April 22, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
It’s worth ignoring the polls at the moment. They are coming up with huge swings, with some suggesting the Conservatives on 36% and Labour on 32% and some suggesting the other way round. People who like doing that sort of thing have delved deep down into the data and found explanations for some of the anomalies and differences, with one commentator on the 36% Conservative result showing for example that a poll in which DE voters (unskilled working class and non-working) shows a large leaning towards the Tories should be treated with suspicion. It is far more interesting to look at other evidence, from the many unattributed briefings that journalists are getting to, listening to their official statements to just reading the Conservative manifesto. The evidence is clear. The Conservatives are panicking.
It’s no surprise really. Just think about what they have achieved, they took over from one of the most ineffective and unpopular Prime Ministers in history, with the economy in dire straits. High unemployment, inflation, recession, and a deficit of £168bn. They could point at the fact that of the G7 countries, the UK had arrived at the Global recession with a much higher deficit than anyone, due to the spending that had taken place during the period of economic growth. The Conservatives got (they thought) gifted an ineffective and weak opposition leader in Ed Miliband, propped up by the unions, looking weird and offering nothing more than irresponsible socialism. The Conservatives presided over an economy that has created over 1000 jobs a day, with two million in total over the course of Parliament. They arrive at this election with growth at a sustainable 3% a year, zero inflation (so the cost of living is definably not rising), and rapidly falling unemployment, with youth unemployment at its lowest level in 50 years. Yet they could lose. David Cameron has got to be thinking – “if I can’t win under these circumstances, maybe the problem is me.”
Which explains the signs of panic we have seen. Their election campaign, under the guidance of the combative Lynton Crosby, has been negative and narrow, Crosby’s job has been just to win the election, which he is trying to do without much thought for the long-term consequences for the party, and now the country. The narrowness of the repeated reminders of the Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan” has undoubtedly put some voters off. On Sunday, for example, they sent out six press releases to journalists, and five of them were about the ‘dangers of the SNP’.
They have shown little vision on education, the NHS or other important policy areas, hoping that the proceeds of growth will be all people need to know about to trust them to do fine with the other areas. Where they have shown vision, with their plan to offer all those who live in Housing Association properties the “right-to-buy” at a discount, they have been ridiculed, given their vague plans for building homes to replace them, and the knowledge and experience that many will sell their new homes quickly, leaving the properties, like many sold off council houses in the 80s, in the hands of private landlords able to charge gouging rents.
Then there are the giveaways. Not content with £7bn of tax cuts announced last September on the personal income threshold and the higher rate of tax, they added a rise of the inheritance tax threshold. Most ridiculously, they have announced, a full six months after the NHS Chief Simon Stevens explained that the NHS needed £8bn a year to be able to continue to operate efficiently, that they will fund that. Only, they won’t say how. First of all, if they knew they were going to do that, why didn’t they announce it in October when Stevens released his report? Secondly, it is not good enough simply to say that “we have a balanced plan to deliver growth that will pay for this”, and assume we will just trust them.
The Tories are panicking, and it doesn’t look good. In Finchley and Golders Green, the former seat of Margaret Thatcher, a Lord Ashcroft poll suggested that the incumbent Mike Freer could lose his seat to Labour’s Sarah Sackman. Freer’s response? The poll was done on Passover and Jews don’t answer their phone then, and so the poll didn’t include them, and they are likely to vote Conservative as Labour are less supportive of Israel. I imagine Sackman being Jewish would be irrelevant then?!
If the Tories lose, they have only themselves to blame. The economic fundamentals are great, and when we arrived at the election David Cameron had a major advantage on Ed Miliband in terms of leadership ratings. But this has been a terrible and uninspiring campaign for them, and Labour, in my opinion, are doing as well as a party in their position possibly could. Miliband has looked assured, and each time he appears on television people realise more and more that he could be a perfectly effective Prime Minister. They also have a clearly set out vision of changing the way capitalism works, and for whom it works, and those who were worried about Labour in terms of leadership and the economy are having their concerns assuaged day by day.
Yes, it may be that in the privacy of a poll booth people stick with the incumbent party with the strong economic record. But every day, bit by bit, the number of people who will do that is going down,