it reflects voters' uncertainty. As Green put it, prospective economic voting was muddled.

Cameron's personal ratings were going down just as those of Blair did in 1997. But Blair had a bigger lead over Major than Cameron does over Brown.

On party identification, Labour identification had held up, but there was no increase in Conservative identification since 1992 when it fell sharply. This suggested that Conservatives were highly instrumental voters and that their support was more conditional.

Her overall conclusion was that this was an election in which the campaign would be very important.

Tories to win say experts

The view of election experts forming the 'Who will win?' panel at the Political Stdies Association conference at Edinburgh was that Dave Cameron would be the prime minister after the general election. They were less certain whether the Conservatives would have an overall majority or just be the largest party.

It was pointed out that it was puzzling the Conservatives were not doing better given the unpopularity of Gordon Brown and Labour policy errors. It was noted that all governments tended to experience a 'U' shaped trend in popularity during their time in office. It was also questioned whether this was really an election that anyone would want to win given the poisoned chalice they would inherit.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Vince wins, but what's the prize?

Vince Cable was the clear winner in last night's debate between would-be chancellors, both according to an online poll of viewers and my own judgement after watching the programme. Saint Vince did remind us that he had been right all long, but was also prepared to think the unthinkable and say we could not ring fence the NHS without leading to devastating cuts elsewhere.

George Osborne was wearing an over tight suit and was in a bit of a tight spot over the promise to reverse the proposed rise in National Insurance contributions. He claims to have discovered even more efficiency savings. We all know that they exist: on Saturday I got six separate letters with an accompanying leaflet about tax codes from Revenue and Customs. Some were for employers I had done a task for once and was unlikely to do again and once was for a pension fund I am not a member of. But as Vince pointed out, many of these efficency savings are 'pure fiction'. And if they can be made, why not use them to pay down the debt?

Darling batted well on a sticky wicket and did himself no harm. Unfortunately, the audience asked straight and clear questions, but rarely got straight and clear answers, although more so from Vince.

As George Osborne pointed out towards the end of the programme, we are either going to have a Conservative or a Labour Government sometime after May 7th, so there is no prize for Vince. One newspaper suggested this morning that we could have a Lib Dem chancellor, but the Lib Dems are not going to tarnish their identity by entering a coalition.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rich hit hard by Labour budgets

13 years of Labour budgets have hit the rich hard, while the poorest tenth are the beneficiaries according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies: Wealth

Yet one of the Conservative posters mocking Gordon Brown that was launched yesterday states 'Vote for me. Under me, the richer got richer and the poorer got poorer.' The Gini coefficient, which measures the distribution of income in a society, started to deteriorate in the Thatcher years so that Britain became one of the more unequal advanced industrial countries. It has remained stubbornly resistant to Labour's efforts to create a less unequal society.

There are structural forces at work. Unskilled jobs are shrinking because globalisation transfers them elsewhere or brings in migrants to undercut local workers. If it hadn't been for the measures Labour had taken, things would have been even worse. What remains an open question is whether the latest measures are undermining incentives and making Britain less competitive by encouraging people and firms to locate elsewhere.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Polls not good news for Tories

The latest two opinion polls are not good news for the Conservatives. The latest YouGov poll shows them just two points ahead of Labour. A poll in 56 key Labour held marginals shows them trailing Labour: Polls

Although the poll results are somewhat erratic and, of course, subject to sampling error there has been a general downward trend for the Conservatives since last year. Of course, to some expect one would expect this as their policies come under closer scrutiny.

However, their overall message does come as rather negative: 'Isn't Gordon Brown awful?' The other message seems to be 'It's our turn'. That may have some resonance with voters, but it's not enough. One needs to a clearer indication of what the Conservatives would do that is distinctive and would help to improve the condition of the economy and society more generally. At the moment that message is not coming across and there is an over reliance on Dave Cameron's personal lead over Gordon Brown.

Worcester Woman is back!

The ultimate median voter, Worcester Woman, has been found alive and well in the Midlands cathedral city. Registered childminder Julia Langdale was identified as the Worcester Woman in 1997 when she voted for Labour as she found Tony Blair charismatic. Before then she had alternated between the main parties.

Radio 5 interviewed her this morning. Gordon Brown was dimissed as boring and uncharismatic (clearly politics is seen as a celebrity activity). Dave Cameron was found to be smug and uncharismatic. Nick Clegg clearly didn't feature on her radar at all.

She felt that hard-working middle income families like her were seeing their standard of living eroded by tax increases, making particular reference to fuel and beer. Her whole tone was weary and disillusioned. She was uncertain whether she would vote at all, although felt a sense of obligation to do so.

It is the likes of Julia Langdale who will decide who walks through the door of No.10 on May 7th.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The scrumpy Budget

All the talk on social networking sites and on Radio 5 has been about the tax increase on cider. Apparently it has upset a lot of people in the west country, but I shouldn't think that will worry Labour too much given its lack of seats in the cider growing areas.

Although there have been a series of departmental statements about 'efficiency savings' which, of course, have to be achieved, and in any event are not likely to be painless, the real decisions have been postponed until after the election. Should Labour get back, there will be a comprehensive spending review and probably another budget before the year is out. If the Conservatives return, they have promised an emergency budget in 50 days.

Both parties are being very coy about a rise in Value Added Tax. To the annoyance of his colleagues, Alastair Darling has refused to rule it out, but under any scenario, he is unlikely to be Chancellor after the election. George Osborne was evasive when he was questioned on Radio 5 this morning, saying that he didn't have any specific plans, which does not mean that he would not do it.

Osborne was critical of the Government decision to freeze personal tax allowances which was not mentioned in the Budget speech at all, but it is difficult to see what else the Government could do in the circumstances and he made no commitment to reverse the decision.

Labour's strategy in a very political budget was clearly to try and shore up core Labour support with a 'soak the rich' approach, emphasising that 60 per cent of the tax increases would be borne by 5 per cent of the population. Broadly, I would think that the budget is politically neutral as well as fiscally neutral, i.e., it won't shift many votes either way except perhaps a few disgruntled cider drinkers.

I did the budget hour on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire last night and the guy trying to do vox pops at the bus station was getting very little response at all, suggesting a great indifference. People don't like the increases in fuel (the cost seems to go up every time one fills up) and drink, but somehow expect them.

I took part in a panel discussion at Rory Bremner's show at Warwick Arts Centre last night and what came across, not surprisingly, was a great disillusionment with the whole political process. There are no easy answers to that with successive revelations about politicians lining their pockets rather than serving the public interest.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sam Cam is pregnant

The battle of the wives in the run up to the general election took a new turn tonight with the news that Dave Cameron's wife Samantha is pregnant: Sam If Dave wins the election, a child could be born to a Downing Street family for the first time since Cherie Blair had Leo ten years ago. It's quite a change from the days of the cuckolded Harold Macmillan with his prostate problems.

The news gives a more savoury turn to the 'leaders' wives' dimension of the election after it was revealed that 'alluring' pictures of Sam undertaking a modelling assignment over ten years ago were being hawked at a starting price of 25k.

One of the ways in which Dave Cameron appeals to key women voters is a 'family man'. Judgements about the leader are now a key element in voters' decisions and that extends to his wife and family.

Whiteley forecasts Labour as largest party

Writing in the new Political Studies Association magazine Political Insight leading electoral studies analyst Paul Whiteley uses a seats-vote model to forecast that Labour will be the largest party after the general election. He cautions, however, 'The data from 2005 suggest that the parties are so close together that either Conservatives or Labour could be the largest party in the House of Commons.'

He admits, 'There is one complication with the forecasting model, however: it is very difficult to model accurately the number of seats won by parties other than Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. This is because the seats won by minor parties are relatively unpredictable'.

I don't have a model to use, only my own intution and the opinion polls, but I would expect the Conservatives to be the largest party and have a small overall majority. But it's all still to play for.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Tories unleash secret weapon

The Conservatives regard Samantha Cameron as a secret weapon they can unleash in the run up to the general election and she has given an interview in which she talks about Dave's irritating habits: Samantha This is evidently all good populist stuff as Radio 5 picked 'irritating habits' as their text theme this morning.

Various reports have suggested that Sam is not all that keen on politics and there have even been claims that she might have voted for New Labour in the past. Private Eye mocks her as Lady Veronica Starbogling in line with their 'toffs' theme, but she comes across as a modern and personable woman.

It all helps to humanise Dave and present him as something else than a 'Tory toff'. Mind you, Sarah Brown is no slouch either. Whoever wins we hopefully won't go back to the days when Cheri Blair regarded herself as First Lady.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Political mood does not suit Labour

This research on political mood looks interesting and it is not good news for Labour:

As veteran opinion pollster Sir Bob Worcester forecast in his lecture at Warwick University on Wednesday, David Cameron will be asked by the Queen to form an administration on 7 May. Whether as a head of a minority government or with an overall majority remains to be seen, although I would tend towards a small overall majority.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Parties neck-and-neck in poll

Although the Conservatives are doing better in key Labour-held marginals than the country as a whole, Labour are just ahead overall in 100 key seats, according to a poll in The Times today: Poll

If this poll was reflected in a general election, it would make the Conservatives the largest party but deny them an overall majority. There is a still strong mood among voters that it is 'time for a change', but they remain unconvinced that the Conservatives would be the right change.

The Lord Ashcroft affair has not helped the Conservatives, partly because it is an unwelcome distraction but also because it raises questions about David Cameron's character.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Tory lead slips in Labour marginals

Up to now it has always been necessary to qualify comments on the slipping Conservative lead by noting that they are likely to do better in Labour held marginals than across the country as a whole given the resources they have put into such seats. However, this report suggests that their lead there is down to two points: Marginals

The story does give any information about Liberal Democrat marginals which could be crucial in a close outcome.