Friday, March 26, 2010

Tory troubles

And now, after the media assuming for the last couple of years that Labour had no chance, the press is full of reports that the Conservatives could lose: for instance, here, here and here.

The most likely result still remains that the Conservatives will be the largest party, but short of an overall majority, giving us the first hung parliament for 36 years (see Simon Hix and Nick Vivyan's forecast here). But with the polls so close, it's time to start thinking of 1992 - Labour were in the lead in the polls for months, but lost, and in the event by a large margin. The polls are only a reliable measure of what people are thinking now, and talk is cheap, but when the election actually happens, decisions will have been considered more carefully. At the moment no potential Labour supporter is feeling that upbeat about the government, but there are a number of reasons why Labour could do better than expected.

For a start, David Cameron seems like a nice guy and Gordon Brown is widely detested, but does this mean the people will trust Cameron to handle a brutal crisis? After all, he and his family are rich and privileged, and cannot claim any experience of how ordinary people live. His commitment to bread-and-butter policies like tax credits, the minimum wage, and investment in health and education can be questioned. Labour has delivered in these areas, and if medium to lower income voters don't trust the Conservatives to protect these policies, they may hold their nose and vote Labour.

It's the economy, stupid. Sure, the economy is a mess, and Brown has been responsible for it since 1997. But does that mean Cameron is more qualified to get us out of the mess? Brown's biggest mistake was to believe the financial sector bubble was real economic growth. But guess what? Cameron made that mistake too - almost everyone did. And who do you trust to bring the bankers under control - a party of trade unionists and teachers, or a party of financiers and businessmen?

Finally, people don't just hate the government, they hate the establishment in general. They may not vote Labour, but that no longer means they will vote Conservative instead. The Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, nationalists, and - sadly - the BNP will all benefit from popular disillusionment. This will cost the Conservatives seats, as will the pro-Labour bias in the constituency boundaries.

Anyway, the Tories may still win, but it is starting to look like they'll have a wafer-thin majority, if any. And that's not a great place to start when you're looking to cut £70 billion in public spending and regulate the financial system.