End of year round up

When commentators write about polls they often fail to resist reaching for the cliche of saying the polls are extremely volatile, or even that there is unprecedented volatility. Often what they actual mean is that differences between pollsters or normal random sample error are spitting out apparently contradictory figures. Polls are not normally particularly volatile over the short term, the pattern of public opinion is normally pretty steady with occassional step changes in opinion. In that sense I was almost tempted to say that this year was particularly volatile… until I looked back at last year, compared to the sharp reverses of 2007, 2008 was pretty staid.

Nevertheless, There were two big step changes in support during 2008. The first happened in the spring and, while it is never possible to pin these things down exactly the polls seemed to turn around the budget. There were no particularly unpopular measures in the budget and the polls showed that the majority of people supported the measures in the budget. I suspect the reason it was followed by a drop in Labour support is that it made the economy troubles real for the first time and, as I argued in this post last week, Labour’s summer travails and autumn recovery do seem to have gone hand in hand with the public’s hopes and fears on the economy.

The turnaround in the spring was not, however, all about Labour. The local and London elections also contributed to that shift – the halo effect around the Conservative victory in London and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election saw their ratings jump upwards. Heading into the summer we saw some huge 20 point leads in the polls as the government’s dire position was compounded by leadership ructions breaking into the open. In Populus’s annual conference poll the percentage of people who thought Labour were united had fallen to 23%, thirty points lower than a year before. There were bigger opposition leads in the mid 1990s, but they were from pollsters who had yet to make adjustments after the 1992 debacle. If you look at ICM, the only pollster who uses more or less the same methods now as they did back in 1993-1997, the Conservative leads in summer 2009 bore comparison to the Labour leads when John Major was in office.

Then everything changed.

When I did my round up last year I said I doubted that it was possible for Labour to regain a lead in the polls under Gordon Brown unless there were “events [that] changed the whole world around”. Strictly speaking, Labour haven’t regained a lead in the polls, but an “event” did happen, and it did indeed turn British politics around.

The bail-out of British banks resulted in a miraculous turn around in Gordon Brown’s ratings and Labour support in the polls. If you look at the polling figures it appears that Labour’s recovery dates from conference – but I think that’s merely a result of how granular voting intention data is. If you look at the only daily data that’s available, the Phi5000 tracker on PoliticsHome, you can see that Labour and Brown’s conference bounces were already receeding from their conference increase when the bank rescue came along and up they went again, and have kept on upwards since then.

Since the bank rescue all the polling trends have been positive for Labour. The party’s share of support in voting intention polls has risen, Gordon Brown’s own ratings have shot upwards, with growing proportions of people once again seeing him as strong and capable. The Conservative lead on the economy has vanished. Labour’s rebels have melted away and, while I haven’t seen it asked, I would be amazed if polls didn’t show that people think the Labour party are united again. We shouldn’t overestimate the change – Labour are still behind in every poll, government approval ratings are still negative, but the turnaround is still stunning.

So, what about the way forward? Anyone who has read my article before Christmas about the economy will be able to guess what I expect to happen next year. There are several ifs, but if the recession bites hard next year, companies continue to fold and unemployment and repossessions rise, my expectation is that this recovery in Labour’s support will reverse. Labour’s increase in support corresponds with an increase in economic optimism over recent months – as Britain falls into official recession and the bad news keeps on coming, that will fall and those people who have supported Gordon Brown in the hope that he can limit the damage will be disappointed.

That’s just my guess. I wouldn’t have guessed that Labour would have recovered to the degree they did after the bank bailout, and this is very much uncharted territory, so while I think next year will be bad for Labour, here are two alternate ways that it could play out that are more positive. Firstly, while I expect Labour’s support to fall again in the face of economic bad news, I don’t know how long that might take. The last two YouGov polls indicate that perhaps the trend is already reversing, but it not Labour could continue to gain. Temporary blip or not, if they start to record poll leads over the Conservatives then the pressure really would be on the Tories and the media narrative would be even more in Labour’s favour. Say the economic bad news takes months to sap Labour support, say for the next few months Labour continue to go up in the polls, say they are still ahead at the end of April and Gordon Brown goes for it, calls and wins a general election. It’s possible.

Another alternative would be if the government’s economic policies actually do work better than everyone expects. Everyone seems to be predicting that the economy will be very bad indeed next year, but I’m no economist. If there aren’t lots of companies folding, unemployment is kept to reasonable levels, the economy really does return to growth in the third quarter of 2009 – more importantly, people are never given cause to lose their newly-regained faith in Gordon Brown’s handling of the economy. As I said before, the passing of the crisis isn’t an automatic win for Labour – it could mean people are more willing to risk a novice – but that’s far from a given.

My own opinion remains that this is a brief recovery in the government’s popularity and that bad economic news will grind their support away next year. What I think is clear however is that things are far less certain than they appeared a year ago.


85 Responses to “End of year round up”

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  1. Anthony, an excellent article. I havent commented for a long while as i feel that a lot of what i had to say had already been covered. However i have always felt that the downturn in this governments popularity was when the economy started to slide and as soon as people seen other countries in the same position as our selves then they realised it was not really the governments fault but a worldwide epidemic and thats why the polls have narrowed.
    I also believe that if the news and media continue their “credit crunch” headlines we will be lucky if there is any one working next year as no one will be spending anything, making banks the heroes again.
    A happy and prosperous new year to you all

  2. An excellent summary but almost all concentrated on the Government; we all know the perceived wisdom that Oppositions do not win elections Goverments lose them so fair enough.
    My question is to what extent the financial (becoming economic) crisis has led to a greater focus on the opposition policies and their key people than usual at this stage in the cycle. I recall weaker numbers for Cameron and the Conservatives on Economic competence.
    My poser is how much this was simply because Brown (and Darling) seemed to be doing better and how much was because of the Electorate have been judging the Tories less favourably?
    If the latter the Turnaround may not occur.
    The Osborne question again.
    Can the Tories get back to 45% regularly and do they need to?

  3. 2007 was the story of the SNP

    2008 Conservateve Party was forgiven and seen as a possible party of Governemnt once more by the British people,or more precise the English people.

    2009,Will,whether we like it or not,be the year of the BNP/UKIP,the former will make massive breakthrough gains in Labour heartlands in the N-England,In the European Elections,UKIP will also do fantastic,I am not saying it is a good thing about BNP gains,it is however going to happen in my view,they are the fastest growning political Party in the country.

    The BNP breakthrough is going to cause constination among rank & file Labour MP’s,it could cause massive splits in the Labour Party,mostly from vunerable Labour Backbench MP’s with wafer thin majorities.

    The Conservative Party in my opinion has just got to sit tight,make no gaffs,and whether it be 2009/2010,it is theirs for the taking.

    A year ago the Tories were still seen a un-electable,the Local Elections changed all that,they were forgiven,and seen as a Potential Governemnt for the first time since 1997..

    I sincerely believe that this will be Daja vu in 2009,and this will be the final nail in Brown’s coffin,the Labour Party will panic,they will get betwen 20-25% in the Local Elections,UKIP will hoover up protest votes about the Lisbon Treaty in the European Vote,this will result in Labour disarray June 2009.

    It the GE has not been called by OCT 2009,the Irish 2nd vote on Lisbon,will make Brown so unpopular their will be a leadership election to force Brown out,as the Labour Party will deduce they face a GE anyway,they no longer need the dead wood that is PM Gordon Brown.

    It may be wishful thinking but this is the course of events i envisage.

  4. Excellent summary Anthony and I agree with you that a steady feed of bad economic news throughout 2009 is likely to gradually erode the Governent’s rating in the polls. Whether this will be gradual or there will a tipping point is unclear.

    In the run up to the next GE I’d like to hear from both main parties just how they intend to get the UK back onto a firm financial footing again because neither party has been specific as to how they will do this and what difficult and painful decisions will have to be taken. More openess and honesty would be welcomed from both parties (I can dream).

  5. As I see it, the main reason for the “Brown Bounces” during 2008 were simply down to media exposure. Any time when a party gets headlines and press coverage (unless it is grossly negative) they seem to benefit in the opinion polls. Party conferences are a good example of this.

    In many ways, the credit crunch has helped Brown by masking his running of the economy and convincing (some) people that the problems are largely global. Also, being in Government, he is able to take remedial action, whereas opposition parties can only critisise. Whether or not the action will work could take years to fully determine, by which time other factors will come into play.

    Overall, there is everything for both Labour and the Conservatives to play for during 2009, however, the longer any party stays in Government the more unpopular they tend to become. Brown’s best chance is probably a Spring election, but I feel that he will hold out untill the last minute in the hope that the economy will improve.

  6. Neither UKIP or the BNP will do anything of any substance though the recession may well see their votes rise.

    UKIP are a bit of a joke at the moment and really only grew because the most eurosceptic of the main parties looked unelectable. Now that the Tories are back in the lead UKIp will be lucky to keep what they have at the European elections.

    The BNP may well pick up another handful of seats at the local elections and the press will again make a meal of it, but i both votes and seats they will still be tiny.

    As for Scotland things are definitely getting tougher for us. We have the responsibility for government in a recession with limited powers and shrinking resources.

    We also have an opposition that seems to have found it’s feet at last. the current tactic seems to be to claim that the SNP isn’t delivering and to attack every unpopular action we make.

    A classic example is the attacks on both LIT and SFT. The LIT ( Local income tax) proposals are being attacked as a tax increase and a burden on business, although with the Council tax freeze, it actually represents a cut in the overall tax burden.

    The SFt ( Scottish futures trust) won’t deliver what we first hoped although by effectively arranging the finance element with commercial lenders rather than have the bidding consortium do it we should elimenate the worst of the excess profit making.

    What is in part annoying about these attacks is that as well as attacking the SNP for not delivering on LIT and SFT they are also voting against them in the parliament, sort of;

    “the SNP have broken their promise to introduce the thing we have just voted down”

    Equally the fact that Labour still hasn’t said what it’s reforms for the Council tax will be two years after it tripped up Jack McConnell in the election and that they still support PFI/PPP even though with the credit crunch it’s doubtful if you could currently finance one even if you wanted too, does make you want to ask;

    “Well okay if you don’t want LIT or SFT what’s your plan”.

    Still I shouldn’t grumble in Scottish terms we are still ahead of the position we were in when we won, and we still have two years till the next election.

    As for Westminster if it’s a close election we will be squeezed as Scots turn out in numbers to keep the Tories out pushing us below 10 seats. If Cameron re-establishes his lead on bad economic news then I’d expect us to be around 15 seats, but not much more.

    Happy new years folks.

    Peter.

  7. Peter:

    You are too pessimistic about your party’s prospects.

    You won’t get blamed for the recession. People know that it’s not your recession and you arn’t the main players in dealing with it. You could well make the point that it wouldn’t have happened in an independent Scotland if banks had adhered to traditional (and arguably typically Scottish) banking values.

    Negative campaigning doesn’t work. You should rejoice that the Labour party doesn’t know that. Everything you do can’t be wrong and about to bring the world as we know it to an end, yet that’s the Labour line.

    You are right that nearly half way through this Scottish Parliament, you are in a more favourable position than when you won the election. Have you considered my analysis that Glasgow East may have been an outlier with local issues which were not spoken of for legal reasons and that Glenrothes was in line with the real underlying upward trend in SNP support, much less dramatic than the frankly unbelievable rate of increase mistakenly assumed to be responsible for the result in Glasgow East? If there had been no election in Glasgow East, the Glenrothes result would have been in line with expectations.

    Keeping the Tories out may squeeze your vote in LibDem seats where the Conservatives are in second place (though maybe not 3-way marginal Argyll, if you look like winning) and where the Conservatives are first or second to Labour but not where the Labour vote looks flaky and you are lying in second place.

    You also overlook the SNP government’s record. My impression is that there are many things which you have done that are of no interest to most urban voters and even less interest to the press, especially the London press.

    I reckon you’ve got the pig farmer’s vote. The initiatives to help the industry may not work as well as hoped, but you will still get credit for trying and full marks for listening even if they don’t work.

    Now of course there arn’t enough pig farmers to win any extra seats and many pig farmers probably voted SNP last time, but there is a steady stream of new initiatives addressing rural issues. They don’t get into the newspapers, but the seats you hope to gain are the ones where these things matter.

    There is a very large number of these initiatives.

    Can I prove my point by asking who on this site can describe Bluetongue or Gyrodactylus Salaris, or what the response of the Scottish Government has been?

    If you want the comfort of reading favourable comment on the SNP government, don’t read the Scotsman. Read the agricultural, fishing and wildlife press.

    If I am right, you will see no sign of growing rural support in the media and maybe not even in the polls, but you might in local canvassing or party membership in target constituencies.

  8. Excellent analysis, Anthony.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  9. Thanks Anthony-a great read as ever.

    Happy New Year to all.

  10. Finally had a chance to begin reading The World in 2009, and it sounds as subdued in it’s projection as you do Anthony. Well, Anatoli Kaletsky accepted: he makes me sound optimistic…! :o

    My predictions – for what it’s worth:

    Green-shoots of economic-growth in 2009Q4 [FY, not CY] will be too late to save Labour.

    Public will want a tax-reducing budget, and will not accept Defence-cuts. This means Education and Health budgets will have to become more reasonable (with a knock-on effect in the Branett Formula, etc.]

    Scottish Nationalism will be subdued until 2015. Two English (Tory) governments may re-ignite the embers, but with the price of oil as it is, Scotland is better-off the pampered child then an as an isolated adolescent. [Figuratively, not in terms of history.]

    BNP and UKIP will not make great gains this year, save in Gary Elsby’s Stoke. The English Democrats face a tough battle, as the Tories return as England’s natural-party-of-choice. Should the English electorate be denied by non-domicile minorities in GE 2009/10 that may change.

    Ant’, are you doing a party-by-party review this year…?

  11. John,

    I am not particularly concerned about the SNP’s position, but it will be a tougher year than last year and therefore I expect progress to be slower. Much of what happens will be determined by what is done at a UK level as that is where the major financial decisions are made.

    In that respect while the focus is largely on London not Edinburgh and therefore the labour Government and not the SNP we will find it harder than it has been the last year or so. That’s not ideal but we just have to live with it.

    The interesting period will be the spring and summer when we need to strt to get major pieces of legislation on to the statute books. Another will be the Council tax figures. We look on target to freeze it again this year and with darling looking for significant cuts in some public spending we could see rises of about 5% in England.

    It will be interesting to see how Labour in Scotland sets about condemning LIT while their favoured alternative is rising above inflation in a recession.

    It might also again raise the whole Barnett argument if the Mail or Express decide to make a issue of tax rises for English Tax payers while the we get off “Scot Free Again” ( which they might well just abbreviate to SFA…..)

    Fluffy,

    As for more than a decade we have been saying that Oil revenues should be invested for the future the Oil argument isn’t one we’re really dependant on.

    It’s the fact that it is an erratic that makes it ill suited for core public expenditure, that and the fact that it won’t last forever.

    What will become an issue with darling set to Borrow at record levels is the power of the Scottish government to borrow on it’s own account or indeed depending on what comes out of the Calman commission assigned borrowing, where Scotland gets to borrow a Barnett style lump sum of the total UK borrowing.

    Peter.

  12. Interesting times.

    Anything could happen and I would not be surprised to see a GE with a very small Labour majority in 09. But then… nor would I be surprised to see a comfortable Conservative majority follow a GE in either year….

    Overall, however, I expect a hung parliament with the Conservatives requiring Unionist support to form Government.

    Then what would happen?

    As I said, interesting times.

  13. Fluffy Thoughts

    Just some information which you mightt find useful.

    The SNP actually increased its vote by 50% at Glenrothes. This was a safe Labour seat with a majority of over 10,000. Labour, with some press assistance, have persuaded the light thinkers, that it held onto Glenrothes agains the odds when in fact it held onto an ultra safe seat with a vastly reduced majority (as the result of one of the most dishonest campaigns I have seen in my many years of activism).
    On this the fiction of Scottish Labour revival has been invented.
    The SNP vote continues to grow across Scotland (the last two council by-elections recently showed swings of 5% and 15% to the SNP in areas traditionally represented by Labour).
    I think the full extent of the almost complete collapse of the Labour Party in many parts of Scotland (it is much more pronounced in Scotland than it is in England) will become very apparent as the year 2009 goes on.
    Nn reality the Labour Party in Scotland is operating now mostly through its media representation and not on the ground at all..

  14. A good analysis. For me, the next election depends on the “best placed economy” line. If our recession is deeper and more painful than other countries, Labour will plummet. If it is either shallower, or at least is seen to be shallower, than other countries then they could well take a lead and another term in government.

    Which leads to some counter intuitive support from myself. I want to see the back of Labour, therefore I want a long and deep recession. But, I really don’t want a long and deep recession – who would?

  15. The last two polls of 2007 show the cons with 5pt lead and the first of 2008 with a 4pt lead. And I expect the first polls of this year to show either a 4 or 5pt lead for the cons.

    By Feb 2008 the cons repeatedly showed a 9pt lead. I’m guessing this will happen again this year.

  16. I’m predicting a steady decline for the Labour party to about 29% up until the June elections in the Locals and European elections. After then, things will become dire for the party after a resurgent Conservative party regains support.

    UKIP and the Lib-Dems will lose support to the Tories in the Euro elections as eurosceptics and moderates will want to give the Government a bloody nose (just like they did last Summer) and prepare for a new Government in 2010. I suspect that in the locals, the Conservatives will seize many Labour councils in the Midlands e.g. Northamptonshire and possibly even Lancashire in the North as well as the Lib-Dem controlled Devon and Somerset councils in the South West.

    I suspect that the Lib-Dems may force out Nick Clegg as leader after a dubbing in June and then maybe Chris Huhne or very possibly, Vince Cable takes over.

    To ensure they can sustain their regained strong position, the Conservatives really need to develop a firm, detailed and well articulated Economic policy.

    One thing may change all of this though; a shadow-cabinet reshuffle, where Ken Clarke replaces George Osborne. With Eurosceptics in the party bickering about the issue that cost them the 1997 and 2001 general elections, voters will likely switch to Labour and possibly the Lib-Dems once again.

  17. Sorry, I meant Nottinghamshire.

  18. The reason i believe that UKIP/BNP will do well is simple,take the SNP for example,they have already peaked and are declining,sometimes the journey is better than arriving.

    The SNP were never going to be able to implement their Manifesto,Labour give them the rope and they hung themseleves,being a minority Governemnt is mostly a excuse.

    First time buyers grant-scrapped
    student load debt abolishment-scrapped
    matching Labour’s school buliding program-scrapped,the list is endless.

    The SNP promised the earth and didn’t have the money.

    The thing is the BNP/UKIP are never going to be in that position,they are never going to gain power,therefore they will continue to attract a massive protest vote,that is what happened in Scotland,around half the SNP vote in 2007 that brought them to power,was a protest vote.

    I am a Tory,i am against the Lisbon Treaty,and more furious that i don’t have a say,therefore if i vote Tory a Euro Elections,no on will know i am voting against Lisbon Treaty,they will just know i am a Tory,if i voted UKIP on the other hand there is no such confusion.

    Before the economic crisis,the number one issue for the whole of the English electorate was immigration,therefore the same argument applies to the BNP in my opinion,people can use this vehicle to register a protest vote against the government..

    The BNP is the 8,872rd most visited website in the world,the most popular Party website in the UK,40% of people agree with BNP policies,until they hear that the policies are BNP,then this falls to 12%(SKY NEWS SURVEY),i do not support the BNP,but they are a reality,and they are gaining more and more votes,especially protest votes,i myself am from the midlands,however with family in the North,the whole of England would be amazed at the growth of the SNP in traditional working class Labour constituences,just because it is being supressed by the media dosn’t make in not true.

  19. This year could see Labour out of control in every county council – looks to me like Derbyshire is there only chance of keeping control.

  20. Philip

    Ken Clarke is a big-hitter and can easily mix it with the best of the Labour party, however, he comes with baggage and was (I think) in the cabinet during the 1993 ERM fiasco, so he would present Darling with an easy target as a shadow front bench Minister. He is also becoming somewhat “mature” in years and does not represent the future. I reckon that he could have a role to play, but of a peripheral nature.

  21. Of course tit depends what you mean by control – if Norfolk is anything to go by the Labour Party controls it through the fact of most managers being Labour Party members or supporters. responding to Labour Party targets.Certainly there may be a majority of Conservative councillors but these people are figureheads.A fair number are over 70 and looking to supplement their pension.

  22. In 2008,only 10% of the council seats were up for election,it nearly caused a leadership election after the terrible performance of Gordon Brown,this time the other 90% are up for grabs,fun times ahead me thinks.

  23. Thank you Anthony for another thoughtful summary.

    May be I’m anticipating too much but I think there is a G20 meeting in London in April which will be Obama’s first major international conference and also his first important meeting outside the USA. As Gordon Brown will be chairing that, it seems more than improbable that he will not try and milk that for all its worth! In such circumstances what might be the prospects for a June election to coincide with the European and Local polls?

    It would also avoid the possible damge from those polls that some of your contributors have implied. On the other hand it would give the Tories the prospect of being the only Party to Guarantee a vote on Lisbon!

    Anyone offering bets and at what odds?

  24. Richard

    The SNP vote has continued to increase in all elections to date.

  25. Thanks Anthony. Happy New Year. :)

    I agree with your assesment. I think Labour’s second bounce will go the way of the first, but perhaos not in quite such spectacular style. More a grdual decline this time, than the instnace bursting of the bubble the occured after October 6th 2007.

    Will Populus be polling this weekend do you know?

  26. Thanks Anthony. Happy New Year.

    I agree with your assesment. I think Labour’s second bounce will go the way of the first, but perhaps not in quite such spectacular style. More a gradual decline this time, than the instant bursting of the bubble that occured after October 6th 2007.

    Will Populus be polling this weekend do you know?

    (reposted for spelling. If you could deleate my first post, ta)

  27. Unlikely to be a June General Election. Simple reason; The Labour party’s still severely in debt and cannot afford to run a campaign it would like.

  28. It’s a bit off topic, but in response to the claims that Ken Clarke may be given a front bench position I think it is very unlikely. The reason is that the second he comes in front of the media they will constantly question him about his euro stance until they get what they want (which is a contradiction between him and everyone else in the shadow cabinet).

    On the question of the election date I have thought ever since the pre-budget report that the Prime Minister must go sometime in the spring this year. The reason is that the government staked their political future on a fiscal stimulus not only easing the downturn but in the Chancellor’s estimation actually ending the recession by the end of Q2! All independent estimations are predicting that the economy will be contracting all the way through this year and some of next year.

    Now imagine the situation where Darling has to stand up in the House of Commons and announce “the recession has not ended as we said it would, as a consequence we are borrowing even more than we said we would be borrowing and as a result I must announce more future tax increases.” The election would surely be a landslide.

    Therefore, in my opinion, the Prime Minister must avoid at all costs that situation where the reality completely contradicts the governemnt’s claims about the fiscal stimulus. Now it may be the case that if the government calls a spring election they could be the smallest party in a hung parliament. However, to my mind the longer the election is delayed the greater chance the Conservatives have of forming a majority.

  29. Intersting read Anthony.

    With regards the other posters and their predictions, its like de ja vu, you have all been saying the same thing for months.In fact I could take a post from any month from the last 12 change the poster and it would be virtually identical to the ones above….keep up the good work chaps, it is very entertaining.

  30. Excellent article, many thanks for all the work done during the year.

  31. Philip:

    “UKIP and the Lib-Dems will lose support to the Tories in the Euro elections as eurosceptics and moderates will want to give the Government a bloody nose”

    Wishful thinking and trolling

    Now while I recognise that rationality is not what UKIP members are best known for, but did “euroseptics and moderates” ever – in the election before the last one for example – vote Labour? If not, adding UKIP votes to the Conservatives isn’t going to make much difference. There arn’t any LibDem euroceptics and only for FPTP Westminster do LibDems vote tactically.

  32. David:

    “I think the full extent of the almost complete collapse of the Labour Party in many parts of Scotland (it is much more pronounced in Scotland than it is in England) will become very apparent as the year 2009 goes on.”

    Would you agree with me that Scottish Labour activist’s ill will towards the SNP has its origin in the defection of former colleagues the SNP? I am not a member of either party, but if you are a member of the SNP, perhaps you can tell us if many of your members were formerly Labour activists.

    Morale of the troops is important, and sometimes critical, in any battle.

  33. Peter:

    You focus on the same issues that the press and your opponents would.

    One issue that is dormant just now and will be for most of 2009 is nuclear power/WMD where the UK government will lose especially if they win.

    My Pig Farmer point is that in government you are building depth into your support. It must be helpful, though I don’t know how to evaluate that against yet another headline warning us that the last time Scotland was independent there was no electricity so if you vote for the SNP the lights will go out.

    The recession may be helpful to Scottish agriculture, and exports including tourism. These happen to be particularly important in your target constituencies.

    Anyway, the recession isn’t going to affect Scotland. As everyone on this site knows, nobody in Scotland is going to lose their jobs because they all work in the public sector except the pensioners whizzing about the country with their free bus passes or being looked after at the taxpayer’s expense or else they are students who don’t pay fees and can afford to be drunk all the time. The students, unlike the pensioners do have to pay for their drugs, but maybe you could do something about that.

    The biggest part of the public sector in the NHS. There can hardly be any voter who is not or has not themselves been employed, or who does not have a close relative, neighbour or friend employed, in the NHS. Even fewer have not been a patient at some time.

    It’s not that NHS staff will vote SNP to protect their pay as the free market zealots will say, imputing their own values to others. For the first time in the working lifetime of most staff, they have a government that eschews free market fundamentalism, gimmicry and frequent reorganisation. That novelty will be rewarded at the polling station, and the uplift in staff morale will improve outcomes in a way that money can’t buy.

    There are the national issues which you and the press focus on, and there are local issues which were hugely to your advantage in Glasgow East, but there are also regional issues.

    I’m about to have some of the strange bird in the kitchen for dinner. I’m told it’s a pheasant. I wouldn’t know or care if it was a raptor. I do historical clarinets.

    Others know and care more than I do about raptors. Every week I hear of some initiative or solution to a problem which the Scottish government is dealing with concerning birds, fish, small mammals or plants.

    In rural Scotland there are many who care about such things. Often they are retired English middle class. They get their information from sources other than the newspapers, and they are sympathetic to a party that appears to be addressing their concerns. The previous government wasn’t inactive, but the SNP appears to be busier on rural issues.

    The argument you have put for the underrecording of LibDem support in opinion polls applies also to regional issues and all of those that are to the SNP’s advantage not only happen to be relevant to target constituencies, they are practically unheard of in broadcasting studios and newspaper offices.

    It’s not pork-barrel politics. Its pig farmer politics.

  34. Anthony

    An excellent round up of 2008 and the possible scenarios you envisage for 2009.

    It is my belief that there is one issue that could well be added to your article and that is the overall strategic political implications of the Global economic crisis.

    With out a doubt, Free Market Fundamentalism and the 30 year political orthodoxy of which it created is crumbling before our eyes.

    It is very true that if – which is very possible – the UK and Global recession bites deeply, then the Labour Government may see its support slip in the polls. The extent to which this will or will not happen is very much open to debate.

    However, there is one thing which is clear and that is that the prevailing economic and thus political momentum is firmly behind the Labour Party and the Centre-Left not just in the UK but arguably across the Globe too, even including of all places the US.

    The election of Barak Obama in the US and the disdain felt by the electorate across the Western World and particularly the UK towards the Free Market ethos, its institutions and its dire effects is a strong testament to this.

    In this context although the Conservatives are currently 5% or so ahead on average in the opinion polls, given the severity of the domestic economic crisis and the political momentum being behind the Labour Government and the fact that it acted decisively in rescuing the financial sector from collapse the Conservatives should be commanding a substantial poll lead. Therefore there is a huge window of opportunity and potential for the Government to seize the intiative.

    However, there is also danger for Labour and potential for the Conservatives to attempt to generate some momentum and seize the initiative as a new Right Wing populism could well appeal to the electorate which fears for the security of their jobs, homes and the future.

    Notwithstanding this it is undeniable that it is the Labour Party and the Centre-Left which will be generating the ideas that will stand a greater chance of resonating with the times and being successful in establishing a new Political Orthodoxy.

    Whether the Government grasps the nettle and creates a radically different policy agenda and whether the Conservatives can develop a populist Right Wing narrative are the two biggest question of all and only time will tell.

  35. Yes – interesting read ANTHONY – but if Labour stood any chance of a recovery it would have happened by now – it ain’t gonna happen now.

    Gordon Brown has fired his best shots – he has nothing left but plenty of eye catching media moments to come.

    Reminds me of dictatorships around the world – who always start their news on TV with the words “The President says” and so on – recently watching British news channels they all started with “Gordon Brown says” – mmmm !

    Great POLLS to come & of course different devastating elections for Labour & the Liberals in elections in the early summer .

  36. Are we expecting any polls tonight – first of 2009 and all that?

  37. The only people to raise concerns about personal lending in the past 10 years has been the centre-right,in both the UK & USA.

    In the UK the Labour Governemnt dIdn’t wnat market forces,they directly incouraged lending by British Banks,to UK citizens to buy homes,NOT THE FREE MARKETS MT FREIND,PRESSURE FROM GOVERNMENT.

    IN the USA it was even worse,again it was the Dems who lobbied Fannie & Freddie to do more Risky loans,to make sure they did this they gave a implicit guarantee of the debt,backed by the USA Governemnt,thats why they had to take them over,AGAIN,NOT MARKET FORCES,BUST-BODY LEFTIES,STICKING THEIR NOSES IN TO MANIPULATE LENDING,NOT THE THE FREE MARKET.

  38. Well said Richard.

    The history of Freddie & Fannie is a condemnation of Clinton & the Democrats who used & abused them for political purposes & stood out against the regulation they needed.

    A failed financial regulatory regime are Mr Brown’s contribution to this disaster.

    They’re all of them busy re-writing history now.

  39. James Thurston

    “Notwithstanding this it is undeniable that it is the Labour Party and the Centre-Left which will be generating the ideas that will stand a greater chance of resonating with the times and being successful in establishing a new Political Orthodoxy.”

    I hear what you’re saying and I know where you are coming from but the Government’s biggest problem is that they have run out of money. Any swing to the left will just demand more money which we don’t have.Much of the tax revenues they relied on over the last few years have either gone forever or at least for the next 5 years or so.

    On the Government’s own projections over the next 5 years the UK will effectively go from a low debt country to a high debt country.

    Basically public spending , whch this Government loves, is now too high for a country like ours when the next few years tax projected revenues are taken into consideration. Yet still they are announcing above inflation increases over the next few years for the public sector.

    The choice is simple – over the next few years either tax will have to rise substantially or public sector spending will have to decrease substantiially. One or other will have to happen.

    I know which option the Conservatives (if elected) will go for and I know which option the Labour Party (if re-elected) will go for.

    I know which option I’d rather have.

  40. RICHARD

    In reply to my post you said to me:

    “If someone sets fire to your house.watched it burn to the ground,then when it was gutted,they ring 999,they are not the Hero!,that is what Gordon Brown,and his ilk are trying to pull off.”

    You obviously fail to understand where I am coming from.

    In my post on this article I think you will find that I was arguing that there is all to play for for BOTH of the Two Main Partys at the next GE.

    Since you want a debate, the undesputable fact remains that the Free Market Orthodoxy/ Consensus has now been shattered and this will facilitate far reaching and profound changes in the political policy and electoral landscape.

    And one more point: you will find that on past (and possibly even regarding the here and now), I am in no way a great fan of Gordon Brown.

    However, you cannot deny that he and the Government acted decisively in stabilising the Financial Sector by bailing out the Banks the latter being the shameful perpitrators of the economic fiasco we are now faced with. The latest issue being the Banks restricting the supply of lending to businesses. Another example of their utter arrogance, greed and self-interest.

    I would rather trust a man with experience in the Treasury (warts and all) rather than a man who is a Blairite pretender and was very close to Norman Lamont during the last deep recession.

    Who was in office between 1979 and 1997 and during this period created 3 of the most serious recessions this Country has experienced.

    Both Margaret Thatcher and John Major were able to cushion the blow of reducing Public Spending during the 3 recessions they created because they underinvested in Public Services in had the huge bonus of North Sea Oil revenue.

    If David Cameron wins the next GE and as the Tories propose, they cut Public Spending they will not have the luxury of these large North Sea Oil revenues and will have to cut spending to the bone. Sure enough some of the so called ‘wasted spending’ in the Public Sector can be cut but this must be reinvested and in any case you cannot get any more ‘blood out of the stone’. This would be an act which would severely damage the poor, vulnerable and middle classes and de facto destroy the Tories chances at the subsequent election.

  41. Ooops! in my last post:

    “Both Margaret Thatcher and John Major were able to cushion the blow of reducing Public Spending during the 3 recessions they created because they underinvested in Public Services in had the huge bonus of North Sea Oil revenue.”

    should have read:

    “Both Margaret Thatcher and John Major were able to cushion the blow of reducing Public Spending during the 3 recessions they created because they underinvested in Public Services but had the huge bonus of North Sea Oil revenue.”

  42. James Thurston,

    Richard looks spot on to me.

    Almost all of those questions should be asked of you, as a government supporter, not Richard.

    The banks (some of them, not all of them) behaved foolishly, but if you had put in place inflation monitoring to look at housing (Mainly M3 credit), and to take into account various other details, interest rates would have been set accordingly.

    They may have been higher, but it would have dealt with most of this bubble getting out of control – asset inflation built on sand, with knock on effects of credit card debt.

    Secondly, the FSA was stripped of some of it’s powers to supervise.

    It’s a bit much of government’s supporters of a three term government to clearly imply this has nothing to do with them, particularly having over-sucked to the City to now change tack and revert to far left politics of envy.

    The economy needs to be rebuilt with much lighter load of tax and regulation on businesses, particularly the small and medium sized. They will come in and go the high technology route.

    On one thing we agree, which is vitally important, getting credit to smaller businesses, and a targeted way of doing it needs to be found urgently, although Loan Guarantees would help.

    Get your facts right aswell – there were two recessions between 1979 and 1997 –
    1980 to 1981 and 1990 to 1992.

  43. “the undesputable fact remains that the Free Market Orthodoxy/ Consensus has now been shattered”

    I’d be very wary about making that assumption, James. Firstly I’d disagree with the label of ‘free market,’ what the majority of the developed world have been following for the best part of 30 years is a form of market based economics but with a significant role for the state. It’s nothing like an actual free market economy.

    Secondly, there will no doubt be token regulation of the financial services sector, but I have yet to hear a western government propose the extension of government in the real economy.

    So I think what we may see is changes to things such as capital adequacy and value at risk measures but all very esoteric and not much that the public will care or know about.

  44. Looking at the current trends I think the story of 2009 will be what David Cameron can do to halt his heavy slide in the polls.

    With Conservative party membership falling and donations to his party drying up in the harsh economic circumstances they will find it a struggle to fight any elections to be held this year.

    So although control of large numbers of councils are up for grabs I don’t think the prospects for the Conservatives are nearly as rosy as some would try to make out. If they don’t make massive gains I fully expect calls for his head.

    Who would replace him – Hague?

  45. Thomas

    I don’t think Cameron is quaking in his boots. I don’t believe the 2nd Brown bounce which has narrowed the polls in recent weeks is an anti-Cameron force.
    I still believe that Cameron is a positive force for the Tories and polls seem to suggest this.
    We’ll see if the narrowed Tory lead continues in the next few weeks/months or widens again.

    As for the relative financal strengths of the parties.

    All reports would suggest that the Conservatives are far better financially placed at the moment to fight a GE than is Labour.

  46. “If David Cameron wins the next GE and as the Tories propose, will have to cut spending to the bone. Sure enough some of the so called ‘wasted spending’ in the Public Sector can be cut but this must be reinvested and in any case you cannot get any more ‘blood out of the stone’.”

    Utter rubbish.

    No one is going to cut “to the bone”-emotive twaddle.

    Why does wasted expenditure have to be “re-invested”-what on earth does that mean?
    It has to be cut out-and there is a mountain of it.

    Public Expenditure does not equate to Public Services.

  47. Oh dear, the posts above in reply to mine just display the “Memory Loss” and apparent shrill language of most Conservative supporters when events do not go their own way.

    This is clearly displayed by the use of CAPITAL LETTERS which equates to aggression.

    I would also caution against possibly appearing to be arrogant in assuming a Tory victory.

    It is more than likely that they will at best form a coalition Government with the Lib Dems: and if that happens it will not last long.

    Obviously, I have touched a very raw nerve.

  48. Anyway, the County Council, London Borough and Euro election results will be very interesting.

    These elections will give us an indication of the standing of the 3 Main Party’s and possibly what their prospects are at the next General Election.

  49. ‘Great POLLS to come & of course different devastating elections for Labour & the Liberals in elections in the early summer .’

    Mike are these election results worked out the same way you predicted Obama to lose and ignored the preceding x million polls predicting him to win?

  50. RICHARD

    I fully understand what free markets are. You are the one being pedantic and display a selective understanding of what they are.

    You say to me:

    “Free-markets would have meant the vast majority of bad home loans both here at home & in the USA would not have happened,the left wanted these loans made,despite free-markets,not because of them,reason is they wanted poor people to have homes,that MR THURSTON,is market manipulation.”

    In reply all I can say is that I will not stoop to your patronising aggressive attitude towards me.

    I suggest you calm down!!

    It is with regret that I have to post this comment. However, I wish to say that I did attempt to draw a line under this, see my post @ January 4th 2009 10:12pm

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