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”

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  1. YouGov (Sunday Times)
    Con 32 Lab 43 LD 10 UKIP 9

  2. The correct response to a cricket bat attack it to chuck a cricket ball at the attacker.

    Never fails.

  3. There’s a lovely little question tagged on at the end of YG for the Sunday Times.

    If you could make one wish for 2013, would it be:
    1. Good health 39%
    2. A Happy family 30%
    3. More money 22%
    4. To be Famous 0%
    5. Something else 7%
    6. Don’t know 2%

    Was this prompted by our discussion of narcissism, I wonder. Anyway, given almost nobody surveyed by YG wants to be famous, I think we have over-egged the narcissism issue!

  4. Which of the main political parties do you trust the most on the issue of welfare benefits?
    Con 22%
    Lab 30%
    Dem 6%
    None of them 34%
    Don’t Know 8%

    This is a tad odd because the public then go on to show more support for Tory policy & PR on welfare!

  5. Top of the Morning AMBER and all, and Happy Christmas to all Eastern Christians.

    The poll ratings seem stuck.

  6. Haven’t seen it mentioned yet –
    Survation/MoS –
    Lab 38, Con 29, UKIP 16, Lib 11

  7. Amber – another 43% despite your having given it the apparent kiss of death by your comments yesterday.

    AW must also be pretty pleased, in professional terms, by the fact that YouGov have delivered three virtually unchanged polls in successive days. It suggests not only that VI is pretty stable at the moment, but also that YouGov’s weighting methods are consistently able to expose this by stripping out the inevitable random variation (if not necessarily systematic error).

  8. @Paul Croft

    Are you advocating bodyline?

  9. @Pete B

    Our disagreement seems to be partly over how the world works – e.g. over how likely it is that gun control measures would affect death rates and how far government is likely to take these measures. It is also about values. Grant for the moment that government measures could reduce death rates, how many deaths per year would you tolerate on average before you thought that it should restrict freedom by acting? In my case the answer would be none but my guess is that you would certainly not accept a thousand deaths as the result of government inaction. In other areas where similar questions arise (e.g. obesity, alcohol abuse, dangerous driving) we might be closer together. All of which seems to me to show the danger of giving blanket answers to these questions rather than trying to tease each one out on its merits.

  10. @ Chris Lane 1945

    Good morning, to you.

    Survation LibDem 11; Looks a bit high ;-)

  11. @Amber
    “This is a tad odd because the public then go on to show more support for Tory policy & PR on welfare!”

    Indeed, the polls continue to be contradictory, even those exclusively from YouGov. It’s worth reading this set of polls with the ones that YouGov did for the TUC a couple of days back.

    The TUC one suggests that the public switch to opposing changes when the focus is on cuts for people in work on low incomes. (The Sunday Times didn’t ask a question that focused exclusively on tax credits for those in work.)
    Also there is an overall perception that benefits are higher than they are in practice.

    One other point. The net balance of those in favour or against a policy doesn’t always indicate how it may shift VI. I suggest that it’s most likely to impact on the VI of people who are directly affected.

  12. MOS C29 L38 LD11 & UKIP16

    Into the UNS swing-o-meter it goes and:

    Con 219
    Lab 372
    Dem 32
    Oth 9
    NI 18

    Labour Majority of 94

  13. @ Phil Haines

    One other point. The net balance of those in favour or against a policy doesn’t always indicate how it may shift VI. I suggest that it’s most likely to impact on the VI of people who are directly affected.
    That’s a good point; there seems to be a perception that many people facing child benefit claw-back & other tax credit cuts are unaware that the changes will affect them.

    I think that in addition to the 3 three year 1% ‘freeze’, there are some actual cuts in tax credits to come first in April of this year.

  14. @Leftylampton

    How you could conclude that I ignored the great depression of the 30’s I just do not understand. I was talking about economic and morale decline we have seen in this country since 1945 and particularly in the 60’s and 70’s. I never mentioned the 30’s at all.

  15. On HS2, those sampled opposed the link to Birmingham by 53% to 24% and the extension beyond that by 50% to 25%. It might have been to do with the fact that the cost (£29bn in total) was mentioned, which I can’t recall having been the case in some earlier polls. Or maybe the public are becoming more realistic about priorities than politicians as widespread cuts elsewhere come into effect.

    Labour supporters are very slightly more opposed than Conservatives. If Miliband wants to demonstrate financial prudence by putting forward alternative cuts to those of the coalition, HS2 should be top of the list. £29bn (or probably even more) would go a long way.

  16. @Amber Star

    Is there going to be an election tomorrow then?
    I think a forecast now is really irrelevent as AW points out in his article. It is just wishful thinking. Much more relevent is the point i made earlier on here, that it does not matter who wins, our economic decline will continue while we try to maintain an overlarge State.

  17. Phil – imo I think labour need to be careful about not supporting a massive infrastructure investment project; and, if we did oppose HS2 the logic of our position on these matters is that we could only do so if we ‘invested’ the £29bn more effectively elsewhere.

    Would HS2 be part of ‘current spending’ My thoughts are that only the interest on the added debt would come out of the current account and thus affect the structural defecit, perhaps someone who knows about these things could inform me?

  18. @ TOH

    …our economic decline will continue while we try to maintain an overlarge State.
    I think that there is a plan afoot from the Conservatives to remove the retirement age & cease all payment of pensions for those who have not actually retired i.e. people who continue to work.

    It is not spelled out in the above words but I can think of no other reason for removing the retirement age give that there is currently nothing to prevent people continuing to work after retirement age.

    What say you to that idea? It could massively cut the state, public sector & private sector pensions at a stroke of the legislative pen.

  19. @ TOH

    Regarding the swing-o-meter, it is interesting to see the impact of a UKIP 16%, don’t you think? Or are you convinced that UKIP will fade away after Cameron’s much trailed EU speech on the 19th?

  20. @ Amber Star

    “MOS C29 L38 LD11 & UKIP16
    Into the UNS swing-o-meter it goes and:
    Con 219
    Lab 372
    Dem 32
    Oth 9
    NI 18
    Labour Majority of 94”

    Put that way it looks good…but if you follow the JimJam idea that the bulk of UKIP would go back to Con and that there will be some Lab-LD attrition in a GE campaign then it would not be so good.

    The YouGov poll is much better for Lab IMO because it could withstand both.

  21. @Amber Star

    I personally have no problem with that. I had to retire when i was 52 due to ill health and did not receive a state pension until i was 65 and quite honestly could do without it now if I had to. I use it to pay for my health insurance.
    But that would still be tinkering with the problem. The decline and fall I forsee will lead to a complete collapse of the state as in Greece. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are prepared to deal with it, and as i said before the policies needed to save us economically are probably not an electable strategy which is why i am so gloomy for the future of this Country.

  22. @Amber Star

    As far as UKIP are concerned I find a lot of their policies attractive but i have no faith in our electorial system delivering UKIP seats, nor do i have any faith in Forage.

  23. Personally I dont think Cameron is going to push for an In-Out EU referendum (at least not yet – it might be a last chance saloon measure if things dont go well between now and 2015) because he is well aware of what a pandoras box he will be opening if he does.

    He is far more likely to present an obfuscating fudge in an attempt to damp down the quarrelling factions of this issue.

    As I think has been mentioned on here many times the rise of UKIP is not really about Europe and the EU but is more to do with Cons not appearing right wing or conservative enough to some of their diehard voters. This is probably an inevitable consequence for the Con party of forming a coalition with the LDs.

  24. As has been mentioned on here before if Cameron panders to the UKIP tendency on his right flank he opens up the possibility of losing voters on his left.

    In particular his coalition partners would be well placed to make some traction (where as to date the whole presence of the coalition has muted this possibility) and this runs the risk of costing the Cons almost as much as the rise of UKIP does in the first place.

    Remember in 2010 it was the failure of the Cons to make as much a gain in LD-Con marginals as they did nationally that probably cost them an OM.

  25. @Amberstar – “I think that there is a plan afoot from the Conservatives to remove the retirement age & cease all payment of pensions for those who have not actually retired i.e. people who continue to work.”

    With all due respect, I think this notion is fanciful in the extreme. It would be devastating to many working pensioners and would be electoral suicide.

    Most working pensioners are working because they can’t afford to retire. Removing the pension from these people would have enormous consequences for many in these circumstances.

    It also removes the principle of universality – which would open up some very major issues around pensions and raise the question of why they are attacking hard up ‘strivers’ while allowing retired millionaires to draw their state pension in full – electoral suicide.

    In point of fact, I suspect you’ve entirely misunderstood the idea of scrapping the retirement age. Apart from any issues around human rights legislation that there may be, Tories (and Labour) are keen to abolish the retirement age to allow pensioners to continue to work to supplement their pensions without recourse to greater state aid.

    There is also already a voluntary option to delay drawing your pension, with the amount you finally get paid increasing with each year you delay. Any move to stop working pensioners draw their pension would simply have to pay them this higher rate once they did finally retire, and as this is based on actuarial calculations, I would assume that there is no net difference in the total cost of retiring at the normal age or later.

    I think there may be times when we look a little too closely for devious and unpleasant motives when our opponents do something, and this may be one of those times. There is, in my mind, absolutely no chance that this, or any, government, would want to try and prevent workers over the retirement age from drawing their state pension.

  26. @ Alec

    In point of fact, I suspect you’ve entirely misunderstood the idea of scrapping the retirement age.
    Then please elucidate. As it stands, there is no longer a compulsory retirement age due to age discrimination law plus there are encouragements already offered to defer pensions so I’d be happy if somebody would explain what the point of scrapping the retirement age is.

  27. At the last GE, Angus Reid were a newcomer to UK internet polling and consequently hadn’t had a chance to garner immediate recall data on voting from previous elections to correct systematic bias in their panel. That’s particularly important with internet polling, given that panels are prone to a self selection bias. So it’s understandable that AR were way out in 2010, overstating the Con lead over Labour by a net 5%.

    Survation are in much the same position now with an untested panel and consequently we should be very sceptical indeed about their results, leaving aside other debateable points about their methodology. At the moment I don’t think that they can be considered a serious player.

  28. Amber
    Regarding voters’ hopes for 2013, it signifies low scores on envy. One might have thought the ‘make more money’ would be higher, for instance. Perhaps ‘less debt’ should have been offered.

    I see the result as propitious for Labour. Good health and happiness are not typical aims for the grabbers of this world, although hypocrisy of answers (see polling on benefits) should not be ruled out.

  29. Its not strange that the tories are less trusted on benefits even though their policies and pr are more popular. Its a question of motive, the tories are suspected of wanting to reduce benifits because they are nasty, also many folk that want others benifits to be reduced can’t or won’t trust the tories not to take benefits away from the deserving as well. The tories are saying that the undeserving should lose thier benifits but what a lot of the public is hearing is that the tories want to get rid of benifits altogether

  30. Phil
    We have discussed here previously that the way the VI question is phrased seems crucial to UKIP results. Don’t mention them and you get YouGov results. I don’t know what Survation do. Is there a link please?

    I had a typo ‘YouGove’ in above para. Spooky.

  31. RinN
    I believe the modern way of agreeing on the Net is


  32. @Phil Haines

    “£29bn (or probably even more) would go a long way.”

    Would it? Building HS2 works out at about £2bn per year for 16 years, start in 2017 by which time the spending cuts will have almost certainly have finished or nearly finished. as against that you have to consider what it may cost to not build HS2. Rail use is going up and up and up and we are approaching the point where commuting from Watford, Milton Keynes and Rugby will become impossible, along with the economic damage that will cause.

    Stop HS2 et al have tried endlessly to push this idea of yours to Labour. It hasn’t worked so far, it’s probably not going to work now.

    Anyway, if you want to save money now, I suggest you pop along to City Hall and suggest to Boris saving £2bn per year axing that expensive scheme called Crossrail. Good luck leaving London in one piece.

  33. @Jim Jam
    I take your point but there’s a danger of overcomplicating it. There would be plenty of scope for Labour were to earmark the £29bn without even having to change the totality of the coalition’s spending programmes. It could be for a reversal of real terms planned cuts in some other capital investment budgets that the coalition had planned for beyond 2015. Or it could be to reestablish budgets that have already disappeared (e.g. construction of social housing). I don’t think it really matters which.

  34. @Amberstar – “Then please elucidate. As it stands, there is no longer a compulsory retirement age due to age discrimination law plus there are encouragements already offered to defer pensions so I’d be happy if somebody would explain what the point of scrapping the retirement age is.”

    You’ve explained it yourself in nutshell. The retirement age has been scrapped because it’s discriminatory for forms to sack people for being a certain age. That was exactly my point.

  35. “There would be plenty of scope for Labour were to earmark the £29bn without even having to change the totality of the coalition’s spending programmes.”

    Or, more accurately, there would be scope to earmark approximately £4-5bn in the 2015-2020 Parliament. The remainder would be spent in subsequent Parliaments.

    As total government spending in the 2015-2020 Parliament is likely to be around £4,000bn, can you see the flaw in this idea?

  36. HS2 is (leaving aside the speed bit) essentially a resurrection of the Great Central Railway. It even follows its trajectory, even the engineering formation, for a substantial distance, including across the Chilterns. It was the brainchild of a man, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, who had a vision of fast trains to Europe (when that was a separate place) .

    Ironically the inhabitants of Aylesbury and the like would have had the brass bands and bunting out for its opening, as presumably they did when the M40 was ploughed across the area, serving up a constant drone of noise every second of the daylight hours.

    I doubt very much if Mrs Gillan can turn the HS2 into a national issue. One needs bigger guns on one’s side than she has. We need a poll though on that!

  37. It’s a shame that britain still doesn’t have high speed rail, it might be a vanity project, it fact it most probably is but I hate that we dont have anything to compare with the french high speed trains. Bloodly hell, I just realized that by the time we get our high speed trains we will be more than 50 years behind the french!!!!

  38. I am totally against the workfare schemes from Labour. These schemes cost a fortune to administer and provide at best cheap labour and at worst no value to the employer.

    I would ignore the ‘workshy scroungers’ and focus on those that do want to work. Get them appropriate training and apprenticeships etc. After we get everyone that wants to work into work then we can worry about the ones that don’t.

  39. HS2 would be brilliant for the North of the country, and it is for that reason I’m skeptical it will ever go through. My housemate at Uni says hs2 will go right past his house in Bucks, but to not see the advantages it would give to cities such as Manc, Leeds, and particularly Sheffield which is currently on a reasonably slow line is naive to say the least, and of course to Brum as well, which will of course be completed sooner.

    Bearing in mind it’s the Labour North if benefits they should be pushing this through in my opinion!

  40. @ Alec

    Regarding the retirement age already having been scrapped, somebody needs to tell the Tory 2020 Group.

    “The range of new measures – requested by the Chancellor George Osborne — include abolishing the retirement age, extending the school day by up to three hours and paying lower benefits in the North and other parts of the country where the cost of living is less expensive.

    Other suggestions include encouraging more disabled people to work and obliging pupils who fail their exams to take resits during school holidays. In a wide-ranging report, the MPs also call for a “more entrepreneurial economy” that “re-legitimises wealth creation”.

    The policies have been put forward in a paper by members of the 2020 Group, a panel of 70 Conservative MPs including Cabinet ministers, such as Michael Gove and Justine Greening, as well as rising stars within the party such as Claire Perry and Matthew Hancock, the Chancellor’s former chief of staff. Mr Osborne asked the group last year to draw up a range of policies for the party’s next general election manifesto.”

  41. TOH

    I fully appreciate that you never mentioned the 1930s. That was precisely my point. You never mentioned it.

    You said “To me much of Western Civilisation shows that a process of terminal decline is well under way. I think it started in the late 40,s with the growth of the welfare state throughout Europe.”

    I’m struggling to draw any conclusion from that other than that you feel that things were better BEFORE the Welfare State started the collapse of western civilisation. And therefore that you consider the situation in the 1930s to have been better than that which came after.

    Feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood.

  42. @Chris Neville-Smith

    Better still, why don’t you pop along and compare the cost-benefit economic case for HS2 on a £ for £ basis with just about any piece of publically funded infrastructure investment anywhere. You could start with numerous examples of far more cost-effective smaller scale rail infrastructure projects that won’t get the go ahead because of the priority being given to this white elephant.

    £2bn extra on the best of these in each of 16 years would indeed go a very long way.

    “start in 2017 by which time the spending cuts will have almost certainly have finished or nearly finished”
    No, even on this rosy scenario, all that happens if that after 2017 year-on-year budgets won’t go down any further. But every year after that those investment budgets will continue at their now reduced level, permanently. We won’t magically see a return to 2010 investment levels in 2018. Without extra spending, the cuts are permanent.

    The case challenging your point on rail capacity is well established, and the case for encouraging ever more long distance commuting into London is likewise dubious, particularly in the absence of any policies for regional economies. I could go into great length on both points but please forgive me for choosing not to.

  43. @ Howard

    Was your 12 seats for Lib Dems you mentioned in an earlier post just a footie fan in pessimistic mode or did you have any more insight into why you think it will be THAT bad for the Lib Dems?

    I can’t recall your personal political situation, obviously an unhappy Lib Dem with nowhere else to go, but I don’t know if you are still actively or socially involved in your local party. I know AW has talked about losing footsoldiers when you lose local councillors (which is key to the previous Lib Dem success) and I wondered if you were talking from a position of knowing that there is going to be a serious shortage of activists or just getting the reaction on the doorstep that despite any local popularity that former voters will not vote Lib Dem next time.

    I used to be a Labour activist in the late 1980’s and I noticed the decline and resignations that followed from Blair being made party leader (me earlier than most and didn’t even vote Labour in 1997) and in our ward we very soon moved from very close contests with the Lib Dems for the council seats into 3rd place. Obviously Labour was doing well in the country but it made little difference to our local activists who were not much interested in spending so much time on a Blair led government.

    I find it very hard to believe the Lib Dems will not pick up 20-30 seats next time and upper end of that or more if UKIP continue to split the Tory vote.

  44. @CNS
    “As total government spending in the 2015-2020 Parliament is likely to be around £4,000bn, can you see the flaw in this idea?”

    On the contrary, I see the opportunity to keep within the totality of very long term spending plans whilst investing some of that total sum much earlier. And the benefits of those projects would be felt well before the first passenger has ever stepped onto HS2.

  45. @Leftylampton

    I was in fact just responding to your piece which seemed to be in praise of the period 45-75,. a period in which our decline intensified. If you want a debate about why the West is in terminal decline then you have to go back to at least World War I but I really do not think that AW would welcome that.

    Lets face it we are never going to agree so I suggest we let it go at that.

    Regard TOH

  46. How long can this country go on supporting universal benefits regardless of income.
    When the welfare state was brought in it’s purpose was to support the poor and those that found themselves temporarily out of work, it certainly wasn’t ever intended to be given to people who are able to support themselves without state aid or to people who had adopted a life style choice not to work.
    The benefit system has been used by political parties not just to help people but to get votes regardless of the countries ability to pay.
    This endless handing out of benefit sweeties had to stop at some time. The Tories have started and you can bet your bottom dollar if Labour wins the next GE it wont reverse a single major benefit reform because both parties being similar in nature can see the folly of continuing with the present system.

  47. According to Tim Farron, writing in the Grauniad, the Libdems in government have blessed us with a stronger economy and a fairer society. Yeah, of course they have, fancy me not noticing.

    I used to buy the Grauniad for many years until 1990, since when I have seldom bought any newspaper. When exactly did they start backing LDs? I ask because I took a long sabbatical from following politics and I missed the switch.

  48. @RIN
    “I hate that we dont have anything to compare with the french high speed trains”

    Nor for that matter with those of Spain and Greece.

  49. Ozwald

    For years the guardian line has been, the lib dems have good polices but their time hasn’t come, vote labour. I have found it really annoying

  50. You could start with numerous examples of far more cost-effective smaller scale rail infrastructure projects that won’t get the go ahead because of the priority being given to this white elephant.”

    Utter rubbish. Plenty of rail schemes are going ahead on top of HS2, including Crossrail, Great Western modernisation, Thameslink Programme, Midland Mainline electrification, various tweaks and flyovers on the East Coast Main Line and the new East-West line between Oxford and East Anglia to name a few. In fact, since HS2 was given the ministerial go-ahead last January, the improvements in the HLOS have been slightly stepped up.

    “The case challenging your point on rail capacity is well established,”

    Since you are repeating StopHS2’s arguments almost verbatim, I assume the well established case you are referring to is the magic 51m solution of doing the West Coast Main Line upgrade all over again. In which case, I will point you to the well-established response that 1) the last time we did this it ended up costing £9-13bn, and not the £1-2bn originally claimed; and 2) this solution ignores the services where there is the worst congestion (the London Midland ones) in favour more services on less crowded services.

    “and the case for encouraging ever more long distance commuting into London is likewise dubious, ”

    Brilliant. So your answer to all the people of Watford, Milton Keynes and Rugby having commuting into London on standing services every day is to get another job. If you want to win over HS2 opponents that way, be my guest.

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