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Why oh why are the Tories not home and dry?

Posted on 24 February 2009 | 9:02am

Polls are the junk food of journalism. They are a cheap(ish) way of guaranteeing a front page lead and (provided it has a suitably negative headline about Labour) a sombre pick up on the morning reviews of the papers. But of course with every passing poll and every passing headline, it gets harder and harder to generate something ever more cataclysmic to justify the fat cheque to ICM, Mori or YouGov.

So, penetrating the joy of the Oscars, and Britain’s fabulous success there, the Guardian pops up with ‘Anyone but Brown – poll blow for PM.’ Oh come on, surely you can do better than that. Poll blow!! I mean, there have been so many of those you can feel the tiredness in the hand of the headline writer as he pens it. ‘Anyone but Brown…’ ok, that’s at least trying a bit harder, but it still feels a bit, well, straining for attention that isn’t quite merited.

Funnily enough I was doing an interview with The Guardian yesterday, as I may have told you. Decca Aitkenhead, she of the Monday morning interview, said she wanted to ‘honour’ my website (I can’t wait to see what that entails). And when we got on to politics, she kept trying to get me to say Labour was basically bollocksed because the Tories have been so far ahead in the polls for so long. ‘Look at the polls,’ she kept saying ‘they’re consistently twenty points ahead.’
But they’re not.

There in the Guardian today, they are twelve points ahead. Now think about it – we have had the most sustained period of economic bad news any of us can remember. The country has had to borrow unprecedented sums of money. There have been huge redundancies made by high profile employers. There has been talk of plots and disloyalty within the Cabinet as people wait for Gordon to fall. We’ve even had stories of police cutting numbers, of the BNP rising, of rows over Post Office and pensions, of torture, of civil liberties being eroded, of ministers taking too much in allowances, on and on has gone the diet of news that is bad for the government.

But take a closer look at that poll and what does it say – Tories down 2, Labour down two, Lib Dems up 2. If I were a Tory (a bit like saying if I were a Blackburn Rovers fan or a Martian, but bear with me) I would be asking myself ‘how on earth are we only twelve points ahead? And how in God’s name has our support managed to go DOWN in recent weeks?’

Far be it from me to offer them any advice, but I think they may find the answer in the public sensing something really quite unpleasant about their strategy. It is a strategy purely based on exploitation of Labour’s difficulties, not rooted in an analysis of the country and policy ideas to take it in a different direction.

Has Cameron said anything remotely worth listening to in recent days? No, and until he does, he will not seal the deal with the country, and Labour remain in the fight.

  • olli issakainen

    Andrew Rawnsley wrote a very good article in the Observer called Do the Tories know what they would do with power. In it he says that Conservatives lack proper programme. They just flirt with latest intellectual fashion and then drop it (like politics of nudge).

  • Michael J Flexer

    Exactly right, AC. Am curious as to how Gordon and the Government’s ratings compare to incumbent parties across democracies affected by the global downturn. Would also be very surprised if any – bar the most ardent Tories – would favour the policy vacuum that is G Osborne over Darling and Brown when it comes to responding to the crisis. Though a staunch Labour supporter since able to vote, one of my largest criticisms in the past has been the party’s timidity in government. Not so now. Am genuinely awed by Brown’s performance in the past six months; a courageous pragmatism we always suspected he had. These polls can be corrosive to both confidence and conviction. Labour must stand firm and united. Importantly – as it seems to be doing at present – the Government must form policy in response to economic reality not the journalists’ imaginations nor the electorate’s nervous caprices. We have a year of tough economic management ahead. Let the results of that be what we are judged on at the ballot box, not our weekly tally in the pollsters’ popularity contests.

  • olli issakainen

    Andrew Rawnsley wrote a very good article in The Observer called Do the Tories know what they would do with power? In it he says Conservatives lack a proper programme. They just flirt with the latest intellectual fashion and then drop it (like politics of nudge).

  • Paul Barlow

    Absolutely! If you look at how far the Tories were behind in the mid-1990s we’re doing pretty average for a government at this stage in a normal 4-5 year period, let alone 12 years into a Government! And still they can’t create anything of a lead (and in many polls remain behind) on economic competence.

  • Marcus Dillistone

    Because the Tory party has been in the wilderness for so long it has failed to attract serious commitment politicians. Consequently the party is populated by ‘hobbyists’ and ‘wealthy opportunists’ who seek self-gratification through power.

    The Tory party is not even unappealing medicine – it is an unappealing placebo.

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    Simple, really: there are a lot of incredibly tribal people in the UK. Any rational person surveying the wreckage of the economy and the deranged ramblings of the monocular mentalist would be reaching for the piano wire and scaffolding. However, a staggeringly large number of the electorate would, quite literally, vote for a turd with a red rosette on it.

    Well, they would if the turd would hold an election.

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    Some practical comments on your blog, Alastair:

    1. Have you heard of this new-fangled thing called “paragraphs”?
    2. Your website is “pretty” to look at, but “pretty awful” in the usability area. It is hard to navigate and hard to link to posts.

    Still, at least the content is more interesting than Dolly Draper’s Dementia. Just please have a look into those paragraph thingies.


  • Jonathan

    Think that you might be over-reading the significance of a dip in Tory support. A 2% reduction in a sample size as small as this could easily be statistical error.

  • Jack Maturin

    Following on from Obnoxio’s comments that you also haven’t published, as well as the Labour tribe in this country voting for a turd, so long as it wears a red rosette, Labour has bought half the electorate with state funding stolen from the rest of us.

    If I was a 40 year old Tax Credits claimant adjudicator in Middlesbrough, earning £40,000 a year with a gold-plated pension at 50 when I plan to retire in ten years “due to stress”, then I would keep voting Labour too.

    I would estimate that my salary by then would be about £60,000 and I would get 90% of this for the rest of my life, index-linked, and paid for by the as-yet-unborn children of the tax payer class.

    All I have to do is time-serve for another ten years, wait for my last big promotion to “Senior Tax Credits Claimant Adjudicator”, and then flake out at my desk the next day due to the “pressure”.

    If the Tories get in and sack me, after abolishing tax credits and replacing them with a general all-round tax cut, this strategy is screwed.

    I’ll have to get a proper job in a town with a 70%+ majority of the ‘workforce’, running on the government’s drudgy wage bill.

    Because I speak an incomprehensible lingo which even people in Sunderland find difficult to understand, I’m stuck here, plus I’m a bit thick. And if the government jobs get cut, then I’m really buggered. Who on Earth would employ me? What use would I be to anyone? I can avoid answering the phone, avoid reading filled-in forms, and run my eBay business 2 hours a day from my desk, run my Middlesbrough FC fanzine for an hour a day at my desk, start at ten, finish at 4, take 2 hour lunch breaks, Fridays and Mondays off every second week “on the sick”, and get free bacon butties every morning in the staff canteen, plus six weeks holiday every year. But what use am I otherwise?

    So I’ll keep voting Labour until the end of the next major Ice Age – even though I know they’re a bunch of lying, thieving, stealing, jobsworth, [expletive deleted]s. I especially know they’re useless because I work for them, so every day I see their wasteful policies in action (eg. employing me to run a private eBay business when a private company would kick me out on my derriere).

    That’s where the 28% is coming from. It won’t drop much lower, if at all, except perhaps to switch to the BNP.

    Democracy is a God that has failed.

  • Fugitive Ink

    Those paragraph breaks were a whole innovation, btw.

  • J Lewis-List

    Where the Tories are in the polls at the moment is largely academic; what matters is the state of the parties at election time. What is clear is that Mr “Five initiatives a day before breakfast” continues to turn of the floating voter with his insistence that none of the mess he has created is anything to do with him. Meanwhile Labour MPs continue to trough at our expense; who was it who said his party would be “whiter than white”?

  • Alina Palimaru

    I suggest the motto of the Labour campaign be ABC (Anyone But Cameron). It’s likely to catch on…although Labour is running more on what they stand FOR rather than what they stand AGAINST.

  • Hababuk

    3rd of March will be a test of the water in Norwich. Even those despairing of Labour are not automatically jumping to Cameron – they can’t envisage that he would handle the global effects any better!

  • Caroline Hett

    If you don’t trust the polls, perhaps you should get Gordon Brown to call an election?

    Most of the newspapers are now turning/have turned against Labour. Because most newspapers like to side with the majority of their readership, not a particular party.

    I honestly think the time for left right politics is now almost completely irrelevant.

    Have you see this poltiical compass?
    It is very interesting. I am a very extreme Left Libertarian which means I will never get anywhere in politics as all modern politics is Right Authoritarian. Very interesting to see the US Presidential election candidates’ political positions on the compass.

    Do you suppose the Dalai Lama really took that test?

    I think there is a single question that you can ask people in order to determine what sort of a person they are and where they stand politically: What do you value most, justice or mercy?

  • Caroline Hett

    By the way the Tories can’t be home and dry, until an election is not only called, but declared, in their favour. I thought you were a pedant?