The brief post-budget bounce aside, Labour now have a pretty consistent lead in voting intention. However, the answers other questions are often rather bad for Labour.

On best Prime Minister Cameron has a 13 point lead over Miliband, on dealing with the deficit the coalition lead Labour by 14 points, Cameron & Osborne have a 9 point lead over Miliband & Balls on general trust on the economy. Ed Miliband’s own approval ratings are mediocre and 47% think he isn’t up to the job of Labour leader.

To put this in context, if we look back at 2006-2007 when the opposition Conservatives had a comparable single-digit lead over the Labour government, David Cameron was pretty much neck and neck with Tony Blair as best PM, the Conservatives and Labour were pretty much neck and neck on who would run the economy well and Cameron had a positive approval rating.

What explains this paradox? Why have Labour got a solid lead in the polls, but comparatively bad ratings in supplementary questions? Or indeed vice-versa? There are two alternative explanations for this – one more comforting for Labour than the other.

Part of the answer is down to the new landscape of coalition politics. People’s responses to poll questions are often very partisan, supporters of the governing party tend to say nice things about the governing party, supporters of opposition parties tend to say negative things. Now we have a coalition government, we tend to get both Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters saying nice things about the government, whereas prior to 2010 only one party’s supporters did. This translates into higher support for the government in secondary questions, but not in main voting intention questions where government supporters are split between Conservative voters and Lib Dem votes.

This shouldn’t worry Labour of course – in fact it’s a reminder of a positive for them. While it is probably wrong to view voting behaviour too much through an ideological prism (models of electoral behaviour these days tend to be more dominated by voters perceptions of compentence, rather than ideology), throughout the 1980s the left-of-centre vote tended to be split between two parties. With the Liberal Democrats reduced to a rump of supporters who are less antagonistic towards the Tories, the right-of-centre vote is looking more split. Certainly the group of voters who think the present government are competent is split between two parties.

However, this does not explain everything, and here we come to the explanation that is less comforting for Labour. A lot of people who say they would vote Labour do not give particularly positive answers to other questions about Labour. Only 63% of Labour’s own voters think Ed Miliband would make the best Prime Minister, only 54% think he is up to the job of Labour leader. Only 69% of Labour voters trust Labour more than the coalition more than Labour to deal with the deficit, 77% trust Miliband & Balls to run the economy more than Cameron & Osborne. 45% of their own voters think Labour need to make major changes to be fit for government. In short, a substantial minority of people who say they’ll vote Labour don’t seem to be very pro-Labour when you inquire further.

My guess is that the reason is that Labour are really the only major opposition party to the coalition and hence many people will be telling pollsters they’d vote Labour as the only mainstream way of voting against the coalition. If that is the case, you wouldn’t necessarily expect all those people to have positive views of Labour – they are benefitting from a negative anti-government vote, not necessarily a pro-Labour one.

But does this matter? Not necessarily – a negative anti-government vote counts just the same as a positive vote when it goes in a ballot box and the evidence from 2010 suggests that a large proportion of Conservative voters were driven more by anti-Labour feeling than support for the Tories. It does become a problem if it is an indication of soft support for Labour, if the government become less unpopular once they have a better economy behind them, if minor parties establish themselves as alternative recipients of anti-government votes or if during an election campaign it becomes more of a choice between two alternatives, rather than a judgement on the incumbent.

I’ve always stuck hard with the truism that oppositions don’t win elections, government’s lose them. The caveat I always add to that is that while oppositions probably can’t win elections, they are quite capable of losing them – it’s arguably what happened in both 1992 and 2005, when the incumbent governments had done plenty to make themselves unpopular, but the public did not see the opposition as ready for government. Right now there are probably four years to an election, so as long as Labour recognise the issue and address it, it doesn’t need to be a problem at all – the best position for them to build up more positive support again is from a position of strength. What they need to fear (expressed rather well by their former General Secretary Peter Watt today) is complancency.


288 Responses to “The paradox of Labour’s lead”

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  1. It’s perfectly simple. In England, anyhow.

    It’s an anti Tory vote. All anti-Tory votes are now Labour because the Lib Dems are effectively Tories. Worse than that, they are enabling the toxic brand to govern.

    So all the other questions are a bit irrelevant. 40% plus are always going to be anti-Tory and that vote will no longer being going to LD.

  2. Absolutely outstanding post. Any budding Labourites hopeful of success in 2015 should digest it fully.

  3. Nick, if all anti-Tory votes now go to Labour, that would mean the pro-Tory vote was higher than the anti- wouldn’t it?

    What you mean is “all anti-Tory former LibDem votes now go to Labour” which is true(ish) but a much less profound statement.

  4. @ Nick Poole

    ” the Lib Dems are effectively Tories.”

    Thanks for your toxic and tiresome partisan posting.

    What precisely does that add to the discussion of polling results, eh?

  5. I fail to understand why people assume that the economy WILL get better. How can four years of public sector cuts boost the economy?

    Productive people will become state dependent, service industries and retail will shrink, fear will rule.

    I think it was Dobson who said the other day there are four ways to go at the economic problem: cuts, tax rises, inflation and growth.

    The Government’s only concession to growth is low interest rates, which might be more about keeping inflation cooking. Without growth though, by definition the economy is stagnant.

    Where’s the growth coming from? Exports driven by a falling pound?

  6. I think you are both right.

    It would take a catastrophic loss of confidence in Milliband to see labour Lose this lead or a remarkable economic recovery – neither seems likely.

    Labour are well aware that this is an anti-government vote. They are less than a year on from their second worst election performance since the war – and after a prolonged period of government which ended in a massive economic recession. They will be happy with how things are.

    They do need to provide cohesion, a way forward and credibility over the next four years of opposition. They are competent if dull as politicians and cautious and pragmatic. I think these qualities will see labour become credible, focused and purposeful – if not inspiring over the parliament which coupled with being the only party of the left or centre left should see them comfortably home.

    And yes it was an absolutely immaculate and detailed posting!

  7. I seem to remember 40% being a talismanic figure for Tories… something they didn’t acheive until fully two-and-half years into the last parliament.

  8. C35 L42 LD10. Still hovering in the same range.

  9. It’s a polling observation.

    The Labour voting intention is made up of Labour supporters and anti-Tories who won’t vote Lib Dem.

    Nothing toxic about that…simple and plain to see. And without a split anti-Tory vote, the Tories can’t win.

  10. @Anthony Wells

    I don’t think your wordpress is on summertime yet.

  11. The Guardian has it about right,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/31/five-ways-labour-can-fight-back
    1) The argument about the deficit has to begin with growth
    2) It’s also about what we value
    3) The coalition’s position on 50p tax is an open goal
    4) What’s your vision?
    5) Winning isn’t enough

    All of these questions and more needs answering, and I’m confident that with EM they will be answered. Ed is more of an idealist than his brother and coming from a marxist background I’m sure he has some very interesting thoughts.

    The left is on the march in Europe and across the world and by the time 2015 comes along many neo-liberal governments will have been replaced with Socialist/Green parties, which will ease the effort of putting forward a global agenda for liberty, equality and fraternity.

  12. Anthony, I think the anaysis is spot on and I think the jury is out on Labour and on Milliband. And as ever the election will be for the coalition to lose…assuming it lasts….
    … At the moment that’s surely the only reasonable assumption…. But one must never forget that the LibDems for whatever reason may change their leader and change their mind…it’s possible….

    I remain of the firm view that Lanour has a mountain to climb…but…I also think, thus far, they’ve not made the errors of 1970-74 or 1979-87….and that’s a factor worth bearing in mind.

    The shearing off of the LibDem vote may only be temporary but I suspect…and I’m not being partisan…at least I hope I’m not…but the decision to go into coalition with the conservatives from the outset impacted upon the Labour vote in a positive sense…and the byelecyions in their different ways confirm that….but my view would be that this will not of itself be enough…though I think we may be back to a base Labour vote in the 35-38% range which is still quite a big jump forward and bigger than anything Labour or Conseravtives managed so early on in previous wilderness periods.

    The outcome of the AV referendum may prove vitally important…is every sense….

  13. Karl,

    Johann Hari’s article yesterday on the deficit was fantastic.. track it down :)

  14. Surely Labour should be promising to eliminate the deficit in 3 years? Simply borrow an extra £300 billion, “invest” it, and recoup £400 billion in additional growth which you then use to reduce the deficit to zero?

  15. I agree with Eoin. One of your best Anthony – take a bow.

  16. To win a decent majority next time, the Conservatives need to get back a lot of those stray UKIP voters and also hope that the leftish LD voters who went over to Labour don’t stay there. Things have to go pretty well for at least the latter half this parliament for some of those things to happen. It’s going to be a struggle for them too.

  17. Howard,

    If there was an award for the most understated intellectual mind of the GB political landscape Anthony would walk it. And all without being partisan. I know no other.

  18. @ Billy Bob

    I don’t remember the last government having to make so many unpopular decisions within the two years of parliament. This is probably the reason it took them 2 years to get to 40% mark.

    However the the coalition has already had to make unpopular decisions within its first year, which is effecting their figures.

    Whoever was in government would lose support, as some tough decisions have and will still have to be made.

  19. All comments about the future of the Coalition and Labour should be put on the back burner until May the 5th, come May the 6th everything will change.

    Those people who think that the Coalition will last till 2015, will have an awful lot of humble pie to eat before then.

  20. March YouGov average: Con 35.5%, Lab 42.9%, LD 9.75%:

    so the soft 7% lead looks fairly consistent atm.

  21. @neilA

    “Surely Labour should be promising to eliminate the deficit in 3 years?”

    Why? They are taking their time- as oppositions (especially Cameron’s) do- to think through their policy agenda. In the immediate aftermath of a general election defeat that is what oppositions are there to do- namely to OPPOSE primarily (not propose).

    Sure it’s delicious (if you lean towards red) that- by doing the normal thing for parties new to opposition always do and have always done (i.e. oppose NOT propose) – they open up the space for all the focus and negativity to be on the government!!

    But then clearly that is as it should be; especially when the public so disagree with the major planks of government policy- and did not vote for party manifestos that contained the majority of them either!!

    By this time next year Labour will be proposing. You- like all blues- believe the parliament will run its full course. So that will be 2012- 2015 with a full opposition policy agenda to debate against. Believe me if the next election is in 2015 NOBODY is going to be bringing up the fact that Labour did not have detailed policies in 2011- this is one of the most futile and yet oft asserted erroneous points on this website!!

    It appears to me that the only people that desperately want the Labour party to start spelling out its policies are , er, Tories (so they can get the Murdoch press to bite chunks out of Ed and try to deflect voters attention away from the reality of government policies) or the trots and leftists- some resident here- who just want to be able to indulge in their favourite sport- namely shouting ‘betrayal’- again.

    ;-)

    On tonights YG: back to 6/7 trend lead: and a very good performance by Labour on YG it has been for months now.

    The boys and girls done good.

    :-)

  22. Following on from some of the arguments put forward in this thread would it be in the Conservative’ Party’s interest to engineer a split in the coalition and call an early general election?

    The public haven’t yet warmed to Ed Miliband and they currently still accept the needs for cuts. The Libdem troubles can only help the Conservatives – anti-tory tactical voting will surely disappear while anti-labour tactical voting will remain.

  23. Brillant post. The Labour lead is soft and def anti government rather than pro Labour. Ed Milliband has alot too prove . I have posted previously about the relevance of opinion polls so far out from GE only to get shot down on this site. But my argument then and now is the same- If the GE ACTUALLY was tomorrow this would focus people minds and IMO there is no way Labour would win with 10% lead.

    The question in polls always depends on the perception of the respondent ie how do you answer questions that are infact hypothetical. This subconsciously does have an effect on the answer .

    2015 GE will be decided on two simple questions , state of economy and does the Country feel Like the country needs a change or not.

  24. @KeithHP

    Spot on. If Tories ever want majority again they must win back UKIP voters

  25. @Simon E-

    It will be interesting to see whether your confidence over the ‘real gap’ nationally between Labour and Tories is borne out by the results in the English locals and devolved elections.

  26. The 10 policy pledges of the Blair government were ‘officially’ made 974 days before the 1997 election. On average, they were raised at ‘main’ conference [not fringe] on average 5.1 years before the election.

    Before J Smith.
    Before T Blair

  27. @ Rob Sheffield

    Labour will do well , Tories will do badly in local elections .

    But you have made my point really. It’s GE that I am talking about,
    When I vote I know I will be voting for my local councillor and not the PM.

    You should not read anything into these local results as a forecast for 2015.

  28. I don’t find anything particularly paradoxical at all about the poll findings; in fact I would be somewhere between staggered and surprised on the scale of amazement if Labour, at this stage of the electoral cycle, were more trusted on the economy than the incumbents so soon after comprehensively losing an election. Ditto Miliband vs Cameron approval ratings and to compare the Tories and Cameron’s standings vis-a-vis a 10 year old Labour Government in 2007 with Labour and Miliband’s against a 10 month old administration is bordering on nonsensical.

    Of course Labour are the main beneficiaries of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the Coalition; of course, in that sense, it’s a soft 42-45%; of course there still remains lingering doubts about Labour’s economic credibility some 10 months after they were rejected by the electorate and of course Miliband, some 6 months into his embryonic leadership is still a relatively unknown political personality in the eyes of the electorate. However, for them to have recovered so soon, and for the coalition to have slipped in public esteem so rapidly, suggests we are inhabiting different political worlds from the last time a Government was ejected from office in 1997. Then, the defeated party, the Conservatives, were cast into a long wilderness, reviled and with a contaminated brand, for an extraordinarily long period. They were a shrivelled parliamentary rump for 13 years, led by three spectacularly unpopular leaders for much of that time, and failing to establish even paltry opinion poll leads for any significant length of time. It took them about 10 years in opposition before they stirred into a semblance of credible political life and failed to win a single parliamentary by-election until the fag end days of the Labour Government.

    Nobody doubts that Labour has much work to do to regain public confidence and trust and the current polls say virtually nothing, one way or the other, about the outcome of a General election, quite possibly in 4 years time. However, for a defeated party to be between 12 and 15% up on its General Election performance some 10 months after being ejected suggests, if nothing else, that there is something positive to work on. And, if it converts into the building up of local councillors, party members, activists and foot-soldiers on the ground, with all the morale-boosting side effects that result from that, then the softness of the current lead could well solidify into something much more significant over time.

  29. Nick Poole

    ” … without a split anti-Tory vote, the Tories can’t win.”

    Unless the anti-Tory vote is very large as in Scotland.

    It may even be the majority and is probably as large as the positive support for any party.

    Look at the few who support independence (some of whom are Socialists, Old/Scottish Labour and Greens) compared with the many who vote SNP. The scale of the ScotLibDem losses is an indication of the anti-Tory LibDem vote.

    The anti-Lab vote goes to these two parties too, and not to the Cons.

    In Glasgow, the anti-Cons know that if they vote with Labour, things will turn out all right for them, which is why the SNP can’t win a seat except with an outlier candidate too far on the left to be allowed to stand for NewLabour.

    Anti-Con is the real party of Scotland, not the SNP.

  30. @TGB

    “Johann Hari’s article yesterday on the deficit was fantastic.. track it down”

    Here’s the link. It is indeed good stuff.

    http://www.johannhari.com/2011/03/29/the-biggest-lie-in-british-politics

  31. @John – “… unpopular decisions”

    Labour can argue on the record that it brought the UK out of recession with minimum job losses/repossessions.

    Much of the Tory attack on Labour before the election was that Brown wrecked the economy. They argue this still, even though when GO goes abroad he has to admit that the truth is more complicated than that… so after benefiting electorally, they now suffer from owning the slow recovery and unpopular measures.

    If GO is unable to sucessfully manage the recovery, and causes real pain in terms of jobs/falling living standards/deteriorating public services in the process, then the trust questions around the economy will turn and there will be a further loss of support.

  32. “New Labour, New Life For Britain” as a draft version was released in *1996* and was neatly summarised by 5 pledges on a credit card sized ‘pledge card’.

    These were the ‘5 pledges’ that then formed the basis of the 1997 GE campaign.

    The draft 1996 version of NLNLFB was the result of a *2 and a half year policy review* !!!

    With various elements being finalised at various times over that 30 month period including the deletion of clause 4 from the constitution of the party in April 1995.

    BTW that is 2 years before the 2007 GE: so equivalent to May 2013 should this parliament run to term!!!

    So Blair was rewriting Labour policy right up to the equivalent of May 2013….EdM has- clearly if you really want to see- adopted a very similar approach. The correct approach to opposition.

    Which is good news for all those who actually want to see Labour properly prepared for the next election.

  33. @Simon E

    “But you have made my point really. It’s GE that I am talking about,”

    …and you have absolutely no idea of how people are going to vote in that election whether it comes in 2013 or 2015.

    A much better projection of potential national opinion is- as opposed to your (blue) gut- the millions of votes to be cast on May 5th by real people.

    In MY opinion they will be voting as a national referendum on the governments policies.

    So you actually don’t make a point at all !!

  34. Robin :)

  35. @Rob Sheffield

    “Which is good news for all those who actually want to see Labour properly prepared for the next election.”

    I agree, this is absolutely the right approach. But with one caveat. There was little prospect of an early election in the mid-90s, so all effort could be focussed on 1997. In the present day, I hope (and expect) that significant work is being put into preparing a coherent set of policies that are appropriate for immediate use, to allow for the possibility of the coalition imploding. And groundwork needs to be laid to prepare for such an eventuality.

    I accept that the electorate wasn’t ready immediately after the election for a serious discussion about the correct approach for deadling with the deficit. But sometime soon we have to start nailing the lie that there is anything rational about cuts on the scale we are about to suffer.

    If EM is as politically smart as many believe (see the decision to stop attacking the LDs *before* their vote plateaued), I would expect such a case to start to be made at the time the cuts start to hurt – when the electorate is receptive to the argument that they need not happen.

    And that is the time when we might start to see the polls move significantly from their current becalmed state.

  36. @Eoin

    Hari’s article makes great play of ‘As a proportion of GDP, Britain’s national debt has been higher than it is now for 200 of the past 250 year’. He then goes on to claim that we built the Industrial Revolution, the British Empire and won two wars during these periods in spite of the debt.

    He misses the point that for the first half of the period the debt was easy to finance as we were acquiring assets to fund it, namely, the human and natural resources of said Empire. He seems to miss the point that the next turn up in debt/gdp occured in 1914 as we borrowed heavily from USA to fund the war and again in the 1939-45 period. Our debt ratio rocketed on both occasions because of the wars. It was not ancillary.

    He goes on to mention Japan having three times our level of debt but continues borrowing at reasonable rates. He ignores the fact that the real cost of borrowing is what matters and Japan’s deflation means that their real rates are much higher than our negative real rates. He also ignores that the Japanese fund this domestically and this has choked off consumer demand for the last two decades.

    An article entitled ‘ the biggest lie in British politics’ really should do better.

  37. “I don’t find anything particularly paradoxical at all about the poll findings;”

    Excellent post Crossbat, I’m with you on that one.

    All this stuff about how EM should be doing better is just so much bluster….Because the Govt has little positive to say DC/GO try to deflect attention by denigrating EM.

  38. I was about to reply to some comments when I discovered that the Stakhanovite Mr Wells had put up another two threads. Luckily in this one he has done most of the heavy lifting for me.

    The softness of the Labour lead is something I have already commented on. Anthony has made the point about how the mutual support (or to be more exact reduction in mutual loathing) in the coalition makes the Conservative support appear more solid than it is. It could be added that Ed Miliband has been pretty relentlessly attacked from all sides from the start. Nobody bothered building him up before they knocked him down. As a result his personal ratings are probably already at their minimum, even among the other Parties, and should build.

    Of course you could also argue that with such enemies being so virulent, he must be doing something right.

    To return to two threads ago:

    Woodsman & Jay Blanc

    The assumption that a break-up of the coalition would be followed by an election and a Labour landslide is optimistic, to put it mildly. Firstly there would be little appetite for an immediate election from the Lib Dems – particularly as they would probably be without a leader. The Conservatives would not call one unless the polls were very much in their favour. They could probably scrape by in most votes, particularly if they could offer goodies to the DUP.

    Furthermore, even if an election was called, the blame would be cast very much on the ‘irresponsible’ Lib Dems by the tame media (“the markets! My dear, what what will the markets think?”). The Tories would present themselves as the saviours of the nation and would have a willing chorus of support. That’s not to say they would win, but it would not be easy for Labour.

    Phil and Amber

    The options to the question on Labour’s deficit policy may have not been what the Labour Party would like, but that’s the way life is. I doubt many would have had this week’s policy word perfect and ticked ‘none of the above’ because there was no exact match. (Actually most of the notas we Tories who presumably thought the policy involved eating babies).

    In any case what I am arguing for is not so much pound by pound policy as a change in narrative that will present the problem of the deficit in a different way. If there is one it clearly hasn’t made any impact on the public. Detailed policy is unfortunately needed too; the question “What would you do?” will always be asked. In these situations you can’t get away with saying “just you wait and see”. The electorate know it isn’t Christmas.

    Those who argue that Cameron got away with keeping quiet about details should recollect that he managed to throw away bigger and more solid leads in the polls than Labour has at the moment.

  39. Alex,

    I had an article published in a few sources “A March for J M Keynes”. I am lucky enough to have published it before Johann. I am also lucky enough to have taken the same angle but in a slightly different way. So no risk of plagarism [which plagues us]. When/if you track it down post your thoughts on UKPR in an older thread and I’ll happily chat it over with you.

    I have always thoroughly enjoyed your posts, and continue to do so…. [I’ll keep checking the older threads]

  40. Roger M

    I didn’t say anything about a Labour landslide. You brought up the likelihood of an early election and I pointed out that that wouldn’t reflect well on the 2 governing parties…..

    I agree with your caveat about not taking too many lessons from DC in opposition though!

  41. @Roger Mexico

    Certainly, a Conservative minority *could* continue on after the break up of the coalition.

    Fianna Fáil *could* have continued on as an Irish minority government after the break up of coalition with the Greens. But as we all know, confidence motions were put forward almost immediately. Even if the Green party leadership had the will to support a continuing minority government, they would have had to whip a party *in crisis* to support the government they had just broken with. Confidence motions have to be won, and a minority government can’t win it without support from another party.

    Yes it’s *possible* that a Liberal Democrat party, in the midst of crisis during what’s certain to be a bitter leadership contest, would turn around and support the party they had just broken with. It’s just not very likely.

  42. @Roger Mexico

    I’d also counter that the drops in Conservative support followed on from Cameron starting to put up Policy Positions.

  43. It’s odd that the Hari article wasn’t in the Independent (says he, having wasted 20 minutes looking for it there, until Robin kindly posted the link). Normally Hari doesn’t put longer articles on his blog – he makes money off them instead. Still we’ll let the conspiracy theories fester.

    Of course he is to some extent conflating the debt and the deficit – two separate but linked problems. (Many will remember that this was all discussed at some length and greater depth on UKPR around the time of the election, but we usually have to wait for less exalted forums to catch up). As he says the debt is currently manageable, and that to some extent reduces the pressure about the deficit. However the deficit is still very real and has to be tackled.

    What is rarely pointed out is that a deficit has two sides. It can be caused as much by insufficient income as excessive expenditure. Labour’s real fault was not just imprudent spending (though there was a lot of it). It was trying to constantly lower personal taxes, especially for the better off. While this pleased the increasingly well-rewarded commentariat, it meant that there was no buffer in the system when the bad times came and the deficit ballooned.

    Woodsman

    Sorry, that’s what happens when you try to answer two people at once (nobody wants even longer comments from me). It was Jay who referred to a ‘landslide’. I was merely trying to reply to a similar idea in both your comments and point out that an election would be neither inevitable nor easy.

  44. @Roger Mexico – Thank you for your comment about the “… 13-15% of panel members who voted for one of the three main parties in 2010 are now not doing so.”

    Though it could be said that after 10 months setting out their vision and a day-in day-out “Labour’s mess” barrage, those numbers must be a worry for Tories as well.

    On deflecting the ‘same old Tories’ scares, I was really speaking specifically about the intensity of central office mailshots during the last week of campaigning in Ashcroft marginals.

  45. Jay Blanc

    After a coalition bust-up the Lib Dems would not need to support the Conservatives, merely to abstain. If a handful of Orange Bookers (it won’t be more) did remain attached to the Tories that would make their continuation in government even easier.

    Of course they would run the risk of getting defeated on specific issues, but that would still require very good Labour discipline; getting the Nats to vote on issues they normally won’t; and getting the various NI MPs to actually be there. Herding cats would be easier. The real problems with legislation would be more likely to come from the Lords.

    In fact Fianna Fail could quite easily have continued on for a bit by throwing money at various Independent TDs of the gombeen tendency. In the end I think they just wanted to lay down and die – even those as self-interested as Biffo and co get weary when they realise that everyone hates them and it’s not going to get any better.

    I actually feel that Cameron had reached (and indeed passed) the stage when he had to announce policy when he finally did so. The lack of concrete proposals was being widely commented on. So support might have fallen even further if he had kept his counsel.

  46. Fascinating analysis. I think the positive for Labour is that their party remains better liked by the public and seen in a better light than any of the others. And if it’s true that voters today are more concerned with competence than ideology (I tend to agree with you there and I also think ideology is often over emphasized by political analysts), then I think Labour has an advantage in that they look competent as a whole.

    The negative for Labour in having Cameron seen as a far better Prime Minister than Ed Miliband is that it allows the Tories an opening to attack Labour and make voters leaning Labour more reticent to actually vote Labour. If everything else goes wrong for the Tories, they can use a weak or disliked leader to send the message “Do you really want that guy in charge?” If in a hypothetical general election, the polls started to tighten, having that advantage for Cameron could make the key difference.

  47. By all our opponents views, Labour is not to have the indulgence of learning from others’ experience.

    The Dems, I am not even going to detail how many of their policies have got them into trouble post-election.

    The Tories, were going to match Labour’s spending plans, reduce banking regulations & have no tops down reorganising of the NHS.

    They would have lost in a landslide, but along came an emerging strategy. Defecit reduction. But they’d already hitched their wagon to other policies. So they looked confused & opportunistic. And they didn’t get a majority.

    What they & the media are trying to do is pin Labour to a strategy now that would’ve won the last election. Instead, Labour are trying to focus on the next election. And they don’t want to be trapped by a redundant manifesto.

    I watched Ken Livingstone chatting with David Mitchell earlier tonight. Ken was very confident that our two Eds are working constructively on a policy review that will be more than a collection of sound bites.
    8-)

  48. Good article, Anthony.

    Basically the current Labour lead is soft, and the underlying findings of the ‘secondary’ polling questions indicate that it would not be sustained through to a general election.

    I’ve seen it all before – most notably in the 1980s when Neil Kinnock also enjoyed modest leads in mid-term polls but ultimately could not translate them into a parliamentary majority.

    Of course, there are differences between now and then – and some on this board will be eager to point them out – but the fundamentals are no different now to what they were in 1951-59 or 1979-1992.

    We are set for Labour advances in the local elections of 2011, 2012, 2013 and possibly 2014, but a probable Tory victory in the general election of 2015.

    *Sigh* At least within a couple of years we will once again be the largest party in local government!

  49. Your final paragraph about voters voting for governments that were not popular reminded me of why I think the AV referendum will likely fail.

    In the U.S., where many states have popular referendums, voters will sometimes vote in favor of ill conceived, poorly designed, and often negative ballot initiatives. The reason why is because the proponents of the initiative are able to effectively market their campaign to take advantage of a popular dislike or popular frustration or popular greivance or popular anger or popular anxiety. So what can happen is that voters are angry and they’re told that the solution is to vote for the initiative in question. This, when done successfully, can lead to voters passing initiatives that in reality have nothing to do with the problem at hand. Alas, this doesn’t matter when voters are angry and they believe that the initiative in question will solve their anger.

    But this tendency matches a larger tendency in the American electorate that is missing among British voters (and I know generalize here because there is obviously overlap, not all American voters are impulsive and not all British voters are reflective). Basically, if you become unlikeable to the majority of the electorate in the U.S., you’re going to have your ass thrown out of office. You piss the voters off and we will have a reenactment of the Revolution. British voters are different in that you tend to be far more reflective and far less impulsive. Brits have frequently voted to reelect governments they don’t particularly like and will put up with Prime Ministers who they could do without. These voters look at the choices and say “I do not particularly care for the fellow in office but I think that the chap who is his opponent is lacking.”

    Voters who are by nature reflective and non-impulsive are not going to vote for an initiative they aren’t sold on simply because they’re dissatisfied with the status quo.

  50. @ Robin Hood

    “Basically the current Labour lead is soft, and the underlying findings of the ‘secondary’ polling questions indicate that it would not be sustained through to a general election.”

    Do you think the lead is soft or do you think it suggests that if Labour’s current leader became more popular or there was a change of leadership (in either party), Labour’s lead would become more solid.

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