Compare and contrast – Atul Hatwal writes that a Labour victory from the current position would be unprecedented, Dan Hodges writes that a Tory victory is still the most likely outcome of the election. On the other side of the political fence Paul Goodman writes that a Conservative victory is impossible and Matthew D’Ancona that Cameron is perilously close to blowing it. Peter Kellner has also written a scenario as to how David Cameron could win here, though I think he’s done it more as devil’s advocate than as a prediction!

They aren’t of course necessarily contradictory, it is not a given that somebody has to get a majority. I think the essential problem is that there are significant obstacles facing both main parties and, if you want to spin it that way, significant reasons why both sides “can’t win”. Equally, there are ways both sides could clamber over those obstacles with a bit of luck on their side. You may, at this point, want to get a cup of tea – writing about the problems of both sides, and why they might not be problems may take some time….

…Back with me?

To start with the Conservatives, Paul Goodman does a good job of identifying some of up the problems that currently stand in their way of winning an election. Firstly, there are several social groups where the Conservatives particularly struggle, putting a cap on their potential support – Paul mentions the failure of the Conservatives to win support from ethnic minority voters who demographically or attitudinally might be expected to vote Conservative but don’t, but one could equally well point to the fact that people in the north are less likely to vote Conservative, or the party’s collapse in Scotland. This is, in many ways a problem with the failure of the Conservative party’s modernisation. It’s hard and takes a long time with little in the way of immediate returns. Past Tory leaders have repeatedly been forced into appealing to their own core votes, decisions that were probably tactically correct in the short term, but which in the long term further entrenched negative views of the Conservative party that prevent them widening their support. To give a current example, I suspect the cut in the 50p tax rate probably didn’t do as much short term harm as people think (my guess is the budget damage came much more from the granny tax and the appearance of incompetence) because the majority of people already think the Conservatives favour the rich above normal people. It did, however, further entrench that view and makes it more difficult for the Tories to change it in the future.

If the Conservatives first problem is the limited upside to their support because they are still toxic to much of the electorate, Goodman’s second issue is UKIP – the availability of an alternative party on the right. I’ve written about UKIP’s support in more detail here. In short UKIP support does come disproportionately (though not exclusively) from the Conservatives and isn’t just, or indeed even mainly, about Europe. It is about immigration and general dissatisfaction with government performance or modern Britain. The biggest increase in UKIP support came as a result not of anything related to Europe, but as a result of the budget and the omnishambles period. In one sense I think Paul worries too much about UKIP here, in the absence of UKIP those voters would still be disillusioned and unhappy, they’d just find other outlets to register their dissatisfaction. Where UKIP’s presence does make it more of a problem is that, as Matt D`Ancona writes, it provides a gravitational pull on the right, meaning the Conservatives have to be wary of leaving too much space to their rear lest UKIP prosper too much. I do also ponder exactly how the Parliamentary Conservative party will react if UKIP come top in the European election next year and the inevitable spike in normal opinion polls that will follow a strong European election performance… especially if the election debates are being negotiated at the time. Having lost an election to Cleggmania David Cameron probably won’t want to risk Faragemania, but in the event that UKIP are ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the polls it may be difficult to argue that Farage should not be included in the debates.

The biggest problem for the Conservatives though is simply the high bar they need to get over to manage an overall majority. On a pure uniform swing the Conservatives need an ELEVEN point lead to get an overall majority. The more commonly cited seven point lead is based on a (reasonable enough) assumption that Liberal Democrat support will be down at the next election which reduces the sort of lead the Conservatives need.

Seven percent, however, is still a formidable lead to achieve to get a majority of just one. Tony Blair in 2005, Thatcher in 1979, Wilson in 1964, 1966 and Oct 1974, Heath in 1970, MacMillan in 1959, Eden in 1955, Churchill in 1951 and Attlee in 1950 all got overall majorities with lower leads than the seven percent Cameron achieved in 2010. The main reason the Conservatives didn’t win in 2010 is not the proportion of the votes they got, but how those votes translated into seats. Given the likely failure of the boundary changes, the situation will probably be the same at the next election.

I particularly dislike arguments based on “this has never happened before therefore it can’t happen” (beautifully parodied here), so the common argument you hear of “no government party has ever increased their share of the vote so the Conservatives can’t win” should carry little weight. There have only been 18 elections since WW2, and in 3 of them the governing party has increased their share of the vote. Those were special cases of course – they were short Parliaments, so they don’t count. If the Conservatives do increase their share of the vote then I expect this case would also be dismissed as a special case, because it was a hung Parliament, or because the third party’s support collapsed or whatever excuse people come up to make the data fit their rule. Nevertheless, it does go to underline the sheer difficulty of what the Conservatives need to achieve in order to win a majority.

Those then are the obstacles facing the Conservatives – they need an increased lead over Labour to win, yet the potential to gain new support is limited by the party’s toxic image and their existing support is being nibbled away by UKIP to their rear. How can they win from there?

First there is the question of whether the Conservatives really would need a lead of 7 points. Peter Kellner floated this idea in his piece this week, suggesting the Tories could win with a 4 point lead.

There are a couple of reasons why the Conservatives could outperform UNS in a election that was otherwise quite static. The first is that while one of the reasons for the perceived bias in the electoral system, smaller electorates in Labour seats, will remain at the next electon, another reason may diminish. One of the reasons the Conservatives win fewer seats than Labour on the same shares of the vote is that Labour and Lib Dem voters have historically been much more likely to vote tactically for each other. This means that in seats where the Conservatives get between 35-40% of the vote they normally fail to win the seat due to tactical voting against them, while Labour will often win the seat on the same share of the vote because their opposition is split between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. In 2010 there were 66 seats where the Conservatives got between 35% and 40%, they won 30 of them (a hit rate of 45%), there were 78 seats where Labour got between 35% and 40% and they won 47 of them (a hit rate of 60%).

We already know that the 2010 Lib Dem voters who are least likely to have stuck with the party are those who actually identified most with the Labour party, and who were presumably voting Lib Dem for tactical or protest reasons. Now, I am sure when push comes to shove some of those will end up holding their noses and voting tactically for the Lib Dems anyway – but some won’t, and if Labour identifiers are less likely to tactically vote Liberal Democrat at the next election than they were at the last election the Liberal Democrats will be losing votes where they need them the most and Labour will be gaining votes in seats where those votes are of no use to them… the effect would be to reduce the anti-Conservative skew in the system and deliver a Conservative victory on a smaller lead. We cannot tell if this will happen, it is practically impossible to predict tactical voting decisions in advance when people themselves probably won’t make sure decisions until very close to the election.

A second factor is the incumbency bonus. The Conservatives gained a large number of seats from Labour at the last election and in those seats they will have the benefit of a “double incumbency” bonus – that is, in most cases Labour will have lost the incumbency bonus their former MPs enjoyed at the 2010 election, while the new Conservative incumbents will have built up their own personal vote. In a largely static election or an election with a small swing against the Conservatives that will provide an extra buffer for Conservative MPs. A good example of this is the 2001 election. The election produced a 1.75% swing from Labour to Conservative, which should have resulted in the Conservatives retaking 15 seats from Labour, but because those new Labour MPs benefited from incumbency and the Conservatives had lost it they only took 5 (and managed to lose one the other way).

These factors mean the bar for the Conservatives may not be quite as high in practice as it appears in theory, but that is not much good if you are 10 points behind. To win the Conservatives need to retain the level of support they got at the last election and probably (assuming Labour gain at least some support – I’ll come to them later) gain some more on top of that. There are two reservoirs of potential extra votes for the Conservatives – people who voted Conservative in 2010 but no longer say they would and people who did not vote Conservative in 2010, but would consider it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Conservatives in 2010 were at their maximum level of support in 2010 and ignoring that second group – they are very real indeed. Looking at the big Lord Ashcroft poll from November, 16% of people currently saying they’d vote Conservative are people who did NOT vote Conservative last time round.

Not only is it possible for the Conservatives to get extra votes they didn’t get last time round, they are actually doing it. That 16% of current Tory voters is about 5% of people voting. Those voters come mostly from the Liberal Democrats and from 2010 non-voters, though there are also some people who voted Labour in 2010 who would now vote Tory. As to why the Conservative party has picked up these voters, back in July Lord Ashcroft did another big survey that segmented out the people the Conservatives had lost, gained and kept. The biggest defining factor for these “Joiners” as he called them were people who trusted the Conservatives more than Labour on the economy, or at least, trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls. Ashcroft found a similar pattern amongst those who said they would consider becoming joiners (or “Considers” in his parlance) – their defining characteristic was that they trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls.

So while the Conservatives undoubtedly do have a cap on their potential support due to their toxic reputation with some groups, the extra support is there to be won, and can be won on the basis of the economy and people’s preference for Cameron over Miliband. Other research by Ashcroft shows these Conservative joiners are also more socially liberal, more likely to be the sort of people who are attracted by Conservative support for things like gay marriage and, at this point, we come into conflict with the other side of the equation, the 2010 Conservative voters who the party has lost.

The Conservatives got 37% at the last election. Currently they are around about 31% in polls. Looking again at Lord Ashcroft’s poll from November, the two biggest chunks have gone to don’t know, won’t vote or won’t say or UKIP. Looking at Ashcroft’s segmentation, these voters tend to be people who don’t think David Cameron has performed well in government or don’t think the Conservatives share their values, yet who also have negative opinions of Labour and the Liberal Democrats and normally prefer the Conservatives to Labour. Ashcroft’s polling suggests the most powerful message to these lost Conservatives will be a tactical one – that voting UKIP would risk letting in Labour and Ed Miliband. While UKIP support is not mainly driven by the European issue, if David Cameron does come out with a strong message on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe I suspect it could speak to their values and help them believe the Conservatives understand people like them, though I am conscious that allowing doubt over Britain’s future membership of the European Union to fester could be an extremely high risk strategy for the Conservatives.

Turning to Labour (and for those of you starting to flag, we are two-thirds through!) the arguments about the difficulties they face boil down to two. First there is the question of whether their mid term lead in the polls is really of the sort of scale that a successful opposition should be achieving. Secondly is whether their undoubted lead in voting intention polls is undermined by more lacklustre figures on things like Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister or economic trust (the latter is often tied up with lots of internal Labour party politics and positioning which I won’t get into!)

The general pattern for opposition parties is for them to gain support during the middle of a Parliament as people are disappointed or angered by the government and want to register a protest, either by telling pollsters they’d vote elsewhere or by registering protest votes in elections that they don’t see as mattering that much. As the election approaches incumbent governments tend to do more crowd pleasing things to win back support, and people tend to think of their vote more as a choice between alternative governments, rather than just a way of protesting against the incumbent, and almost always this results in some degree of swing back towards the governing party. This pattern was largely broken in the 1997-2001 and 2001-2005 Parliaments, given that Labour remained pretty popular throughout both and there were never big opposition leads to begin with. It re-established itself to a degree in 2005-2010.

Now, if we look back through history oppositions that have gone on to win the next election have normally enjoyed mid-term leads of 20 points or more, oppositions with lower leads mid-terms have generally ended up losing. By that yardstick, Labour isn’t doing well enough to win, this is not the sort of lead that winning oppositions tend to mark up mid-term. Just as with the “no government has increased its vote” thing I discarded earlier, just because no opposition has even gone on to win the election without getting their mid-term lead up to 20+ points, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done. This time could be different, I’ve written about this at much more length here but there are two main things to consider. Firstly, the arguments about Labour not being far enough ahead assume they are not going to get further ahead in the future. Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives weren’t miles ahead at this stage either, it was the winter of discontent that did that and pushed them over the top.

That’s an argument about events coming along in the future though, and they can cut both ways. A more interesting consideration is whether these are mid term blues at all or whether we are seeing a more substantial and permanent realignment of support. The vast majority of Labour’s increased support since the general election is not from people switching from the Conservatives, it is from people who either did not vote at the last election, or people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. I think the problem for the Liberal Democrats is much more serious than mid-term blues and the support that has moved from the Lib Dems to Labour may be a lot “stickier” than mid term support has been in the past. I wouldn’t, therefore, spare too much worry to the “Labour need to be further ahead” argument. In normal circumstances they would, but these aren’t necessarily normal circumstances.

What I think should be more worrying for Labour are the underlying figures on Ed Miliband and on economic trust. People’s preference for Prime Minister normally goes hand-in-hand with their voting intention. If you graph the two questions side by side they move pretty much in parallel, with the governing party normally doing a little better on the PM question as it is, after all, easier to look Prime Ministerial when you actually are Prime Minister. When IDS was Conservative leader the Labour lead in voting intention was, on average, 16 points less than Blair’s lead over IDS as best PM. When Michael Howard became Tory leader the gap between his performance as best PM and the Conservative VI lead fell to seven points. That shrunk to 5 point when David Cameron took over and once Gordon Brown replaced Blair the Conservative lead in voting intention was almost identical to the Conservative lead as best Prime Minister. With Ed Miliband that small difference has become a vast gulf, when I wrote about this last year the average gap was 18 points. Since then Labour’s lead in the polls has inched up a bit, but Miliband’s rating as best PM hasn’t. In recent month’s the gap between preferred party and preferred PM has been 20 points.

There is a similar but smaller gap on economic policy. There are all sorts of different ways that economic trust is asked – a straight question on which party people trust the most shows them neck-and-neck, whereas questions asking if people trust Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls show a lead for Cameron & Osborne. Either way, it is the same pattern of Labour leading in voting intention but doing less one on important underlying questions.

The question is whether this matters? Clearly, at the moment, people think Cameron would make a better Prime Minister and either prefer the Conservatives or rate the parties equally on the economy… yet Labour have a substantial polling lead. Clearly it isn’t a deal breaker! On the other hand, it could become more important and influential as the election approaches and voting decisions become more of a choice between alternatives than just a way of signalling dissatisfaction with cuts and austerity. Once again, we don’t know what will happen, and the present polling cannot tell us.

In closing both the Conservatives and Labour face obstacles, but neither’s are insurmountable. It is perfectly possible to come up with plausible scenarios where either side win – or to spin the figures to claim the other side cannot possibly win. Personally I am happy to admit I don’t know what will happen, there are too many big unanswered questions about the economy, the Eurozone, the debates, the European elections, how the end of the coalition pans out, and how public opinion evolves as the election approaches that it is impossible to make an informed prediction without. With some honorable exceptions, I suspect in many cases people’s predictions this early say a lot more about their own personal preferences or what political axes they have to grind against their party leaderships than what is likely to happen at the next election.

313 Responses to “Well, SOMEBODY has to win”

1 3 4 5 6 7
  1. Regarding the Road to Wigan Pier etc.

    Yep, there was a reason we went down the Welfare State route, and it’s that we had tried the neoliberal thing and it had one or two rather nasty and obvious flaws. The first could be seen in the Wall Street crash and Great Depression, and the second is that trickle down didn’t seem to work very well.

    Hence Rowntree’s seminal report in the early 20th century that led to the Liberals’ welfare reforms. Rowntree found that despite us being a serious industrial power, having been the “workshop of the world”, with an empire and huge protected markets on top, while there was much economic growth, nonetheless still a quarter of the population lived in poverty.

    By “poverty”, we are talking about 12% not having enough to meet basic daily calorific needs. The remainder did have enough to meet basic calorific needs, but precious little for anything else.

  2. @Paul Croft

    I agree with you about morality, it is subjective.
    So in my subjective view the 60’s and 70’s saw a decline in sexual behavious, marriage and the family.

    On the specific question re homosexuality it was neither right nor moral to treat them as criminals as they were in the past.

  3. Why so much focus here on cuts in child benefits to higher rate taxpayers, when they affect so few people, compared to other changes taking effect in April?

    Surely the cuts that will shift the polls will be those directly affecting far more people with far more moderate incomes. Consider the combined impact from April of:
    – non indexing of a wide range of benefits including all child benefit recipients
    – ditto for tax credits for low income working families
    – big increases in council tax as support for council tax benefit is withdrawn (anyone remember the not dissimilar impact of the poll tax on benefits?)_
    – implementation of cuts in housing benefit which go far beyond the cap, including for example those unlucky enough to fall prey to the “bedroom tax”
    – continuing restrictions on pay increases
    – withdrawal of a whole tranche of local authority support services combined with big increases in charges for others

    I suspect that the full impact of much of this has still to hit the polling radar of the general public, just as it has apparently to hit the radar of this pages. And when it does, the polls will shift.

  4. TOH

    And yet.
    As I posted last night, the post-70s era of markets unleashed, financial irresponsibility and huge structural unemployment did precisely NOTHING to our long term economic growth.

    Don’t you find that even mildly interesting? Doesn’t it give you even the tiniest thoughts that maybe the 45-75 period wasn’t the disaster that we are expected to think it was?

    Not even a bit?

  5. Leftylampton

    No, the post 70’s period just continues the problems generated during the period 46-75. Because we allowed the State to become too large we are set on inevitable decline until the economy collapses and we start again from the wreckage. I know its not what you want to hear but that is how i see it.

  6. LEFTY

    I submit these numbers for real gdp growth by decade, post WW11:-

    1950 to 1960 +29.9%
    1960 to 1970 +32.1%
    1970 to 1980 +21.3%
    1980 to 1990 +30.8%
    1990 to 2000 +29.8%

    Numbers were derived from this source :-

    I don’t want to make a political response to your assertion here, but merely say that I do not necessarily accept your statement “there was no major quantitative difference between our economic performance in the pre 70s and post 70s periods.”, because there is another , much more important issue.

    Here is the growth in real gdp for the decade prior to the last crisis-ie 1998 to 2008 ( derived from the same source :-

    + 31.0%

    All of us-including the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time-thought that performance was robust & credible . The CoE told us it was sustainable because “boom & bust” had been abolished.

    We -& he-were all wrong.

    A significant chunk of that growth is now known to have been illusory-it disappeared like snow in the sun as The State replaced Bank sector reserves which had been hammered by loan impairment charges & other write offs. THe tax revenues from this sector were, in effect, returned to the banks from which they came as the latter discovered they had been paid on paper profits which did not crystalise into reality.

    Let’s not argue about how much of that decades “growth” did not really exist-we can read the assessments which lie between 5% & 10% of terminal GDP. That range would reduce the real GDP growth in the pre-crisis decade from 31% to between 18% and 24% .

    The point I am trying to make is that we now know -if we did not know before-that GDP has both quantitive & qualititive components.

    And that was as true in the 60s & 70s as it has been shown to be in the last decade.

    THe question we must now always ask, therefore , is -is / was this growth sustainable ?

    My contention is that the domestically orientated, State controlled ( yes under Heath too-despite the Selsdon rhetoric) , Trade Union subservient, Managerially incompetent state of UK industry & the economy which it comprised was not at all the 60s & 70s

    I offer you one pointer to the future from those days :-

    In the two decades after 1950, Britain’s share of the world export market for manufactures had fallen from 25% to just 9%, while West Germany had surged from 7% to more than 22%.

    ….and that does bring us to philosophical differences-because you said in a prior post -“I’m relaxed about other countries overtaking us. “-and that has implications for living standards, the nature of society & the appropriate way to manage an economy in relative decline.

  7. I think that going on current Polls, a swing of 6-10 points from Labour back to Lib Dems and a similar swing from UKIP back to Conservatives we will see the two parties pretty evenly balanced going into the 2015 GE. The clincher will be the uniformity of the votes but my suspicion is that we will see Labour as the largest party but just short of a majority.

  8. @ Colin

    1980 to 1990 +30.8%
    Investment in the infrastructure for North Sea Oil & Gas in addition to the actual output from the fields.

  9. Lefty
    I read Road to Wigan Pier and most of Orwell’s other books when I was a teenager. One lesson I got from him was that people of all classes are to be valued and respected. I have looked up a quote that seems apposite in the light of our earlier exchanges about whether government knows best
    ““No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” “

  10. AMBER

    Yes a component I presume-though a quick Google reveals :-

    Investment in oil and gas extraction accounted for 6-8 per cent of all UK fixed investment from 1975 to 1983- During the 1980s the share of investment being allocated to the oil and gas extraction had fallen.

    Oil production commenced in 1975 , rising from zero to
    c65m tonnes by 1980 & peaking at c 125m tonnes around 1984, after which it declined.

    ( from a Birmingham Univ study )

  11. Meant to mention this from the same source Amber.

    UK Net Trade balance in Oil as % GDP plunged to 5% deficit in 1973, rising to break-even in 1980 & to 2.5% surplus in 1983-after which it steadily declined to a surplus of 0.5% or so by 1990 ( & continued that way until it went into deficit again around 2005)

  12. Phil

    I entirely agree However, when you have just personally lost 5% of your after tax income as a result of Osborneomics it does rather focus your attention.

    My primary point is that this group, which is not actually the highest rate tax payers, as they are protected by Osborne’s tax cut, have a large percentage of both Tory and LD voters their disillusionment with Conservative polices may well have an effect beyond their number in marginal seats.

    As a large percentage in this income strata are professionals in public sectors they are also being hit by 6 years of wage freezes and pension contribution increases which effectively mean a 20% fall in disposable income over this period of time and can readily empathise with the effect that changes are having on their junior colleagues.

  13. Yeah, I was surprised to find myself during debates with right-wingers myself elsewhere numerous moons ago, that the contribution of North Sea oil to our GDP in the eighties was not as big as you might think.

    (They in turn were surprised when I dug up some data showing that nonetheless, at its peak in Thatcher’s first term, the oil contributed something like fourteen or fifteen percent of government revenue.

    If we had that kind of money now we wouldn’t be too worried about our deficit).

    One of the big problems that crops up in debating economics is the same problem that you get in polling: making sure you are comparing like-with-like.

    Thus to compare the seventies – in which numerous economies were labouring under swinging oil price hikes – with the eighties, and especially as we entered the mid-eighties when we saw a COLLAPSE in the price of oil ushering in a worldwide boom from which we naturally benefited, can lead to flawed conclusions concerning the rectitude of a particular government’s policy.

    On the German thing, it’s worth bearing in mind we were in a different situation to them. For example, huge loans to pay back, and had to manage the decline of our empire. After the war our military spend was over seven percent of GDP. Whereas Germany and Japan had more of their defence needs catered for by others…

  14. @ Colin

    Please would your post your link to the BUni data; I think you have either misinterpreted the definitions or the numbers because what you have posted is not correct.


  15. @ Colin

    UK Net Trade balance…
    And of course exports of oil & gas are only one half of this statistic which you are quoting! The other half is imports.

  16. AMBER

    @”And of course exports of oil & gas are only one half of this statistic which you are quoting! The other half is imports.”


    RE your other question-yes happy to oblige-but before I do-explain why I have posted something which is incorrect.-or provide a link which so indicates.

  17. @ Colin

    It’s okay I found the BU article it myself.

    You appear to quote the 6%-8% without understanding 2 fairly basic things:

    1. Fixed assets in national accounts have a broader coverage than fixed assets in business accounts. Fixed assets are produced assets that are used repeatedly or continuously in production processes for more than one year. The stock of produced fixed assets consists of tangible assets (e.g. residential and non-residential building, roads, bridges, airports, railway, machinery, transport equipment, office equipment, vineyards and orchards, breeding livestock, dairy livestock, draught animals, sheep and other animals reared for their wool).

    The European System of Accounts (ESA95) explicitly includes produced intangible assets (e.g. mineral exploration, computer software, copyright protected entertainment, literary and artistic originals) within the definition of fixed assets.


    2. The UK fixed investment figures as sourced by BUni would exclude Foreign Direct Investment in Oil & Gas assets!

  18. Pete B

    Didn’t you read the next line?
    “We’d be having to bail out the banks that fell over themselves to give you the credit you craved to pay for your decisions”

    But to be serious for a moment, remember the context of that quote. Orwell was a foot soldier in the Manichaean struggle of the era. He despised the Soviet approach that he had seen sacrifice good honest men in Spain.

    To use that quote a propos the 1950s & 60s Man From The Ministry is, to be honest, silly and would have elicited a suitably barbed riposte from Orwell himself who had little patience for such indulgences.

  19. @ Colin

    @”And of course exports of oil & gas are only one half of this statistic which you are quoting! The other half is imports.”

    Do you not think it fairly remarkable that a developed economy which is the size of the UK was ever a net exporter of oil & gas?

    The USofA is the 3rd larges oil producing nation in the world & it has net IMPORTS of oil.

  20. Speculation is fine, but all we really have to go on is how people have been saying they would vote “if there were a general election tomorrow”… not how people will vote in a general election in a year or two away, nor how people might make up their minds in the run-up to an election.

    Recriminations following the break-up of the coalition, embarrassing leaks, a late breaking mega-omnishamble or UKIP/Tory-right shenanigans/indiscipline are just a sprinkling of the many pitfalls which could sink the Tories. It seems likely that Cameron (possibly even Clegg) will still be party leader, but we don’t know that.

    For Labour, Miliband is not perceived to be a tangible asset as yet. Would he have enough credibility in reserve to survive just one a big gaffe, or perhaps faltering in a bout of hostile questioning during the intense scrutiny of an election campaign?

    Much will depend on Labour having a hyperactive rebutal unit, and an unflappable frontbench team constantly assailing newsrooms and other media outlets. Balls (hopeless), Umunna (personable but wet), Khan (blustering), Eagle (a bit whiney), Cooper (lost her edge), Cruddas (limited appeal), Byrne (don’t get me started)?

    Say what you like about Harman, Mandelson, Blunkett, Reid, Staw, Beckett, Prescott, Milburn, Jowell, Short, Falconer et al – they weren’t lacking in self-confidence.

  21. Colin

    Thanks for joining in the fact-based discussion

    Three observations.

    1) measurements of growth between 1Jan 19×0 and 31 Dec 19×9 is not a sensible way to draw a conclusion. It fails to account for passing trends. For example, we entered the 70s in a passing period of economic expansion and left it in a passing period of contraction. So that affects the apparent growth if the calendar decade. Go and look at my graph. That gives the whole data set in one go. Look at it and tell me honestly whether you see a quantitative difference between the 1970s and any other post-War decade.

    2)Surely you understand the context of the post 1950 export figures that you quote? In 1950 we still had an Empire and had one of the few functioning economies in the developed world. By 1970, other countries had re built themselves and we had magnanimously given away our Empire. AND Germany had the massive advantage of a Common Market to sell its exports to.

    3) in any case, my take on the relative merits of the pre and post 70s systems is a more global one. You compare our post-War performance unfavourably to that of Germany. But that kind of makes my point. Germany’s astonishing Wirtschaftswunder was a classic example of the possibilities of directed, controlled social capitalism of a form that we have never employed in this country.

    I’ll repeat. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the belief that the unfettered market economy we had pre-War or from the 80s onwards is the best form of capitalism that we can expect. We can do better. Much better.

  22. AMBER

    Glad you found it -so you will know that :-

    “Investment in oil and gas extraction accounted for 6-8 per cent of all UK fixed investment from 1975 to 1983- During the 1980s the share of investment being allocated to the oil and gas extraction had fallen.”

    was a direct quotation. & not possible to misinterpret.
    It is just a statement lifted from the paper.

    THe reason I quoted it was because you said :-

    “Investment in the infrastructure for North Sea Oil & Gas in addition to the actual output from the fields”

    -as a commentary on my numbers for real gdp growth in the 80s.

    So I wondered if the implication of your point-that Thatcher had a benefit not available to Wilson-had validity.

    AS you will now see from the Birmingham paper ( Fig 9.2) investment in NS oil infrastructure commenced & peaked under Wilson , then declined under THatcher.

    Your post at 6.20pm confuses me-what is it all about & how is it relevant to your initial comment that GDP growth in the 80s included:-

    “”Investment in the infrastructure for North Sea Oil & Gas in addition to the actual output from the fields”

    and my response that -yes it probably did -but so did GDP growth in the 70s-when the whole thing commenced.?

    And why did you think it worth explaining to me that the NET trade balances which I quoted are a combination of both Exports & Imports-I ask again………yes-I know-.sooo??

    Finally-my correspondence was with Lefty-and I went out of my way to say to him I did not wish to get into a deep dispute about the relative GDP growth in the 70s & 80s-since I wanted to make a point about GDP sustainability & try to meet him on the issue of philosophy of post war economic outcomes & their lessons.

  23. LEFTY


    I have said my piece now & know we will not find much common ground.

    I note your last para-and if your central point has really been that we can “do better” than the post 80s “form of capitalism”-then I fear I have wasted a lot of time & effort-because I find nothing to disagree with in that contention.

  24. Borgen is back.

    quite a lot of smileys.

  25. @ Colin

    Fair enough; IMO the data you presented was lifted from an obscure tract by Birmingham University without any context but I’m happy to leave it there. :-)

  26. @PeteB

    “Getting into debt is a matter of individual choice and cannot be blamed on anyone else”

    Much the same could be said of murder, suicide, drinking too much, getting too fat, taking noxious drugs, driving too fast and much else of which it could be said that there is too much of it about.

    At an individual level such statements raise tricky philosophical issues about the nature of responsibility and ethical ones about our right to cast the first stone. But I guess that you were pointing to a valid principle that other things being equal people must be free to take risks and make mistakes but should be held accountable for what they do.

    The problem is partly that other things are rarely equal. So if I am pretty certain you are intent on murder I would feel justified in trying to stop you irrespective of the constraints on your freedom. Personally I would feel the same if I saw someone about to jump off a bridge, although here there could be more debate.

    There are also social as well as individual issues to consider. So the incidence of the various sins and misdemeanours mentioned above varies massively over time and between different societies, social groups etc. Crucially the overall level of these things can often be influenced by the state (e.g. the law on wearing motor bike helmets reduced motor bike theft by about 25% although this was not its aim). There is therefore almost always a political question over whether and if so in what way the state should try to influence them.

    Thus there can arise a conflict between your perfectly reasonable principle and other principles about the kind of society we want, and our obligations to our neighbours. In practice these are resolved by compromise, debate, and the use of measures short of constraint (e.g. the provision of information.or the use of prices). So for most people it is not a choice between Napoleon the pig and a notion of freedom whereby almost anything short of battery is allowed. Inevitably there are differences over where the line should be drawn but that is why we have elections, debates, pressure groups, judges, press, sites like this one and so on.

    I think this way of resolving things is OK. I suspect that I would like more of a role for the state than you would but I accept that for the moment things may be going your way, always with the proviso that on particular issues (e.g. debt) I am free to try and persuade you to change your mind.

  27. Interestingly Animal Farm was on the television this evening.Still brings a tear
    To the eye.

  28. @ Paul Croft

    “Moraiity is subjective: homosexuals were prosecuted not so long ago – was that moral, to give one example?”

    To answer your question, no.

    To quote Anthony Kennedy and Whoopi Goldberg “it was wrong then, it is wrong now.”

    @ Alec

    “Oddly enough, the 1920?s were also characterized by an exuberant optimism, a flowering of personal free expression and relative social liberation, and the availability of easy credit. The end result was the same.”

    Really? I didn’t know that. I thought that both Britain and France in those days were mired in Recession even as the U.S. temporarily boomed. I also imagine that life was probably not too good in Britain for the work class, the unemployed, the impoverished, and World War I veterans. I knew about Berlin being the gay capital of the world at the time. Shows how quickly things can go very awry.

  29. Lefty
    “To use that quote a propos the 1950s & 60s Man From The Ministry is, to be honest, silly and would have elicited a suitably barbed riposte from Orwell himself who had little patience for such indulgences.”

    I quoted Orwell in response to your statement that

    “In the case of the financial sector over the last generation, I’d have thought it was self-evident that THEIR freedoms (and the freedoms of other free actors to take on their products) have led us into a bit of a pickle.

    Maybe if we’d had a (fallible) Government taking away a little bit of that liberty of action, the outcome might have been a bit less bad.”

    It was not to do with the 50s and 60s in particular, but rather the notion that government knows best. It rarely does. There are many examples of unintended consequences of government policy – e.g. banning smoking in pubs has led to widespread closures, thus damaging both the economy and social cohesion in one go.

  30. Charles

    Thanks for the reply to my post, but I made a particular point about debt, and was not advocating total unbridled freedom. To equate getting into debt with intent to murder is to misunderstand my point.

    In any society there must be laws or at least rules of some kind, I just don’t think that an individual’s decision to get into debt is anything to do with the government. Neither is wearing a crash helmet in my opinion, but perhaps that is not a subject pertinent to this site.

  31. TOH.

    It’s not a question of what I “want” to hear. I’m genuinely surprised that you would think it were. There are a million places I could look at if I were interested only in reading opinions that supported my own. I post on here because (generally) I find the discussions stimulating, informative and challenging, and I am sincerely interested in hearing opinions that challenge my own. Which regularly happens on here.

    However, I can honestly say that an opinion which disregards the horrors of the Great Depression and claims with no back-up whatsoever that the ills of our country started with the Welfare State will NOT be getting me reflecting in a fumigated cork-lined room.

  32. @PeteB

    Glad to hear you are not in favour of anarchy. My murder example was simply to point out that the argument you use in favour of allowing indebtedness is similar to the argument the American gun lobby uses in favour of guns. ” It is not the guns that kill it is the people that use them” is similar in its logic to ” It is not the availability of credit that leads to indebtedness, it is the folly of debtors.”

    That said, the crash helmet law affected the number of people who had their motor bikes stolen and the latter is surely the business of the government. Similarly regulations on (say) the reserves banks must hold relative to the amount they lend are likely to affect the numbers indebted and this in turn will have an impact on the rest of the economy. It is hard to say that this is not the business of the government, although it is possible to say, as you apparently do, that citizens have an inalienable right to pile up debt and that in practice government attempts to intervene will only make things worse.

    Personally I think that the amount of debt held by private citizens is probably a more serious problem than the indebtedness of the state. Indeed there is an argument that the state has to borrow and spend, because the citizens are too indebted to do this, and without the state everything would grind to a halt. Whether or not this is so, I think that this particular issue needs to be argued on its particular merits rather than on the blanket assumption that the state is always wrong.

  33. @Pete B – “e.g. banning smoking in pubs has led to widespread closures, thus damaging both the economy and social cohesion in one go.”

    As an example of governments getting it wrong, this is a poor example. Pubs have been closing for a long time now, and the smoking ban has very little to do with this. Petrol prices are much more significant in rural areas, as is greater attention to drink driving laws. The price of a pint and cheap supermarket alcohol is probably the biggest single factor.

    In point of fact, I’ve seen a number of studies suggesting pub visits increased after the smoking ban. This seems reasonable, as 75% of the population don’t smoke, and many of those found smoky atmospheres in pub very unpleasant.

    On the debt issue, I think it’s worth making the point that the former regulations on lending didn’t actually apply to individuals – they applied to the lending institutions. Governments recognised the fact that such institutions made money from lending, and therefore could have a vested interested in lending more than was wise. In this, events have proved them correct, and not for the first time.

    You can argue that these decisions should be left to the institutions themselves, as if they run up bad loans it’s their own fault. But I would then suggest you have a look at the global effect of the credit crunch to see how this argument fails.

  34. Wow, this one went on long enough as though we were trying to compete with Anthony. I am on page 1 by the way and nowhere else. I’ve read quite a few and come back to the title of the piece. Is it possible that nobody will win? I am wondering whether the two largest parties end up exactly equal and among the flotsam and jetsam there are an equal number of right wingers and left wingers so it becomes impossible to form a coalition. Imagine (for example) the remaining LDs (say a doz) are split 6 orange bookers and 6 lefties – and so on. I have no idea whether the SNP members are likely to be one or other. If they get independence, they will presumably disband the SNP and form a left wing party and a right wing one.

    Perhaps then we could cease with Ministers and just let John Bercow decide everything (casting vote).

  35. Charles
    I’m with the gun lobby. As Prince Philip said after the Dunblane massacre – “What would they have done if he’d used a cricket bat? Banned cricket?”
    I can see that semi-automatic machine guns should be restricted to the military, but that’s about it. Banning handguns in the UK has not stopped criminals getting them, just legitimate users.

    I don’t say that the government is always wrong, just that many of the private matters that it interferes with often have unintended consequences. Your own example of motor-bike theft going down when crash helmets were made compulsory is an example. In this case the consequences were good, but the point is that the government did not foresee them.

  36. Howard

    Good point. I think we have digressed too much – as usually happens when Anthony hasn’t posted an article for a few days. This one was very good and sums it all up pretty well. Basically, anything could happen, and then of course as MacMillan said “Events, dear boy, events”

    Perhaps Tories should be hoping that the Argies turn their rhetoric into action again?

  37. Colin

    I am afraid to say we switched off Borgen. We just like our murders, whether in Danish or Swahili.

    Glad to hear you like it though and I hope there are many more who do, so that the ratings ‘suits’ don’t try and stop BBC4. BBC4 is the new BBC2. (Gleeful smiley)

  38. Howard:

    I’m sure there’s no need to be afraid – we won’t tell anyone.

  39. @Howard

    Your scenario seems sensible so let me develop it a bit further.

    Even if the LDs stay united and have around 20 rather than 12 MPs to bolster into any coalition, that wouldn’t be enough to guarantee a majority over a whole parliament (given by-elections) for a coalition formed with either Con or Lab, were the total seat tallies for the two to be quite close together. There are currently 28 MPs other than C/L/LD and it can be expected to be in the 35 to 40 range next time.

    It’s quite possible that there could be two GEs in fairly short succession. Indeed that might be an outcome which Labour would be comfortable with, rather than relying on unstable minority government or rainbow coalitions, because it would then open up the opportunity to take back some seats in two bites rather than one. That is, using the first election to get back within striking distance and garner tactical anti Conservative votes in the second.

  40. If the LDs only had 20 seats they could only offer C&S.

  41. @Jim Jam

    They certainly couldn’t offer a majority in coalition even with one of the main parties having 20 more seats than the other Cons e.g. Lab (or Con) 305, Con (or Lab) 285, LD 20, Others 40. And by elections wouldn’t help the situation.

  42. I’m with the gun lobby. As Prince Philip said after the Dunblane massacre – “What would they have done if he’d used a cricket bat? Banned cricket?”
    If Prince Philip really said that, he is more of an idiot than I thought he was.

    Had a cricket bat been the weapon of choice, somebody would simply have tackled the attacker with a chair or similar.

  43. I think Phil Haines was right about the comparatively small difference that even a bigger than UNS swing away from the Lib Dems in their Con marginals would have (not that I think such a thing likely). One reason of course is that the Lib Dems failed to win a lot of such seats at the last election. Indeed they had a net ‘loss’ of nine seats to the Conservatives and failed to capture dozens from them that they were expected to. You can’t gain a seat you already have.

    Only 13 of Anthony’s top 50 Tory targets are Lib Dem and though it’s very possible that they could pick up some seats, there simply won’t be enough to compensate for losses to Labour. It may be that the Conservatives hope for this. According to a recent Guardian article:

    The Conservatives are in second place in 38 Lib Dem seats, of which 20 would fall to David Cameron on a swing of 5%.

    Grant Shapps, the Conservative party chairman, has promised he will show no mercy to the Lib Dems, and up to half of the 40 seats targeted by his party for gains will be seats held by their coalition partners

    Given that 20 would include such unlikely targets as Argyll & Bute I suspect a lot of this is fighting talk. It also relies on tactical and disillusioned 2010 Lib Dems flocking to Labour in Lib Dem seats. I’m not sure that will happen, no matter what commenters on Guardian articles proclaim. Most people will still vote for their least worst option rather than having to spite Nick Clegg as their main aim.

    For some reason the Lib Dems seem to have been love-bombing the Guardian in the last couple of days, with loads of articles resulting (some rather delusional). It’s clear from the above article that they will be fighting entirely defensively and locally, hoping that their MPs’ work on the ground will save them. This got me thinking about another of Anthony’s possible mini-lifebelts for the Tories – the incumbency bonus.

    Traditionally this is seen as rewarding MPs for their constituency work – it was always said to worth 1,000 to 1,500 votes, though varying with the effectiveness and length of service (it may even be negative in the case of some members). This may be true still, though I suspect nowadays constituents may be more likely to see MP’s help as another service that they are paying for. But there may be another related bonus.

    This is to do with constituency organisation and local campaigning. An existing MP will have the advantage of an infrastructure and the ability and record to have built up the network of local activists. At a time where general political enthusiasm is depressed and Party membership at its lowest ever, effective local activity may show greater relative returns because it is less common. And basing it around a current MP is always going to be easier.

    Even more than constituency casework this is going to vary and so is the bonus resulting from it. Some will be individual – MPs may not have the skills or the interest or may not see it as a priority. It’s possible that many of the latest generation of MPs with a Westminster bias (many of Cameron’s A-listers for example) may not have the inclination. But the state of the Parties will matter just as much – no matter how keen, an MP will need to get people to do the work.

    It’s here that the Conservatives may be in trouble. Membership has fallen below Labour’s and there are reports of widespread discontent. Some of those seats won in 2010 may simply not have the manpower to deliver the incumbency bonus.

    But the Lib Dems are the ones who rely on incumbency the most – indeed are basing their whole strategy around it. But they also are the ones having the most problems with their activists, who as illustrated by some who comment here, have been resigning in large number or restricting what they are prepared to do. Furthermore the Lib Dems have been losing their councillors in large numbers and they provide much of the support network (and have their incumbency bonuses).

  44. If the attacker had used Prince Philip’s sense of humour as a weapon, there would have been nothing more than blunt trauma injuries. A half-educated, reactionary, boorish bully passing himself off as a common sense philosopher. A repellent throwback to an era best left behind.

  45. Jim Jam

    Just one slight quibble re UKIP-Cons.

    IIRC Ashcroft polls and others have shown that most (around 75% I think) of new UKIP supporters voted Cons at the 2010 GE.

    In this context I think it is fair to postulate that a UKIP decline from say 10% VI to 4% at the GE would be worth net around 4% for the Conservatives over Labour.

    For me the ‘real’ Tory VI is 35%+ already due to this and a good wedge of returning DKs on YG at least.

    If you look at Ashcroft’s November mega-survey (sample 20k) 2010 Conservatives actually only made up 55% of the ‘new’ UKIP voters and only 42% of their total vote (figures again not adjusted for turnout). So it would require every 2010 Tory to UKIP voter to go back to the Conservatives to give them that 4 point boost.

    This seems unlikely but you can’t get an exact figure from the November poll because, bizarrely given that it’s a poll about UKIP, there are no VI columns for current UKIP voters in the analysis. So you can’t tell how many current UKIP voters might consider voting for other Parties.

  46. @Amber, Charles,

    “Had a cricket bat been the weapon of choice, somebody would simply have tackled the attacker with a chair or similar.”

    Indeed – there is a fundamental difference between guns and other forms of weapon. Not long after Dunblane, a schizophrenic attacked an infants’ school picnic with a machete (in Wolverhampton, I think). No-one died, not even the teacher who shielded the children.

  47. Anyone can use a car as a deadly weapon able to kill dozens of people by driving it at high speed into a large crowd. So not all non-gun weapons are as harmless as cricket bats.

  48. Roger – OK then only 2-3% boost then from returning erstwhile UKIP supporters to their 2010 Tory voting position.

  49. Anyone can use a car as a deadly weapon able to kill dozens of people by driving it at high speed into a large crowd.
    Indeed. And the ‘White Van Conservative’ initiative was abandoned immediately after a driver in Wales did exactly that.

    However as you appear (perhaps unintentionally) to be giving support to Prince Philip’s remark, I will point out:
    1. Cricket bats were not designed for killing things; being used as a weapon is ancillary to their primary purpose;
    2. Motor vehicles fall into the same category as cricket bats;
    3. Guns were designed primarily for killing things; shooting as a sport is ancillary.

    And further undermining Prince Philip’s (IMO, stupid) analogy: Shooting, as a sport, has not actually been banned!

  50. IMO, Conservative election strategy:

    1. Say that the Coalition was a necessary evil;
    2. Insist that the LibDems were a massive brake on doing what was necessary to slash public spending & save the economy; were it not for the LDs, Britain would be AAA, deficit free & doing great things economically;
    3. Say that the LibDems are the most left-wing Party in the history of the universe;
    4. Cross fingers & hope that lefty LibDems will go back to voting LD instead of Labour & some orange book, right leaning LDs will vote Tory to keep Labour out, if the Tories don’t tack too far to the right.

    That’s it; that’s the strategy in a nut-shell.

1 3 4 5 6 7