Archive for March, 2009


Jacqui Smith’s Redditch seat: Labour’s odds lengthen

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

General election seat betting


Will the economy save Labour?

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

David Herdson’s first post as guest editor

In another recession, in another country, in another decade, an aide to a presidential candidate once declared that one of the three key themes to their campaign was “the economy, stupid”. In fact, it was the key issue; no-one remembers the other two (which is ironic, as one was “don’t forget healthcare”). The candidate was of course Bill Clinton and he duly went on to defeat the incumbent president later that year.

However, across the Atlantic, another election had also taken place in 1992, also with the economy as the pivotal issue for the voters – and those voters re-elected the government, giving it more votes than any party before or since. Why the difference and what are the lessons seventeen years on?

The crucial distinction is surely the relative trust and confidence the electorate has in the competing parties / candidates. It’s sometimes said that there’s little gratitude in politics. Perhaps so, but the counter to that can be that there’s also not necessarily as much punishment for failings as might sometimes seem justified – especially when the alternatives on offer look worse.

The Conservatives won in 1992 in no small part because their opponents were undermined by their own taxation and spending plans. The severity of the situation meant that the blame game had to be deferred.

Could Labour pull off the same trick? To do so, at least three interlocking conditions will have to be met. Firstly, they need the Conservatives to produce a set of policies sufficiently distinct from their own to make the election a genuine choice and therefore for there to be losers who can be targeted. Secondly, the assumptions Labour’s policies are based on have to be credible, making their opponents measures look excessive. Thirdly, Labour themselves have to be sufficiently trusted to sort out the recession.

To that end, Mervyn King’s comments at the Treasury Select Committee this week, highlighting the dangers of a second fiscal stimulus, won’t have helped if the intention of Brown and Darling was to use the Budget to tax even less or spend even more, nor will George Soros‘ remarks or the less than unanimous backing that Gordon Brown is finding around the world for his stimulus plan.

That said, bankers and financiers are not terribly popular with the public and their opinions could be ignored by the government if it wanted to, even if those opinions are right – or at least, until and unless events force the government‘s hand. In fact, they probably have to ignore them if their political credibility is not to collapse as to do otherwise would be to admit that their entire policy up until now was wrong.

That creates a dilemma for the Conservatives and so an opportunity for Labour. The Conservatives have gone ‘heavy’ on the budget deficit implying that they’d make substantial cuts – an implication that Labour would certainly play up.

The government, working on the assumption that the deficit is both sustainable and necessary, can argue that those cuts would be both damaging and unnecessary. The answer to why Labour is still getting at least 30% of the vote in opinion polls might be found in that debate.

So does that bring us back to 1992? Not yet. There may be a dividing line between the parties and Labour’s assumptions are for now sufficiently credible to enough people to keep them in the game. They are however behind in the head-to-head comparisons.

This week’s YouGov poll gives the Conservatives a 35-25 lead on the question ‘Which party do you think is more likely to run Britain’s economy well – the Conservatives or the Labour Party?’, a 33-23 lead on which party would handle taxation best, 30-26 lead on unemployment and 33-25 on the economy overall (the last three offering all parties as choices). Turning those figures round is the challenge Labour must overcome if it is to stand a chance of success.

David Herdson



Tories move to 44% with ICM

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

CON 44(+2) LAB 31(+1) LD 18(-2)

Sunday Telegraph poll gives Cameron a boost

A new poll by ICM for tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph is just out and sees Cameron’s party edging up further from the last survey from the firm in the Guardian a week and a half ago.

The shares, incidentally, are almost exactly the mirror image of the 1997 general election result when Labour got 44% to the 31% for the Tories led by John Major. The Lib Dems are nearly the same as that election as well.

Alas the electoral system is far less friendly to the Tories and while this would point to a solid overall commons majority Cameron’s Tories would have an overall margin barely a half that of the Labour landslide.

A share of 44% from the pollster is the third best of modern times. We saw 45 point totals twice last year.

There’s little doubt that the survey, from the pollster that’s got the best record over a longer period than anybody else, will give a boost to Cameron as the party starts to get into gear from June’s Euro Elections. It also underlines the trouble that Labour is in.

Nick Clegg will be a touch disappointed because ICM has by far the best record with his party than any of the other firms and its surveys are most closely looked at.

Polls, of course, are subject to a margin of error but it’s worth underlining that every single survey that we have seen in 2009 has had the Tories in the 40s. You’ve got to go back to December, while Brown Bounce II was still going on, to find a poll with the party on less than that.

  • Please note: Morus’s piece on James Purnell has now been put back until Monday.

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    Time to make money on McNulty’s money-making?

    Saturday, March 28th, 2009

    Take the 5/1 that he’ll have to pay some back

    William Hill have just put out a press release about a new market on whether Harrow East Labour MP and minister, Tony McNulty, will have to pay back some of the £60,000 of taxpayers’ money he claimed for the mortgage on a house he owns in his Harrow constituency where his parent live. You can get 5/1 that he will have to pay at least some it back.

    As has been reported this is close to his constituency office and just 11 miles from Westminster. McNulty himself lives in his wife’s house in Hammersmith, three miles from Westminster.

    Two days ago John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, launched a formal investigation.

    Given that other MPs like Caroline Spelman earlier in the month have had to pay some money back after expenses’ investigations it’s hard to see how the hapless McNulty will not be forced to do likewise.

    This is one of those Hills markets that has been announced to the media but is not yet up on the William Hill website. I got £100 on by going through on the phone.

    It seems a great bet and with luck you should have the satisfaction of making some money from the actions of this stupid man who appears to be too thick to realise how his greed is viewed by the outside world.

    Perhaps the Labour and Tory MPs for seats in the capital who do benefit ought to take some lessons from the Lib Dem MPs for London seats – none of whom claim the housing allowance.


    To Play the Queen

    Saturday, March 28th, 2009

    Have we been overlooking a political heavyweight?

    One of my very favourite political TV dramas was the splendid ‘House of Cards’ trilogy starring Ian Richardson as the deliciously malevolent Francis Urquhart PM. I bought the DVD boxset a couple of years ago, but was heartened to see that it was being repeated on cable channels in the last couple of weeks. The first installment (‘House of Cards’) is my favourite, and the finale (‘The Final Cut’) is wonderfully tragic, but the second part (‘To Play the King’) always seemed somewhat fanciful.

    The basic premise is that the PM is irked at the intervention of the new King (clearly based on Prince Charles) into politics, and by cunning, guile, and downright blackmail manages to survive the King’s bounce in popularity which reflects poorly on the government of the day. It makes, or at least made, sense that the writers considered the Prince of Wales to be a more apt subject for a monarch prepared to meddle in affairs of state, rather than HM Elizabeth II, and for that reason the plot begins with her passing.

    What struck me about this week was that there were two royal stories that occupied the Westminster Village. The first was the bill being proposed by Dr Evan Harris MP to remove the restrictions upon Catholics ascending to the throne, or marrying those in line, as well as a fundamental revision of Prima Genita. The Prime Minister is understood to be supportive, and it seems that the Bill may well pass. I confess myself a sceptic – I have yet to see a constitutional change managed well, and even if this were possible I do not think it would be worthy of consideration when there are somewhat more pressing matters for Parliament to consider.

    There is one person whom I imagine would take a very strong view on this bill, to which our Prime Minister has attached himself. As Head of the Church of England and (one imagines) something of a traditionalist, I cannot help but wonder how the Queen feels about the proposals. I struggle to believe that she would welcome them in private, though would not be surprised if in public she retained the impartiality that she has demonstrated for so long.

    The Queen has, over the last half-century, built a reputation upon not wading into the political fray. There have been many moments of crisis and intrigue, and she has remained outwith. But I wonder whether this Bill, in the current circumstances, and towards the end of her reign, might provide the catalyst for her to become somewhat more active than previously.

    The other royal story this week was the unprecedented meeting with Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. The meeting, apparently held at Her Majesty’s behest, was (I am told) the first time that a Governor of the Bank had been invited for a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

    This downturn/recession/depression has already seen some strange possibilities being raised. We have had members of Parliament hinting at the possibility of a Government of National Unity, and we have had European politicians claim that this might be the slump that forces Britain into the Single European Currency. Compared to those drastic measures, is it too strange to wonder if HM Elizabeth II might take it upon herself to become a deliberate political actor?

    It has been mentioned on many times that should the Prime Minister refuse to call an election, then the Queen might dissolve Parliament of her own accord. To do so would mean a breach of modern Parliamentary convention, but is perhaps no more fanciful than some of the stories we have seen in the papers. I would be surprised if it happened, but the idea of Elizabeth II using her considerable influence more overtly and more dramatically than we have hitherto seen?

    You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.



    Could Gord go on governing with this result?

    Friday, March 27th, 2009

    UKPolling Report

    Should the LDs back the seat winners or the vote winners?

    The above vote shares are within the margins of error of current polling and represent what would appear to be most most unfair outcome possible to the general election – Labour getting less than a third of the vote yet just having more seats in spite of being nearly six points behind.

    The line that has come out of the Lib Dems is that they “wouldn’t oppose” the party with the most seats being able to form a minority government. By that they mean that they would abstain on the Queen’s Speech and not vote against. But what that be right in this situation?

    I like posing this to Lib Dems because it goes to the heart of their demands for fair votes. Would they keep in power the party that had lost so much and was so far behind?


    Could Gord going be a disaster for Dave?

    Friday, March 27th, 2009

    Would PM Straw/Johnson/Denham save more marginal seats?

    Just watching Gordon Brown on SkyNews this morning I was struck by the way he sometimes deals with difficult questions by seeking to deny the main premise.

    Thus he was pressed on Mervyn King’s comments earlier in the week and, to the great frustration of the interviewer, he seemed to be stating that the governor of the Bank of England did not say what we all heard him saying before the commons committee earlier in the week.

    This is a technique, surely, that could land him in real trouble during an election campaign when everything the leaders say will be subject to the most intense scrutiny. He might be able to carry through his denial approach in normal times but not then.

    If this morning had happened within less a fortnight to go until polling day it would dominate several news cycles and the PM would not come out of it well. The media are just going to be on him all the time. It is hard to see the campaign itself being anything other than a negative for Labour.

    This all brings me to my big question of today – how would Cameron feel if Brown, for whatever reason, stood aside? Could Gord going, indeed, be a disaster for Dave?

    Labour would have the novelty of an apparent new direction and someone like Johnson or Denham could enjoy honeymoon quite close to polling day.

    The biggest threat to the Tory position at the moment, surely, is having to face a different Labour leader.

    Labour leadership betting.

    William Hill Politics


    Has Gord “bet the farm” on a G20 success?

    Friday, March 27th, 2009

    What if the gathering doesn’t meet expectations?

    There’s an interesting observation by Steve Richard in the Indy this morning comparing next week’s G20 to “the excitement about the early election in the autumn of 2007” which, of course, Brown was widely seen to have bottled out of and was what prompted his first opinion poll collapse.

    Richards recalls that only a fortnight ago Brown was talking about “a grand bargain, a global deal” at next week’s gathering – “Now the bargain looks a little less grand…. the grand bargain is postponed.”

    Martin Kettle in the Guardian is less charitable and suggests that Brown’s job might just possibly become an issue again.

    “..This…is recidivist Brown. He has set expectations too high. His rhetoric left reality standing. From the moment the summit was mooted, Brown bet the whole farm on the rewards of being seen at the heart of the economic summit. As a result, Thursday’s gathering has been seriously oversold as a transformative political event. The danger for Brown is that now, instead of being hailed as the man who led the global economy out of recession, he risks being dismissed as boastful but ineffectual.

    Along with most commentators, I had concluded that the return of Peter Mandelson to the government in the autumn meant that the leadership issue which so convulsed Labour last summer was finally dead until the general election. Now I begin to have doubts. There is talk again, not much but more than for some months, about whether Brown can hold on till the election. The verdict on the G20 will be very important here, as will the budget and the European elections. It can’t just go on like this for another 14 months, one Labour MP complained this week. But it can, and it will – won’t it?”

    Labour leadership betting with Harman the 100/30 favourite.

    William Hill Politics which has 2/1 on Brown not being leader at the election and 100/30 on an election this year.